How to Write the First Draft of Your Novel

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to write a novel. In fact, as a teenager I started writing a very bad one (which never got further than the first chapter and thankfully has never seen the light of day). The fact that it was truly awful doesn’t really matter. The point was, a seed was sown – or rather had been planted a few months earlier when I had devoured S.E Hinton’s coming-of age novel The Outsiders. As I read (and later voraciously re-read it), I came to understand what a gift it was to write something that could push inside a person’s consciousness and hold a place forever in their heart.

Fast forward 25 years, though, and that dream of writing a novel still lay unrealised. The spark of desire to write as a teenager had been usurped by five years at university and a career path that went a rather different way. One husband, two children and a dog later and it was still a spark extinguished. Until a couple of years ago when I started my blog and began to realise that I was still that dreamy teenager who liked to spend her time scribbling in a pad.

I had a story, once again that had its roots in childhood – (in case you’re wondering, a young adult fantasy romance based around mythical beings and folklore from the far north). Where stories come from is a tale for another time – suffice to say I wrote 2000 words for a competition and then forgot it. And then last year something happened that reminded me that life can be very short and fragile. I decided that if anyone ever wanted to write a novel, the time to do it should be now.

Typewriter and Tea

So I set about working out a way that I could achieve that. For me, this meant thinking about how many words I needed to write and assessing how I could get a first draft done in a target of nine months. I was working on the basis of the school year – so August to the end of June – assuming nothing much gets done in the school holidays. That worked out at 40 weeks, and I wanted to write 40,000 words for starters, which worked out at 1000 words a week – a minimum of 200 words five days a week. Yes, to some writers this will seem faintly ridiculous – that’s hardly anything! But I had to work with the time and space I had available. And working with the time and space I had available is exactly what I did.

I worked out that I could achieve my goal by setting aside a writing window of timed 30 minute sessions daily. This was manageable, and I think it would be for most people (for me, it was assisted by my youngest now spending an extra half hour a day at school). As the year went on, I altered some of my routines and rituals to keep writing a priority. By keeping to this strategy, just in time for the school holidays, I’ve managed to achieve my target and finish the (40,000 words) first draft of my book.

How to Finish the First Draft of Your Novel

Keeping motivated throughout the process can be a little tricky. You’re probably writing something that no one asked for – dare I say it, does anybody even care? I’ve often felt a bit silly about the whole process and the time and energy I’ve allowed it. Interacting with other writers has really helped me make peace with the fact that I’m not the only one.

Throughout the year I’ve gorged on writing-related podcasts during daily dog walks. That burst of lunchtime inspiration has really helped keep the momentum going strong. Check out the Worried Writer, Creative Penn and Magic Lessons podcasts for ideas. You might also find joining a writers group, or attending a writing retreat useful tools in terms of keeping you motivated and inspired.

Wherever possible, I’d recommend automating your writing sessions. That is, tagging them onto something you already do to ensure that they become part of your everyday routine. For me, that meant that after my daily dog walk I always did my 30 minutes of writing time. If I didn’t do it then, I had to catch it up elsewhere.

Writing Library

If you’re still struggling to see how you could fit writing a book into your schedule, have a look at this post I wrote on finding the time to write in 2017. I’d recommend writing (even a small amount) daily to keep yourself immersed in your evolving story. With small targets, steady progress and a bit of determination, it’s actually amazing what can be achieved.

As for me, I’m relieved to have reached this first little milestone. My first draft isn’t perfect, it’s too short (even for a young adult novel) and it still needs a lot of work. Some of the characters are flimsy, and the story needs more layers. But that’s what a first draft is isn’t it? As Terry Pratchett said, it’s just you telling the story to yourself. And I do have a story – with a beginning, a middle, and an end – and for that I’m happy. I’ll leave it to settle now over the summer holidays and come back to it with fresh eyes later in the year.

And then there will be a second draft, some more editing, and a lot of investigation on how to get a book published (or possibly how to just publish one yourself). The steps will be small and steady, but I’ll get there.

And do you know what? I think the girl with big dreams and her notepad would be pleased.

G x

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