I’ve finished the first draft of my first real novel (I’ve made a few failed, half-hearted attempts in the past) and found the process exciting and exhausting. As I noted to the writing community on Twitter earlier this week, I felt like I had run a marathon. Because of that, I’m setting the draft aside for a bit so I can come back at it later after I’ve let my brain recuperate and so I can have fresh perspective when I look at it again.
Never having written a long piece like this, I approached it similar to how I write a short story – I had the idea, a few characters, and a basic plot, then I just dove in and started writing. After a few pages I realized I needed more guidance than that. With a short story, it only takes a few pages before I know where I’m going with the story and have an ending in site. With a novel…well, I felt like I was looking for the finish line but it was hidden on the other side of a mountain range. In other words, it was overwhelming.
So I regrouped and created a basic outline – just a skeleton, really – and sketched out some short character bios for my cast. That helped. I dove back in and typed away, day after day, pushing through my doubts and apprehension, until I finally saw the finish line. In fact, I did still use my short story background in the process by looking at each chapter as sort of an unfinished shorter piece. That way, I was looking at it as a series of short runs rather than a long haul. It helped.
Over the years I’ve read many books on writing and found it interesting to see how the process is different for every author. Some take the route I followed, just having an idea, a handful of characters, and just diving in. I like this because the story isn’t over-planned. I like spontaneity in my creative process, not knowing exactly what might happen next. Will my protagonist make a stupid decision? Get laid? Kill someone? Maybe all three? Sure, I had a vague idea of what was going to happen, but without having a strict outline to follow it made the entire process more interesting to me.
And yeah, it probably made it more difficult, as well. Not having a concrete idea of where I was going slowed me down. There were a few wrong turns that ended up in deleted pages as I backed up and looked for another path. There was also some frustration when I wasn’t sure where to go. Like driving at night on unfamiliar roads with my lights off. I may have hit a few trees along the way. I still arrived safely at my destination, but some repairs are needed.
But there are authors who swear that the way to go is to create a detailed outline, with every plot twist and scene sketched out in detail and full biographies written for even the minor characters. I see where they’re coming from, but to me that feels like over planning. I understand their point – with a map to follow the process should be easier, faster, and less painful and frustrating. But in my mind I wonder where the fun is in that. Where’s the improvisation? Where’s the creativity?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not throwing shade on anyone. It’s just that I feel – for me – writing needs to be spontaneous, a little dangerous, and fun. I liken it to sex. You don’t want to explain to your partner exactly what you’re going to do, when you’re going to do it, and how long it will last. Kinda takes the fun out of the event.
I’m proud of myself for finishing the first draft and I’m excited by the story. Based on feedback from my cohorts in the Twitter-verse, I’m going to try to wait thirty days before I take a second pass on the draft. In the meantime, I’m going to work on a couple of new short stories get a few completed ones submitted.