The growing pains of a virgin novelist are real. It will be six years at the end of June since I started writing my first novel. At various intervals during that time, I celebrated reaching ‘The End’ but realised, after all that deluded carousing, writing a novel is more than just telling a story.
I had just been made redundant when I started writing Just Say It and during the first carefree Pantser-style writing year, I poured out my post redundancy frustrations into the novel I’d carried around in my head, for twenty years.
I wrote all day and most of the night. I would wake up around 3.00a.m., and going back to sleep would be impossible because all I could think about was getting the story out of my head on to my hard drive.
I listened to music and drank wine, whilst I was writing – obviously, not at 3.00 a.m. 😬 The words flowed, along with the Pinot Grigio, and my confidence soared. BUT... with each break I took from it, I went back to it, knowing it wasn’t right, and spent another year rewriting and revising.
I’m not sure if a more methodical approach at that stage of my writing life, would have helped. I might have looked less like a spaced-out zombie, but there was no time to be disciplined. I needed to unleash the beast but, in hindsight, the snapshot ideas I’d been carrying around my head for years meant that I wrote my first novel the hard way. I ended up having to unpick it and put it back together, countless times.
- I wasted months trying to write the story dipping in and out of the backstory until I confused myself with the timeline… so no hope for any potential reader.
- I wasted a huge amount of time zapping the clichés and idioms which should have never been in there in the first place.
- My saggy middle was a real concern for some time.
- My biggest mistake? I was naive enough to start sending the MS to agents, when it was wasn’t ready for my closest friend, and biggest (only) fan, to read.
Inevitably, the rejections began flooding in and I had more than just a wobble, it was a total confidence meltdown BUT… you pick yourself up, retrieve your MS from the dustbin, and start over.
Info-dumping, stage directing and extreme scene setting. I plead guilty to them all. My biggest problem has been repeatedly using multiple point of views in the same chapter/scene, as well as the another issue. My author’s voice was constantly intruding and I wasn’t aware I was doing it, so it is imperative that you get as many people to read your MS as you can before you send it anywhere. Writing is a lonely business and, in my case, I carried on making the same mistakes over and over again. Your MS needs to be pristine, so you need to develop good writing habits.
Come up with an engaging plot, fully develop your characters and make sure you have a watertight, beginning, middle and end. No saggy middles!
Constant editing and revising is key and, when you’ve done it a hundred times, do it again!
The biggest lesson I’ve learned from writing my first novel, apart from all of the above, was that my pantser-style had to go, along with listening to music and guzzling wine while writing. I scrupulously plotted my second novel, and completed the first draft in four months.
So don’t make the silly mistakes I made when writing your first novel. Relieve yourself of some of the pain! Plot it, go deeper, not wider, don’t faff around with subplots, focus more on you MC and their emotional dilemmas.