I am not going to sugar-coat it; that first novel can kick your tail. But it doesn’t have to be so incredibly daunting that the great idea for a novel that you dreamed up one foggy afternoon six years ago, can’t be brought to fruition. The idea is there. Perhaps the characters have been mingling, getting to know each other, playing out various ways of interacting…but it’s all between your ears. So how do you get them out of your head and into print? Don’t they at least deserve that? Here is some practical, useful advice to get that overwhelming rough draft completed.
Determine as best you can which genre your novel will be, and research how many words that genre typically would be. This seems obvious, but there are several sub-genres or your novel could fall within that gray area of “is this literary or mainstream fiction?” You will want to do this because A. It will affect the language you use, your target audience, how much description or what “atmosphere” you choose to develop while writing your novel. And B. It will give you an idea of how long your novel would optimally be. Knowing the length of the novel gives you keener sense of what pace to take your writing, when to add in crucial elements to your plot, and where the arc of your story should be. It is easier to break your novel into sections of words than starting and adding to the pile with each word you type. Make a timeline of word counts and plot the main parts of your novel…this is an excellent visual of knowing where you are going. Having a plan you can change is better than no plan at all!
Remember…you can do this, just let “one foot in front of the other” aka “one word at a time” apply to your attitude and mental approach, not to your overall plan to completion. A race is won, yes by this method…but what if you don’t have a route?
Choose a program and/or method. Some love Word, some write on napkins, but consider the way you write and your personality. I like a structured program so I go with Scrivener and could NOT write my novel without it. Research a few different options and see what will work best for you. Take time to learn the program, get the “For Dummies,” or like up some favorites of resources on your browser. Just have the tools you need at the ready. This will eliminate a huge roadblock that many first time novelists trip so hard over they can’t hear their characters for the stars in their eyes. Don’t be distracted by formatting and structure so much that you aren’t able to write.
Your first draft is a “just get it written” draft. So DO NOT overthink so much that you take the comma out, put the comma back, take it out again. This draft is about getting the content out of your head and onto the screen. You will do several reads-through and edits. Don’t get too tied up in correcting plot holes or spelling or fleshing out your characters perfectly because you will be doing this as you go through your edit(s.) Your goal is plot and making sure the webbing of the book is in place. That structure is crucial to having a novel that can stand up on it’s own.
Set a REALISTIC writing goal for yourself.
Do not pay a single bit of attention to the writing goals of others…set a goal for yourself that is fairly easily attainable. Writing every day is best, especially if you have trouble staying motivated. if motivation is no problem for you, but the obsessive spirit in you makes you write for six hours straight at a time with complete disregard to your hygiene and important responsibilities, then perhaps your writing goal is a reminder to pace yourself, avoid burnout, and avoid the terrible neck aches or eye strain that accompany your all-nighters. You know yourself and what you need to stay motivated. Make a plan to stick to, but make your goals reachable.
Prepare the troops. You are going to need supportive people around you to keep you motivated, but also to pick up the slack in other areas of your life so that you can stay focused on your writing. If you have planned to write certain hours of the day, you will need to be able to thwart potential distractions such as Facebook messages or texts and phone calls. Is your mom your best cheerleader? Then talk to her about your plans and use her support as a way to keep motivated. You need to isolate yourself to a certain degree to finish your work and to do this you will need people to be understanding. Have a small team of people you can count on to help you through. These people are not to be confused with beta readers. These folks are your support staff, your cheerleaders, your emotional supporters. They are also not your therapists, but the people that help out with the laundry to give you more time to work. The people that fix you a coffee or who respect your need to hole-up for a few hours a day, undisturbed. Perhaps they are the ones who are willing to kick in more financial support if you are working fewer hours outside of the home. Prepare your troops because the battle is a fierce emotional one and you may need back up on the homefront to make it to the victorious first draft finish line. Let your support people know what your commitments are so they can honor those. In my home it is a s simple as “I’m working.” My family has been very supportive and helpful when they hear me say those powerful words.
Let go of some things that are distractions. Turn off Netflix. Put your phone on silent while you work. Opt for simpler dinners or smaller goals in other areas of your life so that you have the time you need to work. Facebook and Twitter can wait on a social level while you disengage, unless, of course, you are researching for your novel. Find a place that you can work that helps you to stay focused and puts you in the best headspace for energy flow and creativity.
Simply put — you can do this. Confidence is key. Novel-writing is not your therapist. While you put your heart into your writing, your writing is not your therapy. It does not define you as a person, although it is an extension of you. You exist independently, confidently, wholly as an individual with or without this novel being finished. It is a personal goal. A journey you take. Not a way to work out your internal struggles. Use therapy if you need to do that and let your novel be the story of your characters. You are their catalyst, not the other way around.
JUST DO IT.
CAN DO IT.
WILL DO IT.
Put your goals into writing. Write yourself sticky notes of daily goals or motivations. Map out your plan, share it with your cheerleaders, and get to work. The finish line awaits. If you have other tips to share with regards to fleshing out that first draft, I invite you to share them here with others that may need them. I wish you the best on your journey!