Saturday, 28 August 2010

Your First Novel

Writing your first novel is an amazing thing. Everything's exciting and new, and sometimes incredibly hard. But eventually, you finish. And you know what? It'll suck.

I'm not telling you this to put you down, or to dishearten you, or to swear off writing forever. I'm telling you this so that you know what to expect when you go to revise your fresh new novel and realise its nothing like a normal book should be. Here's why.

As you go, there are a lot of things you learn about; writing, your voice, characters, and what works for you. During the process, things start changing which you can't really control. You might find that the beginning seems to be a much better quality than the end. This is because of progress. Finding your footing in writing can be an exhausting experience, but it's something that will make you a better writer. You just have to get there first. So yeah, the paragraphs might be all over the place, the dialogue may not fit with the character anymore and there might be more plot changes and sudden decisions than you can keep up with. But you're learning. And that's what first novels are all about.

I'm not saying this will take away from the impact of finishing your first draft. Finishing a novel is one of the happiest experiences in the world. To finish that final sentence of the manuscript, scrolling up and down the Word document and realise that every word belongs to you. Every part of it was made my you.

I finished my third novel around about a month ago, and there were still tears in my eyes when I thought, 'I did it'. If I'm going to be honest, even when I'm redrafting some of previous work, I realise it's terrible. That there are continuity issues and awkward phrasing and the character dialogue isn't right ... but sometimes, I still get teary eyed. Because no matter how awful parts of it are, I'm proud of every single word on that page. That single feeling is what keeps me motivated. One day, when you've finished that dream first novel, it'll motivate you too.

Another bonus - everything can be redrafted. A first draft really means nothing in a way of an end product. During redrafting I find myself scrapping whole paragraphs and editing sentences, changing little parts of the plot and twisting things so they work. But I'm OK with this, because I know that I'm not deleting hard work and effort. I'm polishing it until it's perfect.

So yes, your first novel may suck. But writing is a learned practise. The more you write and edit, the better you become. You've just got to trust that behind that scramble of words and dialogue is something with the potential to be shine.

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