I finished a novel last night. I’m still a bit stunned by it honestly. It’s a Middle Grade novel, sure, so it’s 1/3 the size of a standard adult novel (what most folks think of when they think of a novel) but I hit the writing goal I was aiming for and the threshold for the market. (I even went over the goal as you can see by the bar to the left.)
I wrote my first novel (a 50k word YA book) back in 2007. That was almost six years ago and I can now finally say that wasn’t an isolated incident.
I’ve now finished two novels and each one was a learning process. Each proved I could do it. Each proved that failure stems not from my inability but from not being dedicated to getting it done. Each taught me a lot about the novel-writing process from the inside, the stuff you simply do not learn theoretically. Each one highlighted certain shortcomings of mine but also shined a light on some of my strengths. I came through each one with a list of things that worked and areas I needed to focus on both during the editing process and when approaching the next story. The process of each has been invaluable.
I look forward to starting my next novel in a couple days.
Before I move on to that next novel though, I thought I’d look back over the past month, talk about what worked, what didn’t, and what I aim to do now.
First off, I have a confession.
I Did a Bad Thing
I wrote without an outline. I know, I know. I wasn’t going to. Truth be told, this wasn’t even an existing idea from the Big List. It’s still Middle Grade horror, so it fit the slot, but I started with a premise and an opening scene then went from there. I didn’t know what was going to happen next most of the time. A lot of my daily word counts began and ended a single chapter. I made sure to curve each chapter into a cliffhanger or similar attachment point which made sure I had a launching pad for the next day’s writing.
This worked surprisingly well. I’d sometimes stop in the middle of a chapter and think about how to steer the story but having that cliffhanger goal gave me focus. It taught me about making sure each chapter bends, rises and falls—hitting the pavement with enough force to bounce back up right before you cut, insert page break, and follow that momentum into the next chapter.
That which moves the writer to write moves the reader to read.
Still, for my next book, I’m doing the outline. I’m taking some days to map out the big beats and do up some character sheets before I start.
I Learned Oh So Very Much
A bunch of writing advice I had read over the past few years suddenly made sense. What were previously good ideas gained a new sense of relevance and meaning when put into practice. The one that hit me in the face hardest was “The protagonist drives the story.” The hard truth is I’ve suffered from passive protagonist syndrome for a long time, loving the idea of the person who has to react to the situations in their life, but that’s just not a good idea. Your character is John Henry and the story is that mound of solid rock. You need to give your protagonist a hammer or they’re never going to tunnel their way through it. (We’ll ignore that whole “dying at the end” part.) Every single time I wondered why my story felt like it was dragging or falling flat, it was because I hadn’t given my protagonist an obstacle or some motivation or a reason to be where they are. I could sing that from the mountaintops, folks.
All Day Every Day Except the Days I Didn’t
I aimed for 1k every day. Most days, I hit that. A lot of days, especially in the beginning, I exceeded that considerably. A couple days, I did half that. A few days, I didn’t get any writing done at all. Some nights, I was done with my 1000 words in half an hour. Other nights, it took 90 minutes or more. But I stayed in front of the computer and wrote.
A lot of days, I didn’t feel like writing anything at all. As I said above, I missed some days. All but one was due to exhaustion. Two of the nights, I fell asleep before the kids did. My day job went through being auctioned and purchased by a new company during all this and that was distracting—but I still made count almost every single day. “Not feeling like writing” isn’t good enough. Being physically unable to focus, fine. I’d skip or let myself only do 500 words or so on those days. But I’m not idly wondering if maybe I’d like to write a book here. I decided I was writing novels this year. That meant committing to the work.
When I initially started 1k a Day, I worked mostly as a freelancer so I would often have time during the morning or afternoon to fit in the words. This time around, I work a day job—which is also as a writer—and almost all my writing happened in the evening. The exceptions to that are the weekends where I wrote during the mornings but finding the time usually meant not watching that show, not playing that video game, not getting that extra sleep. Carving out the time meant sacrifice. But, sitting here with a draft in my hand, I don’t miss the sleep, don’t care I’m behind on my shows, and I don’t regret not playing that game. The sacrifices were worth it.
Make No Mistake: The Book is Rough
It’s not good. I’m not being immodest here. The book has problems with tone, pacing, structure, and character/event contradictions and inconsistencies but that’s okay. This is a first draft. I wasn’t aiming for perfection; I was aiming for done. I can’t edit a blank page but I can edit this. I can revise this. I can make it better. Will it ever be a book worth shopping around? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. It doesn’t matter. I finished a Middle Grade novel. Which means I met my goal. Which means I can finish another one. That is what’s important for now.
I’m shifting things up a bit. I have a real itch to write that YA Superhero book so I’m going to do that next. I don’t mind that I’m shifting things around a bit. As long as they’re not impeding my forward momentum, I’m willing to ride the wave a bit. I’ve already started the wordometer on the left. Since February’s a short month, and I already missed some days finishing the first book, and the YA goal is 50k, I’ll probably do a midpoint check-in rather than wait until the end of March to update.
Until then, I’ll be writing. Doing that 1k every day I can. By the end of March, I should have a finished draft of a YA book. That’s exciting.
Talk to you later.