Milestone Achieved: I Finished the First Draft of My Novel
Have you ever sat daydreaming about how good it will feel when you achieve your big milestone? Perhaps you’d like to finish the first draft of your novel. I recently finished the first draft of my first novel Black Star: Ascension. A warm euphoric feeling washed through my body for a few moments when I came to the realization that the first draft was truly complete, and then I got back to work.
How do you imagine it will feel when you achieve your milestone? When we first set these milestones they can feel so far away. We know that it’s going to be so much work to accomplishing these goals that if feels like doing so will be somehow impressive, important, or exhilarating.
Milestones are typically a bit of a letdown. We tend to hang it all on this one thing and then when that thing happens we’re either already focused on the next milestone or drifting aimlessly with nothing to work towards.
I prefer to use a different system. I have a set of personal goals, and I have objectives. My personal goals are things like: be great writer, improve health, and maintain financial stability. My objectives are things like: Finish second draft of Black Star: Ascension novel, finish the first free adventure module, continue finishing drafts until the novel is complete, take over the world, create a galactic empire.
The personal goals are a constant source of opportunity and satisfaction. In every decision there’s an opportunity to decide whether or not you will move toward or away from the person you claim you wish to be. When you make a decision that aligns with your chosen identity, it feels good. The act of accomplishing my writing goals for the day, or going to the gym, or saving money gives me a little trickle of warm fuzzy euphoria. Yum.
The objectives on the other hand provide very little satisfaction considering how much work goes into achieving them. If you’re good at setting objectives, then you already have follow up objectives planned well in advance. This provides no time for you to focus on your achievement. When you accomplish a milestone, since you’re now the type of person who accomplishes such things, the milestone itself will suddenly feel mundane. Your satisfaction will be both muted and fleeting.
By aiming to accomplish personal goals with each decision I am able to experience a lot of satisfaction, work on personal goals, and maintain my trajectory toward my other objectives. This system also mitigates the harsh transition from beginner to intermediate where an individual begins to recognize how untalented and uninformed they actually are. With this system in play it’s much easier to accept the crushing fact that the journey has only just begun.
If you’re interested in learning more about this way of doing things you should read Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. This is not an affiliate link. I do not receive any compensation if you purchase the book. I simply want you to know about it because it’s a very powerful book full of practical advice that you can use immediately.
Writing Advice for the First Draft:
Have you ever wished you could go back in time and impart some of your hard learned wisdom on your younger self? I have some advice that I’d like to give my past self. This advice applies to any aspiring novelist working on the first draft of their first novel project. It’s time to finish the first draft of your novel.
1.Stop revising that chapter.
Are you guilty of this sin? Many new writers are, and I was no exception. I believe that I revised my first chapter ten times over the course of three months. This is time that I could have spent writing other chapters. Do you know what happened to that chapter? It’s the only chapter of the first ten I ever wrote that isn’t tagged for a full re-write.
Why isn’t the first chapter tagged for a full re-write? Because it’s close enough in quality to the first draft of chapters I wrote later in the project that it can be worked with. That means that I spent three months of work to create something that I can now create in a single afternoon. Don’t let this happen to you!
Our internal editor is naturally more trained than our internal writer. The editor in all of us has been reading books for a long time, and it knows what’s good and what isn’t. Our writer on the other hand only get’s to practice when we write. Don’t rob yourself of the opportunity to practice writing in favor of sitting around editing something that is probably just going to be cut out anyway.
2.Write the book!
Stop doing all the other stuff and just write the book already. It’s all about motion vs action. Action brings us closer to our goals, while motion is often something that indirectly supports the action but does not bring us closer to our goals.
When you sit down and put words on the page it’s action. You are creating something and moving toward a measurable target. Writing is action.
When you sit down and world build, research, design characters, and plot out different arcs, you are doing work that is essential to accomplishing your final goal of finishing the book. Because these things are essential it can be very easy for us to fool ourselves into thinking we are being productive when we do them. These activities are motion.
I have cut over half of my world building in favor of better ideas that emerge naturally from the elements of the world coming together and interacting. I liked the things that I cut from the world, that’s why I made them. World building is done from a birds eye view and it’s not until we are immersed in the world through the eyes of the characters that we start to identify changes that will better connect the story with the world.
You can research all of your time away. What’s worse is a lot of your research can become irrelevant if the content is cut or revised. If you are about to go down a rabbit hole you should set a timer and abide by it when the alarm rings so that you don’t lose you’re whole day.
Characters evolve over time and they show you who they are. You may not realize until you’ve spent three quarters of the book with them that they need some tweaking. If you spend too much time trying to get the character just right in the first act it will be unfortunate when you need to heavily revise them after writing the third act.
The best thing you can do is just put words on the page.
3.Action begets inspiration, not the other way around.
If you want to get this book done you need to start working on it even when you don’t feel inspired to do so. At first it will be difficult.
When you first start trying to force the work you will probably end up sitting there staring the screen writing very little. You may be surprised at how many excuses for procrastination appear immediately as you sit down. When you put your fingers on the keyboard it’s possible that your mind will just go blank and stay that way for the next hour. You may walk away from the keyboard feeling defeated.
Press on in the face of hopelessness and you will be rewarded. As you learn to work without the inspiration you will soon lose yourself in the fervor once again. You won’t even notice the inspiration taking over until you are in the midst’s of exceeding your word count goal for the day.
4.Don’t get attached. You will need to adapt.
Is there a character, place, idea, or plotline that you are really excited about? You may find yourself attached to pretty much everything you have written so far. It’s easy to lose track of the fact that your overall goal is to write a book that your readers enjoy.
You will need to cut out some of the things that you love in order to accommodate a better experience for the reader. In time it may become clear that some of those world building elements or characters that you have mashed into the story have no place in it. Maybe you mention something a few times but it never factors into the story at all. You need to ask yourself whether or not the information being there adds to the story or takes away from it.
It’s not just random world building elements you need to worry about. One of your characters might serve a very similar function to another. You may need to cut one of them or roll the elements of both together into a single character.
Even if your precious noun initially fits the story when it is introduced it may no longer fit by the time you finish the first draft.
The quickest way to cure yourself of your preciousness is to get some critiques. Nothing will help you let go of an idea more quickly than a bunch of people you respect telling you it’s stupid. Learning how to take critiques and make drastic changes to your precious content is important.
I like to use Critique Circle for this purpose. I’ve found the feedback you get there will be a nice mixture of love, hate, indifference, positive, negative, and tips. It’s a membership site so posting there does not nullify your ability to sell first publishing rights. Never post your work on a blog if you wish to someday sell it to a publisher.
Don’t read the feedback until you have several critiques waiting. There’s nothing worse than having a piece up and reading your first and only feedback, and it turns out to be from a harsh and negative person who deeply hates your work. It’s important to have a nice variety of feedback because you can quickly see that different people love and hate different things.
Never defend your work from a critique. Thank them for the feedback and use it to improve your work. In the real world your work must speak for itself.
5.This is all practice.
Have you ever heard that thing about every writer having a million bad words inside of them that they need to get out before they get to the good ones? This is a good way to think about practicing the craft. It’s not in revising the words that you have already written that you will grow as a writer, but in writing new words. The more words that you write, the closer you will be to writing good words.
The first ten thousand words of fiction I ever wrote are completely different in quality from the most recent ten thousand words of fiction I have written. Progress is evident just from looking at the first draft of my novel. I see the writing improve as the chapter number rises.
The evidence is right there staring back at me. The first third is a full re-write, the second third is an acceptable foundation that requires heavy re-structuring, and the last third is the best first draft I can achieve at my current skill level.
As a biproduct of actively learning about writing, and practicing those lessons while writing the first draft of Black Star: Ascension, I have gained the skills needed to begin the second draft. Learning how to write novels appears to be a virtuous cycle. The trick is maintaining momentum throughout the cycle, and having the grit to push forward from a dead stop when everything has gone off the rails and fallen apart.
Just like inspiration, you need to practice overcoming a lack of willpower. Willpower is finite, and it’s naïve to think you won’t run out of it. A large part of this is just avoiding ever needing to use any willpower. This can be done through careful planning, and the building of positive habits. But what about when your plans get ruined, or you have a change in routine and fall out of an important habit? That’s a great opportunity for you to practice suffering through the joyless act of just showing up and doing it. That’s right, just like everything else in life, sometimes writing requires that you just show up an do it. It’s really difficult, but it get’s easier with practice.
So while you push through this first draft it’s important to keep in mind that what you are really doing is practicing your craft. The true marker of progress is not how complete or wonderful the project is, but how much you have learned while working on it. As a learner the novel is just a happy biproduct of your drive to learn and improve as a writer.
Are you actively trying to improve your writing? It’s easy to get swept up in the magic of writing your story and forget that you are trying to improve a craft. These are the resources I have enjoyed so far.
This is by far the most robust free resource I have found for learning about writing genre-fiction. This is a fast paced, insightful podcast lead by knowledgeable hosts who are successful in the industry. Don’t start at the beginning, because they have all grown as writers over the last fifteen seasons. I recommend focusing on seasons 10-14 to start.
I watched the 2016 version of this course twice when I started my novel. I have watched the 2020 course twice in the last month. Brandon is an experienced genre-fiction writer that will have you hanging on his every word. The information and techniques you learn in this course will absolutely improve your writing.
A community of writers all looking to improve their craft. This website provides you with the opportunity to have your work critiqued, and to critique the work of others. The system requires you to give out critiques in order to get critiques, so there are plenty of critiques to go around for everyone. The site also features forums and a few handy writing and productivity tools.
If not for this novel by Stephen King I might not have made it this far. He offers some very useful advice for writing, and for living as a writer.
A very clear beginners introduction into the formulaic side of storytelling. I enjoy looking at things from a formulaic perspective, but some people hate it. If you don’t want media ruined for you then you may wish to steer clear. If you’re willing to let go of some of the magic you will gain some useful insights from this book.
If you want to dive deeply into the heroes journey this is the book for you! This book provides updated insight on the topic of mythic structure.
I’m a full time writer and dedicated dungeon master. I aim to master the art of telling compelling stories. At the time of this post I’ve recently finished the first draft of my first novel, and I’m halfway finished creating the Free Adventure Module: Tech and Terror Volume One. Check out my project status page for updates. Follow me on my journey of growth and improvement, and I’ll share with you whatever useful information I learn.