Writing My First Book: Things I'll Never Do Again

Hello and welcome to my blog!

My name is Isabel Sterling. I'm a YA fantasy writer who finished her first ever novel this past NaNoWriMo (November 2012). Since then I've learned a TON about writing through the process of revising that first novel.

To kick off my blog, I'd like to talk a little about what I've learned and mistakes I hope to never make again.

When I sat down to write my first novel (having absolutely zero formal education in creative writing), all I had was the name of my main character, the concept of a magical world with two distinct clans, and the plan to write in first person POV (point of view).

That was it.

I just started writing, hoping I’d figure things out as I went. And I did, kinda. I wrote every day in the month of November and finished my first draft at approximately 51,000 words. It was an incredible journey, discovering along the way new characters, new conflict, and I finally figured out a logical reason my MC (main character) would need to be the one to save the day (and what she would lose in doing so). I was beyond happy with myself.

December first arrived, and I went back to read what I had written.

And I about cried.

Sure, there were some real gems in there, parts that made me laugh, and characters that were just spot on. But overall, the MS (manuscript) was littered with info dumps, happy coincidences, and my MC sitting around thinking about stuff.

I wanted to rip my eyes out.

Lucky for any future readers, I discovered an amazing revision course (Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel) and I’m well on my way to creating the book I meant to write. I’ll talk more about the revision process in another post, but rest assured that by the time I start querying agents, VISIONS OF DARKNESS will be free of info dumps, the MC will actually do something other than think about her predicament, and all those incredibly stupid coincidences will be gone. It’ll be a story worth your time.

So, having gone through this process, and needing to completely CUT 16 scenes and create 17 brand new scenes (plus doing almost full rewrites of countless others), here is a (very short) list of things I will NEVER do again on a first draft.

  • I will never “wing it” again. Or, as it’s sometimes called, “pantsing” it (as in, writing by the seat of your pants). Never, ever, ever. I will at least create an outline of where my story is going.
  • I will never let myself write page after page of my character sitting around thing. Just, no.
  • I will avoid thinking for the reader. I know you are a very intelligent human person, and I will let you make your own connections and theories instead of making them up for you.
  • And finally, I will never write something without figuring out the main conflict and twist before I start. (In Holly’s course, this is called the “Sentence”). For example, my next book already has a sentence that makes me want to write it. I know that will help keep me going in the right direction.

It’s a fact of writing that I will always need to do a thorough and organized revision. Hopefully, avoiding the above will prevent the mind-numbing mistakes I made the first time around.

Please don’t let the list of mistakes above scare you. I am very aware of where I went wrong and the course I mentioned above is teaching me exactly what I need to do to fix it. It is going to be AWESOME. In fact, I’m having more fun revising than I did writing. But that’s a post for another day.

-Isabel