It’s been a minute since I’ve talked about my writing process, friends. I had planned to write about it in November for NaNoWriMo when it felt most appropriate. But I was in the throes of writing my book and getting to that 50k word mark that I just didn’t… And then there was the madness of the holidays and the world in general, and anyway, here we are. So, let me tell you a bit about how I go about writing a first draft of a novel, and what that feels like because it’s such a unique roller coaster that I don’t think many people really understand or appreciate the unique agony that is a first draft. At least for me. Because, and I’ll be honest with you, I hate writing first drafts…
For my Monster of Selkirk series, I edited as I went while I wrote the first draft. Basically, each time I wrote a chapter or a scene, I’d go back and revise and edit until I was happy with the flow, and then move on. That was fine, until I realized that it didn’t actually speed up the revising process. I still had to go back and plug those plot holes and fix those inconsistencies within the story once the book was “done”. And, ultimately, for me, it left me a bit blind to the whole picture of the book and story. So, for my newest series (Ellinor), now that I have grown and learned more as a writer, I only write forward.
Writing forward, once I have my super rough outline of where the plot needs to go and where the story ends, is exactly how it sounds: only write forward. No going back to revise or edit as I go. Instead, I take notes in a journal by my desk of the things I need to add, or beef up, or of things I’ve just remembered, so that I can go back during revisions and add them as a cohesive whole. Writing forward is just putting words on a page, crafting the bones of the story so that in revisions, I’m essentially adding the muscle and nervous system, making everything both functional and beautiful. THAT is the part I love most of this process. Not making those bones and just getting the rough story out without worrying about the words I am using to tell the story, but revising and making everything flow, and finding the RIGHT words rather than just any old thing that comes to mind. The reason? It’s that journal I was telling you about.
You see, I take A LOT of notes while I write of things that I’ll need to change, add, or remove as I’m writing that first draft. And the more I progress in the story, the higher my word count goes, the more notes I have on each chapter. Just knowing the number of changes I’ll have to make, the things I have to fix… It can get daunting. Ultimately, I KNOW that these things, these notes that I make, will make for a stronger story and a more exciting narrative when it’s all said and done, but until then, these notes of “problems”, if you will, like to rile up my imposter syndrome. The more notes I take, the easier it becomes for that voice in my head that says I’m a fraud and I should just stop, that this book is trash, to get louder and louder. It’s a habit I’m trying to stop, but it does take a lot of mental effort.
All first drafts are rough, no matter the fame of the author, how many books they’ve written, or how old they are. First drafts are never, ever perfect. They are the first ingredient in a recipe. If you were to judge a cake by it’s first ingredient, before it gets baked, then yes, it’ll taste disgusting (also, yes, I’ve stolen this analogy from somewhere…). But no one ever serves a bowl of flour and eggs and calls it a cake, and writing a book is a lot like that. It gets so easy to compare my first draft to another authors finished product, hell, even my previous finished products, and then get depressed because it’s no where near that level of awesome yet. It’s easy to forget that those published books took years to get into the final shape they are in, and even then, there is probably still improvements they could make.
So, while I may hate writing first drafts because of my—sometimes toxic—perfectionism, it’s a necessary part of the progression, and I still wouldn’t trade this process, this job, for anything else in the world. So, if you’re a writer and struggling, maybe a look at my process will help. Maybe it’ll help validate that your feelings are normal and it does get better. And if you’re a reader, a fellow booknerd, maybe a little glimpse into this authors world will help you better understand why it takes so damn long for the book you are eagerly waiting for to be born.