The First Draft is Complete: Learnings

With almost three weeks left to spare, I have reached the first milestone with the novel. The first draft is complete. That said, I kind of hate it and don’t expect much of it to survive revision. What’s important is that I managed to do it at all.

I started writing it on 1 December 2019, giving myself a hard deadline of 29 February 2020. This gave me a fairly easy target of 600 words per day, which fit in with the rest of my life and work. Even so, there were times when I did not think I was going to pull it off. I found it more difficult to work in smaller chunks, and having to switch between projects. I ultimately ended up having one or two days per week when I could just focus on the novel.

A large component of this experiment was writing without a tight outline. My normal process is to plan everything first, then write. It’s a paint-by-numbers process, but it allows me to remain prolific and hit deadlines. With this novel I had a loose idea of the plot and only a vague notion of who my main character was. I wanted to be able to wander, to discover the world and the story as I was writing. What I actually discovered is that this method doesn’t work for me.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

The old adage “measure twice, cut once” applies perfectly here. As I was writing, I kept wishing that I’d though of things earlier. Better ideas cropped up, so I kept notes on the things I’d have to go back and fix. Had I spent the last three months outlining and doing research, I feel that I could have written the first draft in a month and been a lot more satisfied with it.

A different metaphor: It felt like jumping in a car and driving off, without any clear idea of where I was going. When I did figure out the destination I had to backtrack a lot, resulting in a lot of wasted time and fuel. This is not within my comfort zone, and I’m not seeing any benefit to it.

The First Draft is Complete

I’m going to set it aside until 1 March, at which point I’ll read it and see if I still hate it. When I begin again I’m going to do a total re-write. I will keep characters and ideas that I like, but the first step will be to do the sort of detailed outline that I’m used to. There’s additional research I want to do as well. I’m also going to be consuming more Gothic novels, to help me to better capture the sort of tone and beats I’m looking for, even though it’s a contemporary novel.

Has it been fun? No.

Has it been rewarding? No, again.

But I think that it will be.

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