“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”
― Terry Pratchett
This is one of the quotes you should truly take to heart. I’ve seen so many writer friends over the years do great work on a first draft but never actually finish it because it wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t everything they wanted it to be. Don’t let this happen to you. The first draft is the first of many steps. Don’t fret if a scene isn’t working, or if a part of your book isn’t what you imagined. You’re just telling yourself the story to the best of your ability. You will have plenty of time during revisions to shape the book into what you want it to be. Just finish that first draft. That is your number one goal!
“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”
— Louis L’Amour
Inspiration is in the doing, not in before the doing. Roger Ebert said this many years ago, and I always think of that quote when I’m writing. You can sit there and think about your story forever. You can outline into next year. You can write bios for your characters that stretch forty pages long. At the end of the day, you need to start writing. Don’t worry if the writing is crap. Don’t worry if the novel isn’t everything you hoped it would be. Just get started.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
― Maya Angelou
This is a quote I absolutely agree with, and you should, too. It’s one thing to write a story that makes you laugh, or a story you think might work for readers. It’s another thing to finally write an untold story that has been waiting for years to be told, that you simply have to spill out on the page or you won’t be able to go on any longer. I had this experience with my MFA thesis novel two years ago. If a story needs to be told, don’t wait for the perfect moment. Get to work!
“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
― Sylvia Plath
Don’t ever doubt yourself, especially when it comes to the kind of story you want to tell. You will have moments where you’ll want to doubt yourself when you’re writing. You may not think your novel is commercial enough. You may not think anyone will ever care. Try to keep these thoughts out of your mind. Tell the story you need to tell, and erase all doubt. Believe in your work, in your writing, in your world.
“Read a thousand books, and your words will flow like a river.”
― Lisa See
I’ve talked before about how reading is the cornerstone of a writer’s life. Stephen King talks a lot about this to, that you have to read a lot and write a lot to be a great writer. You can’t become a good writer if you never, ever read, it’s just not possible. You should be reading everything you can get your hands on before, during, and after you’re writing your novel. It doesn’t have to be the same genre. Pick books you want to read!
“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it.
That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.”
― Octavia E. Butler
Persistence is the name of the game because Octavia is absolutely right in that your first novel will probably be crap. Your second novel might be crap, too. Even your third. The key is to keep going. Learn from your mistakes. Keep reading, and keep writing, and eventually your work will get better. The characters will be more fully realized, the storylines will be more original. Don’t quit because your first book is terrible. Write the next book.
“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”
— Franz Kafka
You’re writing a novel. You’re not directing a movie for Marvel that is being made for 250 million dollars and needs to be made a certain way. You’re writing your story your way, the one you want to tell. Don’t water it down and try to make it more palatable to a general audience. Don’t censor yourself because you feel like you have to. Follow your obsessions, and never back down.
I think all writing is a disease. You can’t stop it.”
— William Carlos Williams
He’s absolutely right. It is a disease in every remarkable, amazing way. I’ve been writing fiction almost every day for ten years now, and I can’t stop. I still have more stories in me. I have more to do, more to say. If I lived to be 300, I’d still have more to write! If you’re meant to do this, writing should be a compulsion for you, a passion, not just a hobby.
“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”
― Jodi Picoult
This is why completing your first draft is so important. After you let your writing sit for a bit, you can come back and fix what isn’t working. If you don’t finish your first draft, you can’t come back and work on your ending… because there is no ending. And when there is no ending, you might not have the desire to ever write it in the first place. Revision is a key stage in your writing life. It’s a whole lot easier when there are words on the page.
“If the book is true, it will find an audience that is meant to read it.”
— Wally Lamb
Don’t panic if you think your novel isn’t commercial enough, or will reach a wide enough audience. If what you write is true, and authentic, and one-hundred-percent you, trust me, it will find an audience, and you might be surprised to find out just how many readers were looking for a book like yours.
“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”
— Stephen King
It does hurt to cut your novel down to the bone, but trust me: it needs to be done. When you write your first draft, you put in everything. So many descriptions. So many pages of dialogue. Paragraphs that go on and on. That’s fine. Write the first draft as best you can, and then finish it. But then when you revise your work, you need to get rid of the excess fat. Cut sentences you love if they shouldn’t be in your story in the first place, if they don’t further the story or develop your characters. A lot of this is painful, but it does make your writing better!
A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
— Richard Bach
Lastly, don’t quit. Ever. I’ve written on here before how I’ve had many ups and downs as a writer over the years. It took me seven years and sixteen novels before I signed with a literary agent. I’ve written nineteen novels to date and still don’t have an offer from a publishing house. But I keep going. I keep trying. The only way to fail as a novelist is to stop. If you keep writing, and keep getting better, you will get there!
So have fun, okay?
And never give up.