Writing a Novel: What I Learnt in my First Month

A round-up of the things I’ve learnt during my first month of writing my first novel, Everborne.

Writing is like painting; it’s about building up layers.

I’ve known from the start that what I write in a day will not be the finished product. Heck, even my first manuscript won’t be the finished story. Every morning, I start by reading what I’ve written the previous day and I lightly edit it. It’s a great way to remove any glaring mistakes or anything poorly written, whilst building layers, whether its description, a character’s reaction in a conversation, or adding a bit more here and there. Not only that, a few days after I’ve completed a chapter, I usually think of additions or changes to make for future editing, which I add to a red-worded list in my Plot Doc. I always remember my Art teacher saying “Tom, you’re so slow.” I hope that’s not the same for my writing.

Characters grow themselves

This applies to both major and minor characters. With my major characters, before their first scene, I fill out a character questionnaire, answering eighty-or-so questions. Even then I can’t fill in the questionnaire completely, and the character begins to develop on the page. This is especially true for their voice. You can have an idea of how they may act, but their actual words only appear once you start writing them. Their voice is what makes them unique; what makes them them. Once you know this, it’s much easier to know how they would act in the future. As for minor characters, I’ve really enjoyed letting them write themselves. With little to no planning, I just let them become themselves by writing them as they come to mind and trusting in my spontaneity. So far, this has given me two personal-favourite characters who I believe could be real scene-stealers.

A good first sentence is a road of possibility

Coming up with a good first sentence is key to beginning a chapter or scene. Often when I’m out walking Cass, I think about any first lines, or sentences, or dialogue that I can use in my up-coming writing. I’ve discovered that if I have a first line the rest (usually) follows, and fast.

The word count is unpredictable, untameable and unknowable.

I like to know what I’ve written in a day, in a week, and in a month. It’s a good way to see my progress and to set myself deadlines. But the word count isn’t everything. They say it’s quality not quantity. Whoever they are, they’re wrong. It’s both. I tried predicting the word count for each chapter and found I was about as accurate as a Stormtrooper’s blaster fire. (For those who don’t get the reference: hopelessly, hilariously inaccurate.) In fact, most written chapters were, to my great surprise, twice their “predicted” length. This did get me a little worried, especially if it meant all my chapters would become doubled. How many months would this take? was a reoccurring thought. For the most part, I was happy with what I’d written. I tried not to worry and came to accept that while I could re-estimate my total word count, it would still remain unknowable. Putting a restriction on the word count this early on could be the novel’s death. The story will tell itself in as many words as it needs to, so let it.

You can surprise yourself

You really can. Whether it’s the amount of words produced in a day; or an idea of what happens next; or the way a scene is written; or being able to write consistently for weeks in a row, you can surprise yourself. These surprises are a wonderful fuel to keep the ambition fired. (Maybe these shouldn’t be surprises, though.)

Living like a student (again)

After two years of a job that allowed me to put saving aside each month, it’s a little alien to now be questioning myself whether or not I can afford something that I would usually buy.  (I still managed to afford the new FIFA, huzzah!) I stuck to my budget for the first month, which is just as well. Wouldn’t have made a good start, otherwise. For now, feeling poorer is OK. I just remind myself why that is: because I’m following my dream.

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