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Your first novel and other stuff

Posted: August 21st, 2012, 10:47 pm
by breathe
Hi guys,

I'd just like to hear some experiences about your first novels, or the first novel you counted as "real" (maybe because you completed it + revised it fully).

I'm only 1/3rd way through a WIP and feeling it is something that a kindergartener would write. Actually the kindegartener would probably write it better.

I know its commonly said that the first novel (or the first draft for that matter) is usually crap and is dramatically changed once the person enters revision territory. But I also hear a lot of people that seem more confident about every novel they write. Your experiences?

Also, I've hit the 1/3rd way mark and suddenly came up with an alternate way to weave this story idea that I really like. However, this would require changing things back (specific scenes, even the MC would change into a tougher person). A part of me wants to go with this idea, but another part of me is handcuffing my brain and saying "don't you dare; stick to the plan and finish this thing or you'll never see anything through to the end). Your thoughts?

And finally: I read a great post over at literary rambles today : that I enjoyed. The author said that when just beginning, writing ANY idea is a good thing, but later when deeper into the writing groove, you may want to really consider what idea to go with (when you have a few that you can't decide on). He gives good suggestions (like running the idea/first page by a few people). So, since I'm just in the beginning stages I'm shouldn't worry about this right? Like I'm not in love with my current idea, but if I wait to find something I love , I might never write anything, so I just am going with this now anyway. I feel sometimes like my head is exploding with other ideas and characters that I want to write RIGHT now (ha) but I'm trying to restrain myself. I realize that if I don't rein my head in, then I'll never actually see a story from start to finish (seems like the ideas, the scenes, the characters are so there in the mind all the time, but the reality of actually sticking with a story day in and day out and seeing it through is the real "test"). I keep wondering if I should try to fit or add the new characters or ideas that burn in my brain into my current WIP, but I think maybe I'd be better off not doing that because then I'm throwing too many cooks in the kitchen and I might forget the story I'm trying to focus on now.

Okay, this is ridiculously wrong. I think I felt an urge to interact with others or get this out. Sometimes I'm bursting with worries, or even just joy over books or ideas, or questions and I feel I could bust. I guess this is why people have blogs or twitter (something I still haven't ventured into. I feel like the kid that stands outside the window looking in trying not to hyperventilate because everyone inside seems to know so much or get so much done. Writers - published and not published- intimidate me. I feel like I'm not one of "them/you"). :geek:

Re: Your first novel and other stuff

Posted: August 22nd, 2012, 12:49 am
by Philabuster
So you're incredibly self conscience about your work, struggling with the idea of changing everything or terminating it all together, and everything you type you doubt...

Congratulations. You're a writer.

My first novel took me about two years to fully complete. When I finished it I was less than satisfied. My friends and family read my book and told me they liked it but I knew that it was not what I wanted to say. I felt like I didn't have my own voice and that it was just words on a page.

I wrote many short stories afterward and now I'm about 20k words shy of finishing my second novel (this one taking me about 8 months so far). I must say that I feel far more confident and excited about this piece than I ever did about my first novel.

It's tough. The writers block's are tiring and frustrating. And eventually you will want to just quit to avoid failing.

My advice to you is to remember why you started, and hopefully that will help you finish.

Re: Your first novel and other stuff

Posted: August 22nd, 2012, 11:19 am
by LizV
Hi breathe - Ultimately, only you can decide which alternative is the best way to tell your story. Yeah, that's helpful, huh? Annoyingly, it's also the answer to a lot of other writing dilemmas.

I will say, that part of your brain with the handcuffs has a point: One of the most important things a new writer can do is finish. Starting a novel's easy; finishing a novel is hard. It's one of the things that separates the wannabes from the real writers. And let me tell you, there's not much that compares to the feeling of typing THE END, and being able to sit back and say, "Wow. I wrote that. All of that."

You asked for experiences about first novels and revising. Mine's a little non-standard because I'd been writing for, oh, a couple of decades before I seriously attempted a novel, so I had a relatively high comfort level with this stringing-words-together gig. Sticking with one project long enough to complete a novel-length work was another matter. It took me about four years to finish my first novel, including revisions and the surprise additional revisions I hadn't previously realized I needed. ;) In my case, the story didn't change all that much from first draft to last, but then I write pretty clean first drafts -- I think of it as the compensation for how slowly I write! The revisions were mostly adding in things I'd glossed over the first time through. (About 15,000 words of things. Yeah, I under-write.)

Am I happy with it? On balance, yes. It doesn't match the beatific vision in my head (but then, no novel does), and it's saddled with baggage from my awful ex-writers-group, and I'm still not sure I've done justice to one secondary character, and I can't seem to explain the plot to anybody who hasn't read it (which makes querying a joy, oh yeah). But it's done. And y'know, it's actually pretty darned good.

It's definitely left me more confident for tackling the next one. My second novel's having its own share of travails; along with all the usual writing issues, I'm writing reality-compliant espionage fiction, and reality pulled the rug out from under my first plot. That was a pretty hard blow, and it stalled me for a while -- but not forever. I know I can do this, because I have done it.

If it's any consolation, even the pros struggle with this stuff. They get better at coping, but follow any professional author's blog and you'll see the doubts about whether what they just wrote is any good, or whether that other plot option would have been a better choice. I got a chance to chat extensively with one of my favorite authors this summer, and one of the things we talked about was which of the four competing ideas in her head should be The Next Book. And she's published something like twenty novels, and makes a living solely at writing. So it ain't just you.

Re: Your first novel and other stuff

Posted: August 22nd, 2012, 12:58 pm
by Sommer Leigh
LizV hit the nail on the head. It Depends is like the default answer to almost all writer questions. The best you can hope for is hearing what has worked for others and try a few things out until you find your own groove.

It kind of comes down to the type of writer you are, but you may not know what that is yet, and that's fine. You're not in a race with anyone, so you can take the time to figure it out. Now, when you're still in the early phases of your first draft of your first novel, is the perfect time to start experimenting. There's no right way.

1. Some people feel strongly that you have to finish no matter what. You write through to the end, no matter what you've written or what changes you want to make. These writers usually keep a notebook or word file or whatever of notes about what they plan to go back and change. Lots of pantsers tend to write this way because it lets them explore lots of ideas along the way and the prune later. The downside is that the first draft is often a hot mess that requires a lot of editing before it can even be shown to anyone. Often this writer puts together an outline during the second draft when they are making major edits.

2. Some people can't write to the end when they know there are things they have to change. Their first draft takes twice or three times as long as the first writer, but their first drafts tend to be cleaner and require less subsequent drafts. They can usually hand off their first draft to critique partners right away for feedback. This way is better for those who work with some sort of outline because the looming problem is that you won't ever finish if you keep going back to fix what you've already written. If you've got an outline that keeps you on track, that's not usually a problem.

You have options. You could keep going and work your ideas out while you write. You could stop everything and sit down and write yourself an outline from beginning to end and see if it's something you could stick to and abandon what you've already written to start over. You could set this first idea aside to try out a few chapters of the new idea and then decide which to follow through on. You could stop, pluck out a piece of the story you're telling, and write a few short stories around it. You could keep going with what you've already written, but work out an outline for the rest of it before you start writing again.

Nothing you write is going to be a waste of time at this point. You need the practice.

Keep in mind that what might feel like writer's block can also be your gut telling you there's something wrong and you need to fix it.

My first novel experience went through so many drafts it might as well have been several different novels because I kept changing my mind. It's never seen the light of day and never will because it is very awful. I needed that practice though and eventually coming out of that I realized I need to outline. I thought I was a pantser and I was so wrong.

I strongly suggest checking out Larry Brooks' books on story structure. They really helped me get my head around planning and outlining.

Re: Your first novel and other stuff

Posted: August 22nd, 2012, 2:55 pm
by wilderness
One thing I've heard is that if you have an alternate idea or way you want to write it, you simply make a note at the beginning of your next chapter for the change and then go forward with it. For example, if you want to change some characterization, you start where you are and keep going with your new characterization for a chapter. The plot is the same but the character is different. If you feel that is working, you can continue on with that characterization, or go back. Just make a note for yourself if you change it so you can fix the first 1/3 or whatever.

I did that a lot with technologies and world-building when I wrote my first draft for my WIP. With sci-fi, you often find yourself thinking of newer, cooler ideas. That way I could include them and still move forward.

Re: Your first novel and other stuff

Posted: August 22nd, 2012, 3:45 pm
by LizV
Sommer makes a very good point that different approaches work for different writers. I tend to harp on finishing because that was the biggest obstacle for me, and I've seen a lot of other people hit that wall and never get over it. If your brain is spinning out all these other ideas as a way of avoiding the hard work of seeing the novel through, then you may need to just buckle down and get to the end no matter what. If, on the other hand, those ideas are coming up because they really are better than your original, or because your original is fine but not enough to carry the novel all by itself, then those ideas may be worth taking some time to explore. If you can learn to tell why your brain's dangling all these new toys in front of you, whether it's problem-solving for you or just getting distracted by passing shiny things, you'll have won a good chunk of the battle.

Oh, and feeling like you have more ideas than your brain can possibly hold? As Philabuster says, congratulations, you're a writer. When I first came up with the idea for my first novel, I was sure it was going to be a one-shot. Since then, I've come up with ideas for three more novels and about a dozen short stories in the same universe. And plenty of ideas for other universes, too; at the rate I'm going, if I never got another new idea, I would not run out of things to write before I die.

Re: Your first novel and other stuff

Posted: August 22nd, 2012, 8:16 pm
by JohnDurvin
I'm going to go out on a limb here and give you an actual opinion...I say fix it now. There is wisdom in going ahead and writing your first draft beginning, middle, and end, but if you're making some major change--you called it "a better way to tie things together", which means it could substantially alter the fabric of the story--you'll wind up writing the rest of the story either fitting with the original that you're planning on changing anyway, or with a big chunk of the story not matching the first part, which always makes it sound worse when you re-read, at least in my opinion. I say get the change over with now, to cut down on re-writing later.

Oh, and one more thing, I can tell you this: you might THINK you're 1/3 done, but you might turn out to be a lot more or a lot less, regardless of how far you've gotten through the outline.

Re: Your first novel and other stuff

Posted: August 23rd, 2012, 12:55 am
by CharleeVale
I've always found it easier to fix it later. To get it done, and then have the entire arc in your head so you can better see the changes.

My first novel is still kind of unfinished. It rambled on and on and I kept chronically revising and never finishing it. I got through my second novel completely before revising and I think that at least that's the right way to go for me.

But as others have said, it depends!


Re: Your first novel and other stuff

Posted: August 23rd, 2012, 11:21 am
by dios4vida
If the idea you're playing with just won't leave you alone, and you know it belongs with the story you've already started, then I say go back and fix it now. Finishing is a very important thing, absolutely, but if you know you're gonna add this in later anyway, you might as well do it now. I tried to change things halfway through in my last novel and that thing is such a mess that even though I got a good edit back from my critique partner, I can't even look at it for a few more months because of the sheer amount of work I have to do on it.

My first novel experience was a long and slow one. It took me about five years to write it, I think, and though it isn't horrible, it's...well, it's too long, full of purple prose, burdened with a reactive protagonist, and comes dangerously close at times to feeling like a Tolkien rip off. I still like the basic idea of it, and some of the stuff I came up for it really is cool (if I say so myself), but it would require an intense rewrite in order to make it something worth trying to publish one day. I would like to do that, but I have other novels to finish first.

My second novel was a huge leap forward. I truly love that book and thing it seriously has potential, with just a few more edits. If I get blocked at some point, I plan to go back to that one and get it polished up and resubmitted to agents.

So I got cocky, was learning a lot of different ways to write, and just tried to sail through and bang out my third novel in a few months (I'm a slow writer). As I mentioned before, it's a mess. Good potential, but still a mess.

The whole reason I'm going on like this is to show that yeah, you totally make progress as you finish and move on. You learn and grow and sometimes you look back and think "wow, my writing is so much better than it was!" and that is fantastic. Go you. But you can also slip back and feel like a total n00b and screw up just like the first novel. It all happens, at any stage of the game. The important part is to keep writing, planning, outlining, brainstorming, editing, and persevering. Don't compare yourself to anyone and think you're better or worse than they are. Just write.

Re: Your first novel and other stuff

Posted: August 23rd, 2012, 2:50 pm
by Mark.W.Carson
I am almost EXACTLY a #2 writer from Sommer's post. I CANNOT wrap my head around continuing if there are drastic changes, and instead I rework things and start again. Sure, it takes time, but it's faster than simply breaking down, and then ultimately scrapping my writing (which I have threatened to do at times).

I am glad to have supportive friends who know how this works and are wonderful, but there are pushes to "just finish it" when it doesn't work for everybody. Now that I have apparently cleaned up any major hurdles, I am burning through so fast that people think I'm not human. I have done >10K words this week alone, in 2 days of writing. I can't really write today because I'm working through the day into the morning hours, but tomorrow, I will shoot for another 3-5K.

I've had so many false starts and retries that a previous version of me would have quit, but I have to see this through, and I will. I have a deadline I'm trying to keep.

Re: Your first novel and other stuff

Posted: August 23rd, 2012, 3:07 pm
by Sommer Leigh
Mark.W.Carson wrote:I am almost EXACTLY a #2 writer from Sommer's post. I CANNOT wrap my head around continuing if there are drastic changes, and instead I rework things and start again. Sure, it takes time, but it's faster than simply breaking down, and then ultimately scrapping my writing (which I have threatened to do at times).
You're not alone Mark :-) I am also one of those writers. My entire process grinds to a halt if I know I've decided on a change that would require me going back and rewriting chapters. I personally believe that's the true nature of writer's block. But finishing isn't a problem for me and now that I'm an outliner I really don't deal with the risks associated with this kind of writing.

I also do not think there is anything wrong with not finishing something and moving on to a new project. Some books work in theory but not in practice, and that's ok.

Re: Your first novel and other stuff

Posted: August 23rd, 2012, 3:10 pm
by Mark.W.Carson
I don't find it a block, but rather a symptom of my asperger's.

Did you ever happen to read the micro synopsis I sent your way? (changing topics again, also blame aspie syndrome). My wife, of all people, gave me the hint toward my fix.

Re: Your first novel and other stuff

Posted: August 23rd, 2012, 7:17 pm
by LizV
JohnDurvin wrote:Oh, and one more thing, I can tell you this: you might THINK you're 1/3 done, but you might turn out to be a lot more or a lot less, regardless of how far you've gotten through the outline.
Oh ghod, this, yes. I've come to accept that I have no ability to predict where a given bit will fall; what I thought would take four chapters took one, and what I thought would be the end of chapter 8 happened in chapter 3. And the current WIP's doing the same thing.

As for changing horses partway through... I'm probably safe from that temptation because I have such a vague idea of how a novel will end when I start it that there's not much in place to change. :) I'm not a complete pantser, but my plan for the ending rarely goes much beyond determining if it's an American novel or a French one.

Re: Your first novel and other stuff

Posted: August 24th, 2012, 2:43 pm
by bcomet
This thread has so much good information and feedback on it. Thanks for having the courage to post it and start this conversation.

I am always growing a little bit at a time, so my process evolves.

I am also picking up my writing again after a hiatus (yea - glad that's over :-D) and finding that I can now both jump into WIPs by rereading what's been written so far (and taking/writing notes over it) and then jumping back in. Also, I've found that shorter pieces are helpful for distractions or exercise. The shorter pieces may not exactly work, but they get the juices flowing and serve the "I need to run with another great idea" - creatures that can really distract me.

My history so far, includes a first experimentally written novel/novella -very true to myself- that I wrote for myself. I had to put it in the drawer for ten years before I felt ready to pull it out and edit it. Then I gave it another year, and then did a second edit. This one needed to stay true to me, to my sensibilities. To change too much of it would be a mess because it is a stream-of-consciousness kind of work. I am happy with it. I thought I would never try to publish it and although it has had very encouraging and hugely supportive feedback from the few people I have shared parts or all of it with, (and even excerpts were published), I am pretty sure it was a novel for me. I never expected to write another novel.

And then... a second came, spontaneously. Also, experimental type writing, but with more going on. But still ethereal.

And then...a third, not at all experimental, really a story with characters who are named and everything!

Oh Dear, and then a fourth (awaiting a research trip for the ending) then a fifth -complete, and a sixth WIP...

I have discovered I am in love with my stories. Some are lighter and others more complex. I am not very good at editing as I am less enthusiastic than when I am getting the story out! Editing takes real discipline for me. And I don't know my way around publishing. It seems I have been observing and learning more than doing.

But I LOVE to write. So I say, follow where your energy is. Sometimes it IS a distraction. Sometimes completion is very important. It is vital if you mean to publish. And sometimes you just need to get it down the first time and get it on paper or on the screen any way it comes and you can go back and mess with the changes later.

But most of all, as a creative, I think you have to trust yourself. There is magic in that. If you heart says "Jump," Jump!!!

Re: Your first novel and other stuff

Posted: August 24th, 2012, 10:42 pm
by breathe
Thanks everyone for such good FB and discussion. I have a lot on my mind now and can't really get it all out.
I did kind of start with an outline (I couldn't sleep one night - well, I can't sleep every night - but this particular night I got up and just outlined stuff because I was lying in bed playing out scenes in my head anyway), so I had that roughish outline.
The thing is that about 10,000 words in I suddenly realized that maybe my MC is different than I thought he'd be. Or maybe , etc etc etc. So, what I've done is wrote a couple of chapters/scenes and saved it under "Alternate version middle chapter" (or whatever) and then kept going along the way. I'm doing that because I'm still not 100% sure what I'm trying to do or say :shock: So I'm starting to think this first draft is really going to be a process of getting to the end, typing "the end" and THEN realizing who my character is. It's almost like I have to get out the first draft just to figure out what the heck the story is or who the character really is.
The 2nd draft is going to change a lot (to the point where I might just re-write versus scratch and insert/subtract). I have a feeling I'm going to underwrite it anyway.
I have to say though that this project is a MG so it will be shorter anyway than a lot of you SF, fantasy, etc writers (who are liikely going to the 90,000+ word range). I'm not saying that MG is "easier" (god no, definitely not saying that), but I am slightly glad that my ending is sooner rather than later :mrgreen: Only because it makes me less anxious about *needing* to go back and fix things. I know that the light at the end of the tunnel is there somewhere, so even I get to the end and its all a mess, then no need to completely lose my marbles over it.

I do have a feeling though that every single project a person undertakes is going to be not easy. I read a blog post from another soon-to-be-published author recently and she was saying that she's writing her fifth manuscript (she has one sold) and she's just as frightened and lost on that as she was the others. Maybe the only thing that gets better with time is knowing that there has to be a way to finish it because it was done before.
I just really hope that each project can improve. I'm worried that along the way I'll just make the same errors and same mediocre writings.

I'm impressed that all some of you guys are great outiners or great at back-tracking/fixing. Also impressed that some of you commit to novels for a long, long time. I sometimes wonder if some writers find it tough to know when to "move on".

I think the thing that frightens me most is that I still don't know my true voice or real writing style or genre. So I have all these characters and ideas and I just want to go from project to project to keep getting them all out and then discover what is really me. But then I keep thinking "there's no time. so many ideas and i just want to leap from project to project" and theres so much to learn and so much other crap in life to deal with. I need to chill out :(

Oh, and if anyone else reads this (or maybe this is a new topic), but:
Did you ever have your very first novel critiqued? Or did you move along to a new improved project? The thing that worries me is potentially revising a first novel and showing it to CP's and it being really really bad. It seems that most people look back at their first novel and cringe. So I'm wondering would I make myself look like a fool to potential CP's that I seek out? (and that's a whole other basket there , trying to find CP's that I trust and that would want to be my CP, I'm not on social media, but I do follow a lot of people I totally would like to engage more with).

Another question: Have your CP's changed over time? How many CP's do you have per project? Show them just the first chapter (for example , your first novel) or the whole thing?

Ever have a CP and then fade away from that person because you lost the same interests or things?