5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Writing My First Novel

5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Writing My First Novel

Every journey is marked by mistakes, experimentation, and ultimately learning. The path to authorship is no different! Read on for some of the tips, tools, and tricks that I’ve gleaned along the way to publishing my first novel. Happy writing!

1) Write the Beginning Last

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a blog or listened to some podcast that harped on and on about the importance of a good opening. From the existential crisis that is the opening line to the never-ending debate over the precise percentage of character backstory to include in that initial scene, so much seems to ride on these decisions, meaning there is plenty to stress out over. But don’t let fear of the blank page stand in your way!

I’m sure there are authors out there who always know exactly how they want to set the stage for every story. But if you’re like me, and had written and rewritten the first chapter of your novel half a dozen times before realizing that the actual story started after Chapter 5, then I’d seriously urge you to give yourself permission to just move on. Writing for me has always been a question of finding and maintaining momentum. Like a lot of writers, I suffer from shiny object syndrome and tend to go all in on every single project before quickly losing steam as soon as I get excited about the next project. 

So if you know you have that tendency, give yourself permission to move with that momentum. The beauty of editing is that you can always go back later and iron out that initial scene. 

2) Experiment

Don’t be afraid to experiment with how, when, where, and what you write! Like anything, writing is a skill you have to develop. But more than that, it’s supposed to be fun! Sitting down and exploring a brand new world and meeting new and exciting characters. But sometimes it takes a while to get there!

The internet is filled with unsolicited advice from those who claim to have been there, done that, and somehow come out the other side an author. Well, here’s my piece of unsolicited advice: You have to do what works for YOU. 

It’s all well and good to believe that the absolute best time to write is at 5am every day when you’re still in sub-rational dream state. It’s perfectly fine that some swear by dictation, stream of consciousness, or outline writing. There are plotters and there are pantsers, but all are writers. The fact remains that every piece of advice means absolutely nothing if it doesn’t work for YOU. 

So give yourself permission to experiment! Write at different times of day! Go to the library, the cafe, your backyard, or even under your stairs. Try a free trial of the latest and greatest writing software. I’m including a list of some of my favorite tools below, so feel free to check them out! Do whatever it takes to develop your own process. But here’s the key:

You have to keep writing along the way.

Take it from someone who has made a career out of procrastinating from work by planning out exactly how I want to do said work. Experiment to your heart’s content, but don’t lose your momentum. You have a story to tell, so don’t let yourself get sidetracked!

3) Record Everything

In the excitement of finally getting the courage to sit down and write my first novel, I was so worried about losing momentum and getting sidetracked that I didn’t want to stop for anything. Not editing, not plotting, not in depth character analysis, nothing

Now that Chaos Looming is written and edited, and I’m working on the sequel, the one thing I wish I’d done differently would have been to keep better records. Specifically, I wish that I’d created a Story Bible and Style Guide as I went along. Now, I had your standard character sheets and basic plot arc, but I didn’t slow down to record the ever-important world-building details that I created as I wrote. From the name of someone’s horse, plants and herbs and their uses, the musical instruments my characters heard, or the myths and legends I referenced. 

Diving back into that world, I’m constantly having to reference the first novel and its accompanying novellas (no spoilers yet!) to make sure I’m getting these details right. From now on, I’ll definitely be building these documents as I go to save time in the long run!

Pro Tip: It’s also super helpful when working with an editor to provide them with a style guide that has some of this information. Most people remember to include character names, places, and general spelling and grammar conventions you’d like to follow, but especially for developmental editing, adding more details lets another person double check your consistency.

4) Write Only for You

I based the core premise for The Legion of Pneumos series on a short story I wrote when I was ten years old. Yep, you read that right! Over a decade and a half later, and Chaos Looming is finally seeing the light of day. I picked up and put it back down countless times in the years since then. In 2018 I even mapped out the entire plot, built all my character sheets, started writing the first few chapters, and then…I stopped. 

Why? I was afraid. There’s really no other way to put it. I was afraid of having my words out in the world for others to read and judge. The absolute only way that I could work up the courage to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys as it may be) was that I first had to lie to myself. I had to promise myself that no one else would ever read a word of what I was writing. 

It was only then that I could turn off the voice in the back of my head that kept insisting that my idea was boring, that no one would care about these characters, that my writing would never be good enough. To silence my inner critic, I had to focus on why I had sat down to write in the first place. I had a story to tell, a world I wanted to live in, even if just for a while. 

Telling myself that no one else would ever read my book gave me the courage to get started, free from the sometimes oppressive opinions of others. At the end of the day, I’ll always be writing for myself first. 

5) Learn to Close the Book

In the epic words of one founding father, “We’re gonna teach ’em how to say goodbye.”

I think I’m not alone in the writing community in having definite perfectionist tendencies. That means countless rounds of editing and back and forth discussions with your cover designer. At one point, I was so worried about having plot holes in the series that I seriously considered holding off on publishing the first book until I’d written the entire series, just in case, I changed something later on. 

On one level, this is entirely normal. You’ve poured your heart and soul into a work, so you can’t bear the thought of letting it out into the world until it is absolutely perfect. But is there more to it than that? 

I believe the secret truth that all writers fear, is that as soon as they let someone else into their world, it’s no longer truly theirs anymore. A story changes as soon as it’s been told, morphed and nuanced by the life and experience of the receiver. 

No one likes to feel like they’ve lost control, but with writers, that’s our entire job. We create an experience for the reader, filled with emotion and thought. We create something that will outlive us, that will grow and change without us. That is the joy of writing, but the first person that has to close the book is us

What about you? What are you struggling with as you write your first novel?

What advice and tips do you have around writing and publishing?

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