5 is a good number. 5 is the number of drafts I have attempted to write my story in, and 5 is where I think it stops. Aside from this, 5 is my favorite, so I hope you don’t mind if I write in this odd-numbered list. If you’re going to foray into the adventure that is novel-writing, I think these tips are going to help you out, for they did me, and they work wonders.
#1: You gotta start somewhere.
I started writing Saltfolk late February 2016. But before that, I had many failed attempts writing the same plot the year before, and the year before that. To be honest, each year has a different version. The story haunted me so much that all I wanted was closure, and so I spent days plotting it out on thick notebooks and illustrated the characters on scratch paper. But the real magic happens is when you let go and just start typing.
I realized that a story is a living, breathing thing. I does not want to be bent and disciplined. It is wayward and takes you to places you never dared looking at, and you’ll be surprised that you’ve already filled up an empty canvass with growing words that actually made better sense than the one you plotted in your head.
#2: Don’t be afraid of new beginnings
I’ve mentioned that this is the 5th draft. Of 2016’s venture. That doesn’t include 2014’s and 2013’s. And each time I get an epiphany (you’ll know it; you’ll just do), I could feel my insides tying into knots because that means I’ll have to delete thousands of words to get to the rhythm. To be honest, it feels like breaking up with someone. But starting over afresh is important, especially like me, who likes to start with a clean slate before I move on. Don’t be scared to break up with your words.
Tip: keep the files. You might need those quotable quotes in the future!
#3: You won’t get it right the first time
Don’t feel pressured. Perfect things start with a mess, like how rocks—those rough and ugly things—are carved and polished to create gems. The first draft is the messiest of them all. It’s not the one you’re going to put out as beta (unless you’re impatient, or just really, really good), but it’s the perfect opportunity to let your ideas flow.
I’ve read many writers say that the first draft is actually you telling the story to yourself. That’s exactly what I did. I wrote the scenes in simple, basic lines before making another do-over, this time, expounding the each part with real-deal feels. It works for me because the ideas set the direction for the scenes, making it easy for the narrator to go within the lines of the overall plot.
Tip: write chapters by file so you can edit individual parts without damaging the rest of the story.
#4: Get ready to delete. Recklessly
To me, new drafts mean new deletes. Those 100,000+ words didn’t matter as long as I get to where the story is leading me. The thing is, this: novel-writing is a discovery. It’s a discovery of yourself, of what you can do, of what kind of world are you building, and what kind of characters are you rooting for. As for me, the story I thought of 10 years ago was completely flung out of the window in place of the one that truly made sense (in the mind and heart). You’ll be editing out names, and places, and scenes — so you can convey the narrative perfectly and with accuracy. I think that’s part of a writer’s maturity.
#5: The journey is so freaking worth it
There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing the ending. The thing you’ve been staring at the horizon, that little light you’ve tried to follow as you write your character’s darkest days? Yep. All that work for that last, final dot (or exclamation point, however you choose to end it). And from here, you’ll realize you just rode a roller-coaster of a journey, making you shake at the sight of the giant loops then dragging you down to gravity. The best parts lift you up, like little gems hiding in the night. And you see your characters strongly overcome each of their trials, and you become a better person as they are. Victory is sweet.
Bonus! Don’t expect big things, but let big things come to you on their own
So, you wrote a novel. Probably you’re like me, head on a high, feels spilt everywhere with highly-elated emotions. However, let’s take a step back. We’ve got a good draft, but there’s another do-over to be done. And while it’s nice to dream of having this book published, getting there is no joke. It means getting rejected by agents and publishers, telling you this isn’t the material they need (preparing my heart for that), but don’t let it faze you. If you keep on knocking, doors will open (maybe not now?). And there are other ways you can get your story out there: crowdfunding, collaborating, self-publishing, and so on. Just decide that one way or another, you’re going to get your story out there, and it will happen. I promise. It will. Believe it. [wrote this line to myself, but hey! I want to cheer you on too!]
See you, emerging author! x