How to Write a Novel – Pt 6: Get it Out!

This is the philosophy of Jae: rough drafts are easy, or rather they should be.

Ernest Hemingway once said:

The first draft of everything is bantha poodoo.

Which inspired George Lucas to write Jabba the Hutt calling Han Solo bantha poodoo for his poor smuggling, when we all know the real bantha poodoo was the first draft of worst Star Wars movie ever, also better known as Episode I: The Phantom Poodoo.  But I digress…

George Lucas vs Ernest Hemingway

Even people who died before any Star Wars are affected by poor writing. Also, don’t get involved in a fight between two bearded men…

The point is when you are writing your first draft, enjoy it!  Write for the pure love and creation of it.  As George Bernard Shaw said, “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”  If you’re afraid of making bantha poodoo on your first draft, you’re likely to get little accomplished, and probably even less likely to enjoy it.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.  Take it from Stephen King, someone I’m sure we all wish we could have even 1/4 of his success of in our careers.

Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft. You want to write a story? Fine. Put away your dictionary, your encyclopedias, your World Almanac, and your thesaurus. … When you sit down to write, write. Don’t do anything else except go to the bathroom, and only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off.  (Read the full quote in its entirety here.)

It’s good to do plotting, planning, world and character building, and outlining—but at some point you need to leap into the chasm of story unknown and bring the messy, tangled web of story back out with you.  It won’t be perfect on the first draft, period.  So quit worrying about getting everything perfectly set before you start, and get that first draft out.

My current novel Shade has gone through many, many drafts.  I’m fairly certain it’s hit the ten mark.  At about eight or so I realized it needed a major revamp, which was like completely starting over.  It took me several weeks to be okay with doing that to my novel, but it’s a stronger story now than the first draft, but I still needed that first draft as my foundation to get anywhere.  In fact, I cringe a little when I read over my first draft, but at the same time I’m very pleased with progress I’ve made.

As Stephen says, when you sit down to write, write.  Enjoy it.  Love it!  Be addicted to it.  Believe this will be the best story in the world.  Push your imagination to the very limits and create a fantastic world for your readers to come and enjoy.  Save stress and perfection for later drafts and for now just let creativity freely flow.

Sometimes when I’m writing my first draft, I don’t even properly chapter the thing.  I just write and leave spaces between events, occasionally marking spots where I think a new chapter might work nicely.

You can even think of a first draft as a brainstorming session, where no ideas are wrong until you switch to editing mode.

Let me illustrate this another way (literally and figuratively I suppose).  When I was in college, learning Spanish, there was this girl in our class who seemed to speak Spanish way better than all the rest of us.  She would make conversation with everyone and anyone who spoke Spanish.  I asked her how she learned so quickly, and she laughed in an embarrassed sort of way and said, “I don’t really speak it that well, at least, I think my grammar sucks and I’m probably using the wrong verb tenses.  But I realized the more I speak, despite all the mistakes I’m making, the easier it becomes to speak and eventually the mistakes go away.”

Jae bad spanish

Most of us were afraid to speak to anyone because we were afraid of making mistakes and looking foolish.  In the end, our skill grew very slowly because we were more afraid of making mistakes rather than learning from our mistakes.  The girl whose confidence we envied came because she made hundreds of mistakes without fear, learned from those mistakes, and gained not only confidence in her ability but the knowledge that came with practice.

Write that first draft confidently, knowing that you’ll probably make mistakes, but that with time and practice you’ll shape the bantha poodoo that it is into something well more valuable than even Han Solo could imagine.  (And certainly a far better story than the Phantom Poodoo.)

Ready, set, first draft!

Okay my writer lovelies.  What experiences in writing first drafts would you share with the rest of us?  How do you view first drafts?  How many drafts are you on with your current WIP (work in progress)? 

Tomorrow, sadly, we’ve come to the end of the series.  I’ll share final thoughts and final direction on how to write a novel.  Hasta mañana!

p.s.  After you have that first draft out, please polish it up.  Otherwise you’ll have scores of fans still pissed off about a crappy job you did 13 years after the fact.  Seriously, George, would it have killed you to go over the script just a few more times?

14 thoughts on “How to Write a Novel – Pt 6: Get it Out!

  1. Great post! I made the mistake of editing my novel as I went along, resulting in a mish-mash of chapters and scenes that have been written over an eight year period. Still, that’s a mistake I won’t be making again…

      • I write pretty much across the speculative fiction genre. The novel is the first part of a sci-fi trilogy (I know, eight years and I haven’t even finished the first book!), but I have other works at various stages; novels and short stories that cover sic-fi, fantasy and horror/supernatural. I’m also trying to put some demos together for the songs I’ve written…so, it’s becoming clearer why I don’t actually get anything finished!

        I see you have a novel in progress. How far are you into that?

        • You should try and enter the short stories into contests. As far as I’ve gathered from other writers at conferences if you have a lot of clout that can help get your foot in the door with agents (clout meaning awards won).

          As for me. I wrote it, polished it, had it professionally edited and headed out to a big conference in NYC where I got quite the awakening. So currently I’m amidst rewrites and a major overhaul. I’m probably 75% done with this new version (meaning getting a full draft out, not ready for querying). I really like the beginning, just not sure about the ending, we’ll see as time goes on. Sometimes stuff you write that you hated you end up liking and stuff you loved while writing looks less good later. It’s weird how that stuff can work out. Thanks for asking!

          Do you update your status on your WIP on your blog sometimes? I haven’t gone through all your posts yet, but if you don’t you should!

      • I’ve just started to enter competitions. I got an Honourable Mention in Writers of the Future last quarter, which was my first attempt. Apart from that I’ve had a piece of flash fiction published.

        I don’t really talk too much about writing on my blog. I suppose I feel that I shouldn’t post too much until I have something to shout about!

        Well done in getting your novel to a draft level and putting it out there. It takes a lot to get that far. And, the more you write, the more you learn about writing, so I’m sure you’re in a better position to fix anything that needs fixing. Look forward to seeing how you progress with this on your blog!

  2. I take it you’re a big Star Wars fan, or at least enjoyed the first trilogy. Your personality shines through with each new post and that is a good thing.

    What I love about this post is the honest, playful, and approachable feel. You’ve clearly shown its okay to make mistakes. Sometimes writers get hung up on the details before they have anything to even worry about. You can’t edit what you don’t have.

    There is no formula to writing. The only way to discover what works for you is by writing and experimenting. You have to roll your sleeves up and do it.

    BTW, the Spanish analogy was spot on. How many writers sit on their novel because they are afraid to get it out there? You see it all the time. Part of learning is making mistakes, but you have to allow yourself to make them.

    You nailed the Lucas and Hemingway doodle. The resemblance is uncanny. The only thing missing was a doodle of Han shooting first.

    While I enjoyed the series to far, I’m sad to see it end. I’d say something witty in Spanish here, but I took Latin in high school and don’t remember much. Either that or my age is showing. *looks around* Is my age showing? 😉

    • I took useless French in high school. Then in college when it came down to math or a foreign language, I realized Spanish was probably more helpful. I kind of wish I’d taken Japanese as well. Ah well, these are things I can continue to learn on my own.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the series. I do love Star Wars. Don’t know why it’s been on my mind lately, maybe because I keep hearing that Gotye song and thinking of the SW one instead.

      And I totally agree 100% with what you said: “Sometimes writers get hung up on the details before they have anything to even worry about. You can’t edit what you don’t have.”

      I have a friend who almost wants the story to be perfect at first go. Yes, there’s a lot you can do to help make your story better before you write it, but you can only study Spanish for so long before you need to just speak it.

  3. Having kept my novel in hiding for a few years and moving on from HS to university, I found that a lot had changed in my writing style. My first draft was, as you mentioned, easy. Going back years later and reworking it was a mess. Glad that is over.

    • It’s messy, true, but I think a lot of fun in some ways as well. Maybe I’m just weird, but I enjoy seeing how much progress I’ve made with each draft. When I’m about to do major changes, I usually make a copy so I can go back to the old if needed. I like seeing myself become a stronger writer. (Hopefully that continues).

      What genre do you write, btw?

      • This is true. I have a hard time going back to something over and over again. It’s something I’ll have to work on.

        My preferred genre is a bit of a mystery to me. My current novel I am putting out as an ebook is more of a thriller/suspense type which I find really enjoyable to write and actually just think about!

        However, I have written a lot of short stories that focus on relationships and emotions. A complete 180 in terms of excitement and plot. I find my writing style changing in these stories as well. I’m not sure if I want to stick to one genre to avoid confusing readers. As an author, I think people should be able to know what to expect from you. I would hate to throw readers through a loop and turn them off.

        How about you? I think it’s very brave and patient of you to follow a traditional publishing route.

    • I don’t know if it’s bravery or just that I’d prefer to let an agent handle the business side of things. I’d rather focus on the writing and marketing myself and my books. Plus I think they can make connections I can’t independently. I may be wrong on this, and I may end up trying the self-pub route in the end, but I’ve gotta go with my gut and that’s still to try the traditional route.

      I think you can shake it up in terms of genre if you build a substantial following. But you do probably want to stick closer to one in the beginning. Although Richard Paul Evans has broken genre boundaries with the Christmas Box and then the Michael Vey series.

      As for me, I’m writing YA fantasy, my current novel is called Shade. I’m in the midst of major revamping/rewriting. It’s been good though. I used to loathe rewrites, but after working with a professional editor, I’ve seen the light, so to speak. I really do enjoy it–well as much as one can enjoy editing.

      Have you put these short stories of yours into contests? And if so, have you won? 😀

      • I always say to trust your gut. It’s telling you something for a reason and it’s usually never wrong. That’s why I decided to stick to a low-key eBook route. I love to write and want others to enjoy it, but I don’t want it to take up too much time and energy right now.

        Working with a professional editor– that sounds so…professional! I’m glad it’s made the process more enjoyable. What was the one moment when you decided you needed to revamp the whole thing?

        And no, I haven’t done anything like that with my stories. I only recently began telling friends and family that I’ve been writing my whole life and—surprise—I’ve written a novel. That was a shocker for most. It’s always been a goal of mine to get something out there in the world and have it entertain someone. The rest, I’ll see how it goes. 🙂 These short story contests are something I could probably get into. Any you recommend? Have you had any victories in them?

    • Well, for awhile I thought I would self-pub and I figured if I was going to do that, then it was prudent to find an editor. She really gave me the once over, but it was all good, I needed it. I grew a lot stronger, but there was still a lot to learn. I felt stuck as far as publishing went and even though self-pub seemed right before, now that I’d had it edited it didn’t seem the right path anymore.

      So I decided to attend the Backspace Writers Conference and get some one-on-one time with agents. It was a real eyeopener to say the least. It’s not that I thought my book was flawless, just that I didn’t realize how much further I needed to take it.

      I returned home a little deflated, but after a few weeks of mulling it over, I decided to do a major revamp (back in May/June-ish). I think it’s gotten better. The story has changed a bit, but I think a lot of things make more sense than they did in the previous version.

      As for short stories, I haven’t written any myself, I just know if you win contests it gives you some clout to flaunt around and then only helps a writing career. I know Writers Digest does some, but I haven’t looked into it since I don’t really have any yet to submit. I’ve mostly been focusing on the blog. 😉

      But if you ever need another pair of eyes, I’m always open to having a look at first chapters. I like to try and give back to the writing community as much as I can. I’ve found sharing with other writers to be extremely helpful and found their feedback quite valuable.

      • Interesting. Well, you seem a lot more prepared than I am. To be honest, I’m just going with the flow. Totally against my usual personality, but maybe that’s why it’s the right way for me to go. Who knows, I might change my mind. I’m looking forward to keeping up with your progress and eventually read your work.

        I’ll have to look into those contests when I have the time. Unfortunately, school always comes number first and there’s a lot of it.

        Thanks for your offer! I might take it up once I go over it a few more times. I’m still a little shy about showing people but it will be a good exercise to let a stranger check it out!

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