As a writing coach, it’s my job to help people get a little perspective on their story problems. Recently, a client asked me to help him out with his first novel. He’d gotten halfway through and stalled out. I put together a laundry list of ways to fix his various story problems — and then I told him to ignore my advice. “For a little while, at least,” I said. “First, finish your novel. Later, you can go back and fix these things.”
That’s really the best advice I can give to anyone working on a first novel: forge ahead and finish it. Get all the way to “The End” before you go back and start making changes to the story. The rough draft of your first novel always seems like an insurmountable challenge. Why? Because you’ve never done it before. But don’t let that stop you.
Once you finally finish your novel — once you reach the very last page — you pass a milestone that most would-be authors never see: you’ve actually written a novel. How cool is that?
I’ve done some highly unscientific research at the local bookstore and discovered that 100% of all published books are finished. I’ve never heard an editor say, “Well, this author only wrote the first couple hundred pages — but it was so perfect, we decided to publish half a book!”
But you’re beset by fears. What if the second half of my book is no good? Then you’ll make it good. What if I don’t know how to end it? Then you’ll make it up. Remember, you’re the creative type. Improvise!
The first draft of anything is just that: a first draft. You’ll make it better in the second, and in the third, and so on. It’s like a sculpture: once you have the basic form worked out, you can keep chipping and polishing until it’s beautiful.
Plus, there’s a hidden bonus. The more you write, the better you get. As the pages pile up, you get more skilled at the craft. The learning curve for your first novel is usually so steep that by the time you get halfway through, you think to yourself, “Wait, now I know how to do this better! I should go back and fix all of that stuff I wrote earlier!” It sounds reasonable, but it’s a trap.
Instead, write yourself a note and keep going. You’ll need every last bit of creative strength to reach the end of the novel. Don’t squander your energy on perfecting things that you might delete later. It won’t be flawless, especially not in the first draft. So for now, just concentrate on finishing your novel.
First, get it written — then later you can get it right!
Great post. The not editing as I go along will be extremely difficult for me as I am a bit of a perfectionist. I think I need someone peeking over my shoulder and slapping my hand every time I even think about editing.
Thanks for the kudos! Sometimes it helps to keep a notepad or sticky notes next to you as you write. Then when an editing idea occurs to you, you can just jot it down and keep on writing. Remember, get it written first, THEN get it right. Have fun writing!
That's really great advice, especially for folks who take their writing to a critique group. Sometimes we struggle to get those first few chapters down perfect based on the feedback we're getting, when what we really need to do is just push on through. Great post!
Thanks! I've been guilty of that myself. It's sometimes painful to move on from a scene that you know is flawed and force yourself to keep writing until the end of the book. But I've found that you usually get more perspective later, and can actually do a better job of revising after you finish a whole draft.