- Alli Earnest
Four Lessons from Drafting Three Novels
Updated: May 22, 2020
If you'd asked me ten years ago whether I’d ever finish a novel, I’d say that it was a goal I had, but I don’t think I have the motivation to do it. I always get distracted. I chase after shiny new ideas and sometimes change topics on a whim (the latter annoys my husband to no end lol). That’s why I didn’t think I’d be able to finish a novel in its entirety. I’d started a few before, including several fanfiction stories, but I grew bored with them or ran out of ideas three chapters in. I just didn’t know what I could do to fix that.
But. I loved writing. I took a class in college on Fiction writing and LOVED it. It was terrifying, and we had to write agonizing poetry, but I learned so much. That’s when I believed that I could do it. If I could just write the stories in my head, I’d be happy. Then I watched a video about writing a novel (I wish I could remember what video it was). I don’t remember much, but the narrator said something like: Just finish your book. Your first book will be terrible. Horrible. But the point is. Get it written. Get it out of your system. Do whatever it takes to finish it. Don’t think. Just write.
That’s when it clicked.
You don’t have to write something flawless or fabulous or even remotely good. You just need to write.
That led me to finish my first novel about a young woman stuck in a world where everyone had the ability to fly except for her. Eilyn (pictured left) was an anti-hero and fun to write. I was so proud of myself when I finished the first draft at around 49k (I celebrated with Chick Fil A chicken nuggets and lemonade…so wonderful). Let me repeat: I FINISHED MY FIRST FULL NOVEL. EVER. It took me a little over a year and a half to write the stupid thing, but I DID IT.
But then…I realized that my story had HUGE issues. Major issues. But I told myself that I needed to revise it anyway. And I grew more and more frustrated with it. I started losing steam. I burned out. And that’s when I learned my second lesson:
Know when to shelve a book.
I plan on going back and rewriting the entire story one day (I think I have a killer idea to fix the gaping plot hole that gave me so much trouble), but I realized that if I wanted to become a published author, this was not the book that would get me there. It was my first novel. I’d try again with another.
For my next novel, I was on the fence about my idea. I’d had this certain one for years and years and years, but I’d never had the courage to sit down and write it. To be honest, I’m still scared that once I put it on the page, I’ll ruin it. I keep telling myself that I’ll write it when I’m better at my craft. Dumb. I know. I should just write it. But I wrote a different version of it, a prequel of sorts, that explained one of the crucial events in that original idea. That’s when I embarked on my first foray into the world of…NaNoWriMo. I wrote 80k of that book in a MONTH. Crazy, right? I finished the full manuscript on January 29th of the following year, and the first draft rounded out at a whopping 150k. Goodness gracious. And I basically pantsed it (wrote without an outline...or really any notes). I had a general idea of what would happen at the end based on my original idea I’m still nervous to write, but I pantsed 150,000 words. Not impressive words. Not even good. But I did it knowing that I can finish a book in a short amount of time if I put my mind to it.
However, when I went back to start revisions….I knew it would be a complete rewrite and restructuring of the plot seeing as I had pages and pages and so many pages of rambling and weird events that didn’t fit with the characters. And my characters fell flat. BUT, I loved the ending. I loved the world. I've shelved it for the time being, but it’s one I know I’ll go back to. But I learned something valuable:
Structure and solid characters are important.
Now, about the time I was finishing up with the first draft of my 2nd novel, I had an idea for a 3rd. It came on a whim as I looked at ways to restructure a book (because novel #2 was a bit of a structural mess). That’s when I discovered the Snowflake Method. I tried it for the idea I had floating in the back of my brain and wanted to see what happened. As I’m a bit Type B and don’t like to follow strict guidelines, I used the Snowflake method as a base and then started making it my own. It was then I came up with my “Three Step Character Creation Guide,” and the story took off from there. I didn’t even mean to start it, actually. I was just freewriting what it would’ve been like if my two main characters met up in a cantina and talked. Well…that’s what ended up being the first scene in my earliest drafts. Since then, I’ve tweaked it, changed settings, and a few other things, but that’s where it started. I was also determined not to make the same mistakes that I had in my first two novels. I needed to think about things before I wrote them.
I brainstormed the junk out of that story. I didn’t outline, really, but I knew about the characters, understood the history of the world, and discovered the seeds of a story that wanted to be told. Having a solid base and a semblance of a plan, I wrote my heart out. And I finally realized that I could do this whichever way I chose. I was the boss (or the captain…). I made my own rules:
It’s okay to edit as you go, as long as you continue writing. It’s okay to stop and think about your story to evaluate if it’s going in the right direction.
And you know what? Not only did I finish the first draft in under a year, but it was a draft I was proud of. It was a draft I was excited to revise. I loved my characters, my world, and the story they told. And that’s how The Promise of Shattered Stars was born. It’s the product of all I’ve learned and put into practice. And I’m excited to learn even more as I continue my journey.
So, now I’m curious. What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to a new writer and what advice has affected you the most?
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