The First Book: First Time Novelist

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The epitomized ‘first book’. What happens in the first book can make or break an aspiring author. It’s one thing to bone-up on all the rules of writing, but to implement your knowledge into book form for the first time can be a daunting task–one that few survive…

Don’t be one of those who lets the ‘first book’ experience murder them. You can do it. Get that first book under your belt, and you’ll have succeeded in completing the biggest step of your writing career.

So, a spark of an idea forms in our head and we think, “This would be a good book.” Then the idea soon morphs, almost uncontrollably; characters are fleshing out, settings form, and plots are building. When you can’t hold it all in your head anymore–you make the epic decision to put it on paper.
Congratulations. You have BEGUN.

1st Issue that we often face as first-time writers…
We write for ourselves.
This means we begin talking about our main character, what he or she is doing, and we are just letting our fingers fly over the keyboard writing EVERYTHING that comes to mind. Eventually we realize the whole beginning we have worked so tirelessly on is irrelevant to the story as a whole. We have written for one purpose–to learn who our characters really are, and what their motivation really is.
Have you written a couple chapters about nothing? A few chapters? I wrote TEN. Ten chapters about nothing. And it was murder when I finally decided to take an axe to the whole front half of my book.

Don’t think of this as a wasted time. You’ve learned what you need to write about and how to get there. AND… that first major cut from the beginning will make the pain of editing much more tolerable. Rule of thumb: Start your story as close to the action as possible. That eliminates the urge to write so much backstory. I read that tip before and only now do I understand what it really means.

2nd Issue… We lose track of where our story is going. I wrote the absolute most vague of outlines. This is my hero, this is my bad guy, this is how bad guy gets killed by hero… And that was basically it. I plugged in a few plot points but they were far from solid ideas. Just beyond my first mistake, I careened into my second: I ditched my measly outline and let my story write itself. This is how many experienced writers do it…it’s how I continue to do it… BUT–I wish I hadn’t ditched my written plan for my first ever book. Keeping up with all the changes, re-changes, and re-RE-changes was exhausting. I couldn’t keep my story straight. I never knew where I was. LOST. I nearly gave up there.

But, in my struggling, I inadvertently trained my brain to store mass quantities of info, able to recall the exact lines, word for word and what page number they were on out of 250+ pages. I literally memorized my book cover to cover.

If you want a quicker fix, simply set your book aside for about a month, then you’ll be as close as it gets to being a stranger to your book. You will be surprised when you realize what you think your book says and what your book really says are two different things. Then you should be able to clear things up and carry on.

3rd Issue… We suddenly realize we’ve made the same grammatical, spelling, structural, or style issue throughout our book. And now that we are three-quarters through, it’s a problem. This issue doesn’t seem as horrendous after trudging through the prior issues, but it certainly is tedious to go chapter to chapter wearing out the “Find and Replace” buttons. Since it’s impossible to foresee what we will struggle with, I’ll give you my list of mistakes and solutions, and hopefully, it’ll save you some effort.

Word overuse-How much is too much? If you think you’re writing the same words, your reader KNOWS you are.

Cliches-phrases or even overdone plots. Hero must find special artifact to right the wrong in the world…etc. While it’s okay to find inspiration in other books, write something NEW. Something straight from your own head.

End of sentence preposition Don’t turn the lights off, turn OFF the lights.

The infamous ellipses To make ellipses that don’t separate at the edge of page, in Word I used this trick: PERIOD, SHIFT+CONTROL+SPACE, PERIOD. Repeat until you have your three well-behaved dots. Space to end of page to test. With my new MacBook, it does it automagically. 😉

Character names I had a bad habit of misspelling my own character’s names. It helps to make quick reference profiles, to help remember more than just names, but appearance, personality, etc.

Comma use and abuse Wow. This is a hard one. I am a terrible comma-kaze. NO COMMA THEN!! ( blah blah blah, then). I had to fix a bajillion of this mistake. Research commas then research commas some more. It was by far my toughest learning curve!

4th Issue– If we’ve done a good job and really get into our hero’s head, when the ending comes around, we fail to overcome his inner turmoil. Why? Because we’re human. For example, I hated my antagonist so much that when it came time for my hero to overcome his inner turmoil by NOT killing the bad guy, I killed the bad guy anyway. I wanted the bad guys blood on my own hands. And after I killed him, it was easier to go back and rewrite the ending how it should have been.

5th IssueTaking criticism from beta readers like a knife to the heart. We’ve toiled away and overcame many great obstacles and in the process, we become tender. Self-conscious. Afraid.

It hurts to hear someone say there are parts of your book that need improvement. After all, you’ve just spent HOW MUCH TIME writing this book?! It’s the toughest pill to swallow, but if you ignore the advice of your readers, it may mean the death of your book. Get a second, third, fourth opinion if you must, but if you’re getting similar responses, you have got to consider what your readers are saying.

It was challenging for me to be fair and stop making excuses for why I wrote some things certain ways, but in the end, I had to accept that my point obviously wasn’t translating. Suck it up. Make necessary changes. Your book will only get BETTER because of it.

Don’t let your first book be your last. You can finish it! And maybe one day, you’ll see it on a store shelf, next to your favorite author. And maybe someday, some other struggling writer will be hoping to see their first book on the shelf next to yours.

Write on!

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