12 Things I’ve Learned Writing the First Draft of My First Fantasy Novel

I’m finally done with my first draft and it’s currently over 100k words. Here’s a few things I’ve learned. I don’t think you’ll find any advice here.

More like if you need somebody to shoot up with, I’m your guy, c’mon, let’s go.

1. Writing a novel sends a spiritual message to the universe

And the message is this: somebody please stop this idiot.

Distractions will multiply and swarm you. Children will need you (even if you don’t have any–don’t ask me how that works). The best game in the world just came out and of course you must play it. Naps are wonderful. Chores will suddenly be appealing. More on these later.

2. It’s a shitfest and thov shalt give no fvcks


This picture is never inappropriate.

A first draft is so much easier if you just don’t care about mistakes or how good it sounds.

The purpose of a first draft is to just have it and be fucking done with it so you can revise and rewrite.

And yet I constantly found myself getting bogged down in word choice and showing-not-telling and avoiding passive verbs. I would go back and change things and damage my word count progress. It slowed me down more than it helped with anything.

A shitty first draft is still better than a good incomplete first draft.

Incomplete books don’t get published.

My first draft is a total shitfest and I just can’t care. That doesn’t make me a bad writer. It makes me a good writer because now is not the time to care. Caring comes later, during revising and rewriting, which will get its own post like this when I get there, so just you wait.

3. Daily word count was my new god

I got on my knees because I now worshiped at the temple of Completing the Draft.

Yes, at this point it’s about quantity, not quality–up to a point. The story itself can’t suck. The characters need to be interesting. A lot of that comes before you set down a single word of narrative or dialogue. There is just no better indication of progress for a first draft (which is just the beginning of the entire process, after all) other than word count, so word count is All.

Often I would catch myself just sitting there, spacing off into the screen, not even thinking about what to write. Huge fucking time waster. I catch myself at it more often and immediately just start throwing words onto screen without even caring at how bad it is.

It’s a first draft.

Get it done.

4. Nothing about the story is immutable

My story is far more malleable than I ever would’ve imagined. I would’ve never thought I could do such scream-filled whiskey-and-rusted-saw surgeries and bloody vivisections to it.

Characters came and went. Or they lived, died, and then lived again. Events were reordered or dropped or added. I’d make a rough outline and then add a crazy number of scenes as I did the actual writing because my dots were too far to connect and I needed more dots (or, if you’re a long-time MMO player, moar dots).

5. This house is clean

cleanAll the things you used to procrastinate on now seem like fantastic fucking ideas compared to working on that first draft.

Never mind that you just had a character completely violate your fantasy world’s rules, it’s been a long time since someone completely reorganized the pantry.

I’m not saying things shouldn’t get done. Don’t let your children or pets starve, but otherwise the most important thing that needs to get done is your first draft.

Funny how I’d clean everything but my desk.

Also funny is how the more I wrote, the more I wanted to write. Any moment not spent writing was spent feeling guilty for not writing. Okay, never mind, that’s actually not funny at all.

6. My eyeballs hated me

I ended up totally killing my eyeballs staring at a screen all night.

Computer monitors emit a lot of blue light, which fucks with your body’s day/night cycle.

It also makes your eyes feel like scratchy, itchy little balls of sand embedded in your face.

You can ameliorate this with glasses tinted to block out the blue light waves (expensive and cumbersome) or use a program that alters your monitor’s light output, like f.lux (free and easy).

Now my eyeballs don’t hate me so much and I can sleep better, too.

7. My body freaked out

I had a bout of carpal tunnel syndrome when I first started. I thought it was legit. But then I thought about the timing and became seriously suspicious of myself. Around the same time, I was watching old episodes of Hell’s Kitchen (Gordon Ramsay is my Patronus) and several times there were chefs who mysteriously had major ailments hit them at the worst possible time, and all I could think was: yeah, you’re choking.

I suddenly saw myself in the same light. When I realized that my carpal tunnel was psychosomatic, it disappeared and hasn’t returned even though I spend all day on the laptop. I spend solid hours writing and not a smidgen of pain.

8. Dialogue is simple, except of course when it’s not

Making different characters speak differently than each other and unique and consistent for themselves when writing dialogue is harder than it seems.

After a while, using dialogue tags (he said, she said, etc.) or not using them turns into a big gooey melted mess in my brain.

In almost every case, any dialogue tag except for said sounds contrived and draws attention to itself.

9. Lovey-dovey hanky-panky spanky-wanky

Just say that subhead out loud to yourself.

Now go around all day saying it to yourself.

I guarantee you’ll feel better.

You’re welcome.

Sex scenes are fun, but difficult. You have to treat them like any other scene: these characters are devouring each other (not literally, unless, you know, that’s how it’s done in your fantasy world) because doing so advances the plot and the characters. Otherwise it’s just gratuitous fucking, which is not what you want unless you’re specifically writing erotica, where it’s the reverse and the plot is subservient to the sex.

What can be more challenging are the simple relationship moments: looking into each other’s eyes, the first kiss, a tender moment, lies and betrayal, unleashing supernatural powers against your ex in a vengeful blood-frenzy.

You know, normal stuff like that.

10. Pinterest is both a godsend and a hellhole

Pinterest is like blue meth for fantasy writers. I already wrote about it so I won’t duplicate myself, here. I find Pinterest both infinitely useful and an infinite timesuck. I try not to even look at it until it’s at the end of the day and I’m already done writing.

11. Sleep is my frenemy

You read that in his voice.

You read that in his voice.

Sleep is my most important ally. Coming and going out of it I reap the fruit borne of my subconscious mind, which is working overtime like a pod of gigantic, majestic sea creatures deep beneath the waves of the surface of the conscious mind, singing deep songs to each other and sending up signals to me.

Sleep can also be a psychosomatic tool of self-sabotage. I’ve had step-children and nieces who, like magic, were suddenly stricken with exhaustion or the urge to spend twenty minutes in the bathroom when faced with the chore of dishes.

It was truly amazing. You point it out to them and they splutter and and prevaricate and just do it again the next day as if it were real and you didn’t just point it out to them the day before it’s bullshit.

Adults are no different: I hate this scene. What the fuck is this character supposed to do, now? And why is the answer to lie down and close my eyes? I’m falling out of my chair…

How do I know if I’ve got to power through? How do I know when I really need to just lay down for a nap? It’s not always clear, but more often than not, I’ll err on the side of more sleep because I never sleep for more than five hours at a time, anyway. Usually I only sleep for three or four hours at a time, so chances are I need a nap.

12. Once I became truly determined, I always found a way

If you want to write, you WILL fucking find time and press ahead regardless of distractions around you. I try to be smart and try to get most of my writing done when my nieces are at school or at night when everyone’s in bed, but one of them is too young for school and of course there are school vacations, so I simply have to deal. Living in the ‘burbs, there’s no coffee house to walk to.

What I do have is Spotify and a big fucking pair of over-the-ear headphones, so I drown out the noise with music, and I write.

Yes, I get interrupted.


I get back to writing.

Yes, the word count sometimes rises slowly.

But it rises.



photo credit: Brian Auer via photopin cc




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