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My First Novel

On a warm July evening in 2017, my daughter and I took our dog for a walk in our neighborhood, something we tried to do nightly. We began talking about writing and she asked if I ever attempted writing a novel. I thought for a minute and told her I had, many years prior. I thought it had been a good six to seven years since I began writing my novel. I told her after half a dozen or so pages of writing, I set it down and never went back to it.

My daughter got excited that I had a novel that I had, at one time, wanted to write. She urged me over and over on the walk to find the file and to continue writing the story. I laughed and told her I knew I had it somewhere but no idea where I stored it. She kept pressing me so I searched for the file over the next few days. I looked on all of my old hard drives, portable and desktop, thumb drives, and discs. It took the better part of a two-day search but I finally found the file stored on an old CD.

When I put it in the computer and pulled it up, I had trouble reading the old file. The date was 13 years prior! It was twice as old as I originally thought it was and the version of Microsoft Word was so old, my computer had to update the file before I could open it. I wasn’t sure if I would lose part of the story when it updated but I had no choice. Once it opened, I read through the story and it brought back memories of when I had the ambition to write the novel. The ideas of the story came flooding back as I read and I was excited as I always loved the concept for the story I started writing.

I told my daughter I had found it and she was ecstatic. I thought, why not give it a go. Having never written a novel before, I thought I would give it a try. I could not remember why I stopped writing the story all those years ago but it was possible that I was stuck, right where those half a dozen pages ended. I sat down the following day and thought about the story. I read through it again and started writing from where I left off, 13 years prior.

Over time, I had written very little dialogue (short stories), minimally developed characters (short stories), never written an outline, or even had an idea of where the storyline was going. I was winging it, pure and simple. I had not read anything on character development, plot creation, how to write dialogue, nothing. My only guidance was from the books I had read, thinking back to what pieces of a story I considered made a good story. I am and have always been a non-stop reader of fiction novels, biographies, true-life tales, and just about everything in between.

I know what I like in a book. I know when a book keeps me intrigued and why. I love a book that pulls me to get back to reading it. I wanted to recreate all of these things that I loved about the great novels I have read over the past so many decades. I knew I needed to be able to create the same structure, to create believable characters, to make the dialogue real, and to keep the flow of the book moving forward without letting it stall. Not much of a challenge, huh? I dug in and started writing.

What happened once I started writing was, for me, amazing. As I wrote, the story started to unfold. My brain kept throwing out the plot as I wrote the lines. New characters popped into my brain as the story unfolded. New twists and turns came up out of nowhere and it was so much fun! Now the things I was more conscious of was that I need to have a few sparks in the book, places that were major plot changes. Challenges to the main characters to overcome, obstacles in the plot, that sort of thing. I enjoyed trying to come up with the end of chapter cliff hangers, things that pulled on the reader to want to keep reading to find out what was going to happen.

The process of writing the first novel was fantastic for me, a wonderful experience. I don’t know if my experience is the norm for most authors. The book came to life as I wrote, was created in my brain as I went along, laying everything out before to put down on paper (well, electronically but that doesn’t sound as cool!). I was elated once I finished the book, over the moon excited that I had written over 80,000 words for my first book. It took me about 2 months to complete the writing from start to finish. To be honest, I was sad that it was over, the story and the process. I missed the characters I had created. The easy part was over, now came the process to clean it up and edit the hell out of it.

As I said, I was never great in English, not a strong subject for me in school. The grammatical errors were evident as were plot holes and tense issues (will probably see some of that in these posts!). I had work ahead of me to shore the story up and it was a very long way from being ready to submit to an agent. So, I sat and read through the story, editing along the way. I cannot tell you how many times I went through this process. I was so sick of the story as I had read it so many times. But it was my baby and one I would do anything to in order to get it where it needed to be. Every time I read it and edited it along the way, it made the story stronger.

Luckily for me, my daughter is an excellent editor and has an eye for writing issues that I don’t have. During this time, she was in college as an English major with a Creative Writing minor. Kind of the opposite of me. She was my savior and someone who shaped my book, over time, to what it is today. It’s still not perfect but it is miles from where it started. After her hard work and dedication to editing my book, twice, it is certainly polished enough for my submitting to find an agent. I now see how extremely valuable it is to have someone edit your work. Not an easy job but if you find a good editor, it's like finding a good mechanic. Hang on to them!


Another part of this process was letting others read the book but with the understanding that I needed their feedback. It can be hard to let others read your work, especially those you know, but you have to let that go. It is equally as difficult for friends to read your writing. What if they don’t like it? Do they lie to you? If so, that does you no good. Some of the feedback I received was invaluable to the shoring up of the story. There was a plot hole one reader found that others had not and that gave me the opportunity to fix it. This is why it is important to have a bunch of people read it. Everyone is different and some will catch things no one else saw.

So, my first novel set me off to continue writing. I suddenly had so many ideas in my head for short stories and novels. I did not want to stop writing so I didn’t, for the next 3 years. I am still writing and have quite a few novels in various stages but I need to stop writing and start working on the other aspects of this industry, figuring out how I can launch my new career.

If you are on the fence about writing a novel and feel you have one in you, go for it and just start writing. Get it down and work on making it better once you finish writing. I don’t know where these stories came from but they just started to pop into my head once I started writing that first novel. These writing experiences for each novel are not without their frustrations but they are minor to the overall process, which I will cover in future posts.

Happy reading, happy writing!

Doug


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