I have a confession to make: I spent 15 years writing my first novel. I say first, but right now it’s my only novel because I spent the last 15 years writing it. Fifteen years!
Sure, I’m proud that I finally finished it. But I’m not proud it took that long. So I’m going to share the advice I should have taken about 12 years earlier than I did.
First, let me tell you about the mistake I made.
My novel started out as a short story in a fiction class at The University of Florida. Before I even finished that first draft, I knew these characters had a bigger story to tell.
A few years later, I decided it was finally time to turn their story into the novel it wanted to be.
I started out on the right track—inspired by the NANOWRIMO movement, I bought a book called “Book In A Month.” Just like the title says, the book gives you a ‘fool proof’ way to write a book in a month. Of course, it took me about a month to do each one of the ‘days,’ but it helped shape my characters and outline the story, giving me a bit of a roadmap.
But that’s where I got stuck in a writing roundabout.
I wrote the first 75 pages, and then I took them to a writing workshop. I got some great feedback and re-wrote those 75 pages. Then I took the new 75 pages back to another writing workshop. I got more great feedback, so I re-wrote them again. And again. And again. And again.
Eventually, I realized I was never going to finish if I kept going back to the beginning. I needed to move on and write forward.
I made a deal with myself that day. I was going to finish first, then go back to edit. I didn’t even stop to look for typos, I just kept writing. It was the summer of 2014 and I gave myself a deadline of the end of that year. And on December 23, 2014, I finished the first draft. Of course, it took another two years of revisions and re-writing before I was happy enough to start sending it to agents—but I never would have gotten there if I had kept going back to the beginning.
So take it from me. Finish first, then edit. And then edit again. But more on that later.