Aside

Yes, this blog post pre-dates my website. These are thoughts I jotted down just a few days after finishing the first draft of my novel. I've backdated it to the day it was written. I wanted to post it here as perhaps it could serve as inspiration to a future aspiring author.

Reflections

I just completed the first draft of my first novel. Here's how it happened and some personal reflections on the experience.

~118k words Sci-Fi/Fantasy. First of a series. I started in January, so it has taken me about four months. I am married with two small children. I work full time as a Software Engineer. If I can write a novel, so can you.

I still have a lot to do of course -- editing, getting beta readers, editing, more readers, editing, more editing, eventually preparing query letters (I aim to be traditionally published). However, having the first draft is a major milestone. I thought I'd capture my thoughts on the process while they're still fresh. Maybe they will benefit someone who has similar struggles to the ones I've been going through.

This is a story that spawned as an idea in my head about 20 years ago. I was about eleven. It was a simple concept that grabbed my mind and wouldn't let go. Over the next few years I built on it in my mind. I didn't write anything down.

As a teenager I outlined the story, its themes, settings, and major characters. I tried writing the first chapter. When I read what I'd written, I tossed it out. It sucked. A few years later I tried writing a different chapter, somewhere in the middle, somewhere exciting. It sucked too, so I tossed it.

More years went by. The story wouldn't leave me alone. I'd think about it occasionally while sitting in waiting rooms, in the shower, exercising, etc. I'd read books, play games, watch movies in which something would trigger a thought for a new piece to the story — a situation, character or event that complemented the primary plot very well. I rarely wrote these ideas down — just collected them in my mind, forgetting many, but holding on to the ones that resonated the most.

I met my wife. We eventually got married. A few months later I felt inspired to try writing again. I reviewed my outline and tweaked it with the new things I had swirling around in my head. Then I wrote a first chapter and had my wife read it. She said it needed work, but it was decent. She was encouraging and gave honest critical feedback, which I wholeheartedly appreciate to this day. I read over my work and didn't feel great about it, so I tossed it.

The process continued over several more years. The ideas continued to build up and evolve in my mind. I tried outlining more, writing chapters two or three more times at various points in the story. As I read over them, I almost immediately tossed them. I just couldn't get my ideas onto the page in a satisfying way. They were technically there, but they didn't flow right.

In October, 2019, I was on a flight back home from a work trip when I had a considerable flurry of thoughts about the story, particularly concerning the overall plot and some specific characters. I wrote the ideas down in a mind map on my phone. Looking back now, these thoughts were some critical pieces to the puzzle I had been slowly putting together over the years.

Then it's New Years Day 2020. I pretty much never do new years resolutions. Not really my thing. But this year I gave myself a resolution: write this book.

I took a new approach, completely discarding outlines I had been looking at and modifying for years and years. I took a blank document and wrote down the names of the primary characters in the narrative, and a single sentence of their main personality traits and/or physical features. I took one more document and wrote down the major events in the book's narrative — comprising a total of eight bullet points.

A few days later I sat down to write. Inspiration struck for the perfect introduction scene. As I researched about the scene, and wrote, it just felt so right. I kept writing. After writing an hour or so a day over three or four days, I had the first chapter done. I read over it and genuinely felt happy about it. It wasn't perfect, but it introduced the characters and the story in a way I was satisfied with. I thought to myself that unlike all of my previous attempts, If I'd picked up a book and read this chapter, I'd sincerely want to read more.

After that first chapter was down, the flood gates were open.

Over the next several weeks, I just kept writing. After putting the kids to bed at night, I'd write for hours. Scenes I'd had in my head for years and years finally found their way onto a page in a way I found satisfying. I never had a single instance of writer's block. Sometimes it was difficult to decide exactly where to start the next scene, but I always knew precisely which plot points and character moments needed to be fulfilled by the end of the chapter, and exactly where it would end.

I started watching youtube videos and reading online blogs and posts about writing. They didn't really shape my story at all, but they gave me confidence. Confidence that my writing could be something others might find enjoyable. My wife got sick of me talking about writing and tropes and Brandon Sanderson and character arcs and storytelling and climaxes and endings...

The story was finally coming together. I found myself listening to epic music during my workouts. The emotional beats would give me strokes of inspiration, either for the book I was writing or future books in the series. The word count rose almost magically. I never made any goals for words per day or week. I just wrote. I had a harder time stopping myself from writing than starting. Some days I'd spend an hour and a half writing a single paragraph. Others I'd write thousands of words that shot from my mind like a fire hose.

Finally, as of a few days ago, it was done. I had tied up the major plot points and character arcs and come to a conclusion I felt good about. I actually found the ending to be one of the easier portions to write because I'd been thinking about those scenes constantly as the story progressed.

So there you have it. My 20 year long story of writing my first novel. Looking back now I'm glad I didn't write it earlier. Perhaps I needed more life experience. Perhaps I needed more knowledge. Whatever the reason, I'm convinced that if I'd actually pushed through and continued writing any of those previous iterations, they wouldn't have been right.

If you're interested in writing a novel, I want to point out that this absolutely does not mean that you should give up writing your ideas until they've cooked in your head for 20 years. This does not mean you should do what I did and ditch your old outlines. I'm only saying these are things that worked for me personally. They enriched my story in a way I don't think would have been achieved any other way for me.

If an aspiring author like myself reads this, I hope it inspires you to write what you're passionate about. Don't give up on your ideas, even if your first attempts are garbage. If they stick with you, they're probably compelling enough to write a novel about.

Others may or may not actually read what you or I write, but we can write it.