What not to do when writing your first novel

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When I set out to write the first draft of my first novel, I did almost everything wrong. I set the demands on myself sky high while not believing in my abilities as a writer for a second, constantly throwing myself into writing blocks. 

I didn't develop my characters or my plot enough. I tried to wing it, ending up with a first draft that had to be completely rewritten.

The good things is, I've learned so much from my mistakes, and now I can share those lessons with you, so you might get a better start in your journey as a writer.

Don't try to write the perfect novel

My first mistake was to think I had to write something utterly outstanding. You're probably well aware of how hard it is to get published, or make it as a self-published author, and I was too. So my conclusion was that I just had to write something perfect.

That didn't go so well. The thing is, to get good, you have to start where you are, even if that's pretty shitty. You have to allow yourself to make mistakes and fix them to learn how to write a good book. 

If you're trying to write something perfect, you run the risk of ending up writing nothing at all, because all that you write falls below your too high standards.

Also, you'll feel like the crappiest writer on earth. Not a very pleasant feeling.

Instead, make the conscious decision to write an okay first draft. Do your best within a reasonable time frame. Don't obsess over details, because you'll likely change them anyhow in the second draft.

Don't expect that you can write a good story without preparation

Society have this belief that great writers are geniuses. Maybe because of that, there's this other weird idea that when writing a book, you get an idea, perhaps make a rough outline and then sit down and write it out. 

When we set to write that first book, it's tempting to assume that since we are book nerds, because we can tell a good book from a bad one, we know how to construct at good story. That writing it is the hard part.

But my experience is that it's the other way around. Banging out words is comparatively easy, designing a gripping, well-balanced and interesting story is hard, probably harder than you think if you've never tried it.

That doesn't mean you should despair, it means you need some help. Take an evening class in creative writing, but also pick up a couple of books on story structure.

I've found Lisa Cron's books Wired for Story and Story Genius to be infinitely helpful, and I'm currently reading John Truby's The Anatomy of Story and finding it valueable too. There are many writing books to choose from, so pick one that resonates with you. I wish I'd started reading them earlier!

Don't ignore your fears and lack of confidence

If you dream of being a writer, writing your first book is terrifying. It's when your determination and abilities will be tested, inching closer to the answer to the haunting question: could I write a good novel?

Many will tell you to just ignore fear and do it anyway. That's a good sentiment, but I believe that dealing with your fears head on is much more effective. Until I faced my fears and started to work on my confidence, I was constantly in the grip of fear, often falling into writing blocks.

Make a conscious effort to strengthen your writing confidence. Read books like Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic, focus on the process rather than the end result, practice, rewrite and see how you're getting better.

Set reasonable goals and achieve them. Challenge your self-doubt and do the scary things. Make writing a normal part of your life, get to know your fears and see if you can change the story they are telling.

Don't just write when you feel like it

Without good writing habits, you'll struggle to keep any consistency and pace to your writing. In the beginning I'd write really intensely for a short period of time, then go months before I wrote again. 

Give yourself a writing schedule, a dedicated time and place to write, perhaps with a word count goal too, and stick to it.

Pay attention to how you prefer to write and shape a writing routine that makes it as easy as possible for your to write. It's hard enough with a habit, don't make it harder for yourself by not establishing one.

Inspiration is a fickle bastard, but most of the time you'll find it soon enough when you've forced your butt onto the chair.

Don't give up

Writing a good novel is terribly tricky. You'll despair and doubt and want to throw it all away. You'll grow impatient and get angry at your characters.

But the true test of what makes a good writer is whether you keep at it. Whether you're able to start over when you write a shitty chapter, whether you are determined enough to come back to the page day after day.

So if you're serious about that dream of writing great books, make a promise today not to quit, even when you're wondering why the hell you thought this was a good idea.