The chronicles of writing a novel in one year
In 2018, I wrote my first novel.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but as I sat in the break room at work one day, the only thing I could think of was, what would happen if I just tried? And that is the moment where I discovered that I had nothing to lose and my curiosity won.
Writing has been a part of my life since almost before I could remember. I still have my very first journal with little colorful bunnies on it where I wrote pretend letters to my family and little stories.
So up until 2018, the longest fiction pieces I had ever written were short fiction and as much as I enjoyed those, leveling up to the novel was the most obvious step outside of my comfort zone.
In February of 2018, I cracked open my laptop and started writing my novel. I had no plan, no outline, and no prior research. I just started. And it felt good at first. I was doing it—creating characters and building a new world. I was doing it!
But it wasn’t long before perfectionism struck. Every time I sat down to write, I re-read everything I wrote prior and wouldn’t begin writing more until everything sounded just right. This was a big deal, after all, so I wanted it to be great.
Unfortunately, this was making my progress not so great. I was barely accomplishing any new writing due to my crippling fear of not sounding perfect.
Just write badly
Determined to turn my fate around, I found some YouTube authors who created content around the first draft and the writing process. It was here where I learned the power of simply word dumping for the first draft. The first draft is for the writer only, not for the audience—meaning, it’s 100% okay if it’s bad. You’re telling yourself the story in the first draft. The subsequent drafts are for your readers.
Even though I had a better understanding of the first draft’s purpose, it took some time until I could truly let loose and just give myself permission to write badly. It felt wrong after years and years of always putting my best foot forward, but this was a different kind of “best foot”—I just needed to dump all of my ideas onto the page. So I did. Until I didn’t.
A good friend
2018 was a roller coaster of a year. I quit my job in April, started waitressing, and was deep into the job search. Because of this chaos, my book became less and less something that my brain could handle. It was the middle of summer and I felt like it wasn’t even important any more.
I met my friend, Natalie, for lunch in July and I told her about everything I was going through in life. Being a writer herself, she understood what accomplishing this goal meant to me. She whipped out a notebook and calculated how many words I would have to write per day for the rest of the year to finish and reassured me that this was an important goal. She was right.
So I got back to writing. I busted out as many words as I could manage almost every day and despite the continuous job search and interviews, I kept pushing myself to simply get words on the page. I finally landed a new job in late November and calculated that if I wrote about 1000 words every day for the rest of the year, I could accomplish this goal.
I quickly discovered that writing at the same time every day helped accomplish my daily word count goal, so I set aside about an hour in the mornings before work and that became my dedicated writing time. It was kind of like making an appointment with myself that I couldn’t blow off. And since it was at the same time every single day, I never had to think about it, I just knew when it was time to write and I did it.
During this final month of writing my first draft, I was also very vocal about my progress. Each day that I hit another 1,000 words, I was eager to tell my family and some work colleagues. By talking about my progress, it made me more excited to continue to accomplish this goal and with every new word count milestone, I felt like it was more and more likely that it was going to finally happen.
Some weekends were a little tricky to fit writing in, though. Juggling a full day of errands, trips to visit my parents for an entire weekend, the holidays…posed a challenge. But that wasn’t going to stop me. Most days, I took my tablet along with whatever I was up to and wrote in the car, while waiting for an oil change, in my parents' living room before anyone woke up, and anywhere else and any time I could. When you make writing mobile, there’s always an opportunity to get it done.
On the night of New Year’s Eve, I finally completed my first draft at 50,011 words. I even made it Twitter official!
You could say I toasted to more than just the new year that night. Despite being a writer, I still can’t find words to accurately describe how I felt writing those last words of my first book ever—not to mention when I printed it and actually held it in my hands. Phew.
After a literal roller coaster of a year, here are the top three things I learned by accomplishing this one goal:
1. You should do things that scare you.
We can’t improve without doing something a little outside of our comfort zone. And if your goals don’t scare you just a little bit, they probably aren’t big enough or they may not mean enough to you.
2. It’s important to find people who are working on the same goal.
Whether it's friends, family, or people on the internet, it helps to make connections with like-minded individuals. Especially since writing is naturally a lonely activity, it’s a huge benefit to connect with other writers. Twitter came in handy that year for me as well as other fellow writers I knew in “real life”.
3. Tell everyone you know about your goal.
No matter what it is, say it aloud. Share it with your family, friends, people on the internet, people on the street…just share it. Saying it out loud helps make it more real. In addition to telling everyone I knew, I also wrote about it on my blog here to officially lock it in.
Now I leave you with one question:
What would happen if you just tried to accomplish one of your biggest goals?