What I Learned From My First Novel

Long before “Dark Empire” or the Sea Deception series or any of my short stories, I wrote a novel and most of its sequel. It took forever (and I’m a terribly slow writer at the best of times!). So here’s what I learned from my first novel.

I don’t just mean whether I learned how to use ellipses or how to strengthen my sentences with active words. I’ll never stop learning the intricacies of grammar and good sentence writing.

Huh, I can actually do this thing

First, and most importantly, I learned that I could write a novel all the way to the end.

Juggling a plot, outline, characters, and just so many words is a challenge. While I don’t ever want to discourage someone from writing a book, it’s a lot to attempt. You have to really want to write a book to get all the way to the end. A short story is a much easier work to manage for a first-time writer.

But knowing that you can do it, that you have done it, makes it that much easier to do it again.

Plotting vs. Pantsing

I also learned about my writing style. The more stories I write, the more I try to plan them out beforehand. You may have heard authors described as “plotters” and “pantsers” (those who write by the seat of their pants). 

While I do leave room in my planning for the “aha!” moment that invariably shows up to save me when I’m stuck, I need the structure of an outline to keep me on track.

This way, I can make sure that interesting things are happening in all of my scenes and to all of my characters.

Planning as I go along also helps me get to know my characters. I like to do personality profiles for critical characters so that their choices are believable and consistent to who they are.

I don’t overdo my planning at the beginning or before writing, either. Usually I have an idea for a character and some kind of adventure first. I build just enough of my new world to get started, with an outcome in mind (and written down) and I go ahead and flesh out a few scenes. As the characters proceed with their adventure, the outline fills in along with them.

Each new book teaches me more

Through the course of my writing adventures, I’ve learned about making stories suspenseful and interesting. I’ve learned how to edit. I read my drafts to fill in the gaps of description and emotion that my imagination insists are already in the book and actually write them in.

HTML, book cover design, marketing… I hope the list of things I’ve learned from writing stories never ends.

What am I going to do with my first-ever novel?

Keep it in the cabinet forever. It’s not very good. Scratch that. It’s terrible. The plot meanders … way too many characters that don’t really matter feel obligated to shine in their own spotlight … and it’s not terribly original. But that is perfectly okay. I learned what I needed to learn from that first novel.

As I’ve grown as a writer, I’ve realized that I want to focus on certain themes with my stories. I want to offer cultural and personal diversity in my characters.

A book I started writing as a teen—a book that predates my college experience—doesn’t have the breadth of life experience needed for a story of that magnitude. And fixing it would not let me tell a story I really want to tell. I find that that novel doesn’t represent what I want to share with the world.

While themes like returning home and finding oneself are always going to be important to me, I have grown as a person in my beliefs and convictions. My writing should reflect that, as I believe the stories that I have published do.

As a writer forever struggling to finish the next book, it’s important to recognize personal growth. So, really, how do I summarize what I learned from my first novel?

I learned about myself. And that’s never a wasted effort.

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