Anatomy of a Novel Part 7: The first full draft

Ghost train

Well, it’s done. I’ve finished the first draft of The Iron LineI should be ecstatic, but to be honest, I feel a bit, well…flat. I can’t remember how I felt when I completed Greythorne, but I think it was probably more elated than this – probably because it was the first time, so it felt like a bigger achievement, and also I was much more ignorant of the process that follows. So these are my raw, honest reflections in the immediate aftermath of completion, because with this blog post series I said I’d take you behind the scenes, warts and all.

  • It’s too short. I was aiming for 80,000 words, which I then revised down to 70,000, then 60,000 but it’s come in at just over 57,000. That’s 10,000 words longer than Greythorne, but it’s still on the bottom end of novel-length works. I know that word count really shouldn’t matter, because every story has an optimum length, and when you start trying to pad it out is when you get problems. But I somehow feel like less of a writer for producing such a short novel (although Dragonscale is 90,000 words, so I’m clearly capable of doing it). Word count is one of my recurring writing-related neuroses.
  • It’s not the book I envisaged. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I set out to write Australian Gothic and ended up with a much more stock-standard murder mystery. It’s still fun and I still enjoyed writing it, but I think upping the creepiness factor is something I’ll need to fix in the next draft.
  • I can’t tell if the twist is really shocking. This was the same with Greythorne – I knew it so well that it was hard to tell if I was foreshadowing too much or not enough. This is why I have beta readers and copy editors.
  • This draft came much more easily than Greythorne did. I remember getting hugely bogged down in the middle of Greythorne. That happened a bit here too, but to nowhere near the same extent, and I was able to get over it fairly easily, although I still don’t know if the pacing is right.
  • Scrivener is the best thing ever. If you’re a serious writer and haven’t tried it yet, get on it.
  • Writing sprints work for me. I know I go on about this a bit, but they really do. Writing this way was what allowed me to finish it in a bit over four months.

So now the hard work really begins. I haven’t even read the full draft through yet, although I’ve been making notes to myself as I go about things I need to check – word use, internal consistency and so on. Now I’ll give it to my husband, who is my alpha reader and the only person allowed to see my first drafts. This is because the first draft is almost like a baby – it’s still new and vulnerable. The second and third drafts are less a part of me and are more able to stand on their own, so sending them out to beta readers isn’t so much of an issue. Around the fourth or fifth draft is when my books tend to enter adulthood and are ready to go out into the world.

So I’m going to take a break and work on other projects while Tristan reads it, then I’ll give it a big overhaul. Then I’ll hit up my beta readers, revise it with their feedback, and then we’ll see where we’re at. I expect that process will take at least three months.

In the midst of all the planning for editing, though, I think I need to take some time out and remember something: I wrote another novel. Something I only ever dreamed of doing, I’ve now done three times. A little perspective never hurt anyone.

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