Tackling Your First Draft (Writing Tips: Manuscript, Plot, Genre, etc.)
How many people said “I want to write a book” or “I’m going to write a book when I get the time” and how many of them actually did it?
If you haven’t started yet, here’s what you need to know:
Don’t be intimidated by the great names of the industry, by self-consuming thoughts telling you that maybe you’re not good enough nor by the great unknown of embarking on this journey.
Writing your first draft is a cocktail of time, effort and research.
However, if you’re doing it for the money, you might as well quit while you’re ahead, less than 2% of writers out there are filthy rich and around 10% actually make a living based on their full-time writing.
No, I’m not saying you won’t make it big, but being an idealist would be like pissing against the wind in this industry.
Much like with music, you don’t really know how the audience may receive your tune, it could be a hit, or water under the bridge for all you know, so don’t quit your day job just yet.
I’ll take you through all the steps I took from writing to publishing, and if I could do it, trust me, so can you if you take things seriously. Knowledge is power. Always.
Find out Just What Type of Writer You Are
This is imperative for the writing process and will pave the way for your future manuscripts. There are three types of writers in the world:
This writer plans out the key stages of the novel, profiles an outline, the main scenes, the characters, so they don’t miss out on any detail. You have plenty of cheat-sheets on the internet to help you with this stage.
TIP: If you’re at the beginning of the road, tackling your novel as a plotter can actually be of great help.
Famous plotters: E.L. Stein, John Grisham.
The Pantser plays it by ear, makes no plan. This adventure fused individual gets down to typing with no pre planned structure, armed with imagination and drive, but wait for it… this can actually work!
For some people, the joy of writing ceases when they have to follow a guideline, when there’s no surprise element to drive the creative side of the brain.
If outlining your novel takes away your motivation and replaces it with writer’s block, forget the cheat-sheets and dive in the way you feel it’s best!
TIP: You won’t know until you try, so give it a shot writing a short story and see where it takes you. Finding your own writing comfort zone is of great importance.
Famous pantsers: Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Pierce Brown.
As suspected, the plantser is a combination of both plotter and pantser, outlining key elements, but allowing the surprise factor to squeeze through.
Famous plantsers: J.K. Rowling
Defining Your Genre
Fiction or non-fiction? Poetry?
Well, you have to start someplace close to your heart and understand genres and subgenres. Don’t drown in the multitude of possibilities, but rather know first-hand, that whatever you’re writing will most likely have a category to fall into.
Here are some top literary genres: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry.
Here are your options for nonfiction:
Once we have your main category defined, you can have a good look at subcategories.
These are the categories for Fiction novels:
Traditional publishing houses don’t like diluted manuscripts, so keep it clean, either it’s green, blue-red, yellow-blue, but mixing one too many will always give you brown in return and you want to keep it defined to properly cater to your readership.
Yes, that’s right, I said readership because whatever you write, independently on genre, style, author voice, you will have an audience.
The size of it will depend on genre, chosen topic, your target readers and most of all on marketing your product, but all that in a different article.
If you keep it clear, you’ll know how to market your manuscript well enough to target the right audience and that can generate sales and therefore a possible income.
In case you were wondering, there are popularity trends as well, YA Fantasy novels are selling like hotcakes nowadays, but as it is, a trend won’t last forever.
OMG But What Are All These Abbreviations: NA, YA, MG, etc. ?
This is just another category, and it defines the age of your readers/audience:
- MG – short for Middle Grade, 8-12 years of age;
- YA – short for Young Adult, your main character is a teenager (see Twilight, Shadowhunters, etc.) 13-18 years of age;
- NA – short for New Adult, your new character is old enough to drink, go to college, get a job, etc. 18-25 years of age;
Curious to know what types of novels are the most profitable?
• 1) Romance/Erotica – $1.44 billion. …
• 2) Crime/Mystery – $728.2 million. …
• 3) Religious/Inspirational – $720 million. …
• 4) Science Fiction/Fantasy – $590.2 million. …
• 5) Horror – $79.6 million
What? You were planning on writing about gardening?
Good. What sells should never influence what you’re passionate about writing, it’s better to write a brilliant book on photosynthesis than a shameful Horror novel – just saying.
Starting Your First Draft
Okay, so you have a great idea for your next novel, you’re well informed, you have your author profile figured out and now, all you have to do is start. Stephen King said he writes the first draft with the door closed, and edits with the door open.
Set up your author office, surround yourself with everything you need and start typing. Do not, by all means, worry yourself with anything else that is not writing.
You’ll have plenty of time to get social media savvy and learn how to market your book once it’s ready!
Here’s an outline idea for a novel, just to give you wings:
By no means this means you should follow this exact outline or others. You have to do what you feel it’s right.
Writing the first draft is like a journey of self-discovery, so here are the key things you should consider before embarking:
Read Read Read
Before writing, try to read as many books of your genre as you can! This actually helps the creative process, and gets your mind in the right place to begin writing. You’ll know which parts of the novels you’ve read you found appealing and which parts you found appalling, so it will give you insight and you’ll know first-hand what you want for your next novel.
Writing Must Be Done With Joy
You need to love it, whether you can dedicate one hour or five hours a day to your manuscript. Write as much as you can and get lost in your story!
Don’t feel bad about rewrites, deleting whole sections or moving more stuff around than in a monopoly game, it happens to all of us.
Sure, J.K. Rowling said you must write about what you know, but, as it happens, you’ll find that you don’t hold all the info about a bunch of things, so a fair amount of research has to go into your book, even if you’re writing fiction.
For my novel, Lost in Amber, I had a lot of books from the “For Dummies” series and I’m not ashamed to say it. “Astronomy for Dummies”, “Astrophysics for Dummies” and hefty research into genome editing gave my novel credibility, even though it’s a Paranormal Romance in its essence.
Writing a novel means taking things seriously, you must know the details surrounding your plot and characters, otherwise you’ll fall into the “sloppy” trap and you do not want to be that type of writer.
As you’ll find yourself in the process of writing your first draft, you’ll find that you need to stop and research over and over again.
Having a list with fancy words and synonyms at hand also helps, because sophisticated vocabulary is not something imprinted in our brains, but rather something we need to educate ourselves into using, and that is entirely okay. You don’t have to be ashamed you don’t have “the best words”.
Disclaimer: Your First Manuscript Will Take You On An Emotional Ride
When I started writing my New Adult Paranormal Romance novel, I googled everything, I was stuck so many times and I believed I wouldn’t live to see the end of it. Google said it takes around three months to complete the first draft.
I was only halfway through at that time, so a fair amount of hyperventilation followed.
TIP: There’s no deadline, so don’t give yourself one, don’t try to follow the rest nor think you’re not good enough because you don’t fit the timeframe. It’s really relative, and most authors have to juggle life and writing so give yourself a break, it will be ready when it needs to and not a second sooner!
The Fried Brain Effect
Do yourself a healthy favor and know when you have to step away from your manuscript. It happens to all of us.
We get into it so much, we want to finish it so badly that we actually forget the importance of quality. And quality takes time, just as Rome wasn’t built in a day.
You’ll know when your brain feels pickled enough and that’s when you have to detach yourself completely, take a step back and do something else entirely: watch a movie, read another book, go for a walk. I mean it. You’ll return fresh and inspired to start over.
TIP: For your own good, don’t shout it to the world before you actually have at least half a manuscript!
If a lot of people know you’re writing a novel, they’ll ask about the state of your manuscript all the time, and you don’t want more tension added to the writer’s plate.
Plus, if your peers are not writers themselves, they won’t actually understand daily hassles like writer’s block or how can a manuscript take longer than three months to complete.
Finishing The First Draft
Now there’s something you never thought you’ll see: a completed first draft, all due to the magic of your fingers!
By the time I got to this stage, one part of me wanted to celebrate and the other finally realized I was, in fact, at the beginning of a very, very long journey.
Don’t panic! You did it, you actually did it!
Now, to the editing stage…