So, it’s been a little over two weeks since I finished my outline and I’m 30,000 words into the first draft. (If you missed the first installment, where I detailed the outlining process, you can read it here.) This is when the real fun begins. Oh, wait. Perhaps I should mention I usually struggle on the first 10,000 words or so.
This time was no exception. Opening scenes and chapters are difficult for me. I have to decide how to jump into the character’s mind, how their thoughts and feelings have evolved since the last book. Has time passed in their world and what events occurred? I also have to figure how much back story to recap from the previous novel: Too much, and binge readers just finishing the previous book will get bored. Too little and people who are following over the years it takes to write a series will feel lost. I think I struck a good balance in Harbingers, so I’m going to use the same ratio in the sequel.
After getting through the opening chapters, things smoothed out, as I knew they would. This is when writing a novel really gets fun. The story flows smoothly, and you build a chain of events readers will enjoy. My outline is super handy at this point, helping control pacing and making sure I’m heading towards the key conflicts and events.
That’s not to say it’s always easy or flows perfectly. Sometimes I get bogged down when I have to create the swaths of detail for a new character, faction, or ability. Certain sections of dialog or action come out perfectly, and others take more effort. I’ve learned to embrace these swells, and not be too hard on myself when things take more effort than usual.
Earlier, I mentioned I had written 30,000 words on the first draft. Some of you may be wondering what that means, since we usually think of a book’s length in terms of pages. A typical paperback page averages (depending on who you ask) somewhere around 300 words, so 30,000 / 300 = 100 pages complete.
Most sci-fi novels end up in the 100,000 word range, so that means I’m roughly 30% done with the first draft. I say “roughly” because, as an independent author, I write my story for my readers, and not the publishing industry. If I need more words to tell the story properly, I keep writing. In the same spirit, I don’t add filler just to make the book seem more epic on a store shelf.
There is also a lot of variability on the first draft because when I begin editing, I might end up cutting or adding large portions of story as need be. A 100,000 word first draft is my goal, but that has more to do with pacing rather than a strict indicator of final length.
Since I am a full time writer, I have quite a bit of time available to devote to this manuscript. As an indie author, however, I have a lot of responsibilities outside of just writing novels. I must continue promoting my previous stories and novels. I have a community of patrons I write for on a monthly basis. I work on cover art, sell paperbacks, study marketing, and grow my social media presence.
During this stage of novel writing, I typically spend mornings (my most creative, motivated time) working on the first draft, and then afternoons on promotions, blogging, short stories, and poetry. By the time I quit work for the day, my brain is usually fried, but I’m content. Depending on my other obligations, I find I can write between 10,000-12,000 words a week (meaning this first draft should take about 2-2.5 months start to finish). Writing at least my goal words per week allows me to get through this stage in a timely manner.
Process step 2: Start stringing words together, write solid opening chapters, stick to schedule, enjoy the process.