Last night at 1 AM (okay, so technically this morning) I finished the first draft of my novel. It felt like this:

However! I did not write 30k in 13 days. Here’s why:

For the first week, I kept writing as I had been. Except more. I spent less time on blogs and email, I went out to libraries and coffee shops, and I stayed up late to work. And it went okay, but not great. I definitely wasn’t on pace to finish telling my story by the end of the month.

Then I talked to Erin, and she encouraged me (not for the first time) to try a trick she uses for NaNoWriMo: [more]. In other words, any time I got seriously stuck, just put [more] and keep going.

Can’t figure out the exact dialogue in a scene? [more]
Not sure how to get your protagonist from point A to point B? [more]
Don’t have the words to describe the beautiful vista from the top of the mountain? [more]

It’s very versatile. It can stand in for as much or as little as you need. And you know what? It works! At least for me. It freed me from the mindset of obsessing over words. It allowed me to just put the story down.

In addition to using [more], I started writing in a condensed form. Almost a note-taking style. For example, instead of…

Marco pulled Kate to the back door. Rain pounded against the house, a soft drumbeat to accompany their nervous breaths. Marco shot one last glance at Kate, who nodded. Together, they burst through the door and into the downpour.

I would just type…

Kate and Marco flee the house in the rain.

(And no, haha, that’s not from my book.)

Anyway, you can probably see how much quicker that made finishing my book. Because I wasn’t bogged down in details or word-smithing, I was able to focus on the story. I still made note of emotional beats, and occasionally jotted down lines of actual dialogue, but mostly I moved my characters around and made sure they did what needed to be done.

Now, of course, I’ll need to go back and expand and clean up. But I think this might allow me to enjoy the writing process more, because I won’t be stressed about figuring out what happens next (i.e., the storytelling part).

I think this is what some writers mean when they talk about a first draft being a skeleton, which they flesh out in a second pass. I’d like to try approaching my next project this way from the start.

But first I have to finish this one. For real. So I sent the second “half” to a friend to get feedback on the plot. While he looks it over, I’m giving myself the weekend off. I’m going to read (yay!) and recoup some sleep. Then I’ll use August to get the book in shape, and I’m thinking I should be ready to query agents in September.

Wow. I feel like everything is moving so fast, and yet I know I still have such a long way to go.

23 responses to “FINISHED! (Sort of…)”

  1. gingermandy Avatar

    you go girl! i like that idea. and i’m quite proud of you :)

  2. Sonje Avatar

    Congratulations on finishing your draft! Your journey always fascinates me. I’m definitely interested to see how you move from this step to the next step of fleshing it out. One thing we have in common is that neither of us have any desire to let the grass grow under our feet as far as putting our drafts out there!

  3. T. S. Bazelli Avatar

    WHOO HOO! Congrats on finishing the first draft! I draft the same way. My first draft really is just about figuring out the story and I have plenty of places I’ve marked that need fleshing out in the future. It relieves a lot of the pressure I think.

    Hope you treat yourself to some rest or something nice for making it this far. ;)

  4. Emily Hallinan Avatar

    Congratulations! Figuring out your rhythm and process is half the battle. It is all downhill from here. (I always hated that phrase. Down is so negative. But going uphill is so hard.) Anyway, proud of you! Can’t wait to see the finished product. :)

  5. Sarah Wedgbrow Avatar

    So proud! I want to do the Chandler dance with you. What a great tip from [Erin].

  6. Trisha Avatar

    Congrats and happy dance!

  7. Mike Chen Avatar

    That’s how I draft too. Some chapters, I don’t even bother to write. I just put in a 2-3 sentence summary of the key points. Other times, it’s just dialog with a few notes about what people are feeling. I always feel like the first draft is really just a skeleton, but you need to get it down so you can build layer upon layer.

    It’s probably the hardest draft too, since you’re finding your way and fudging it at the same time. So congrats on getting over the hump!

  8. Stephanie Mooney Avatar

    YAY! I’m so excited that you finished it!

    I write in a condensed form like that, but I don’t really do it consciously. At least, I haven’t in the past. If I actually planned to do it, I’m not sure it would work. :\

  9. Anthony Lee Collins Avatar

    Excellent idea, and congratulations.

    It’s too easy to get into a rigid mindset (“_This_ is how I work” “_I’m_ a pantser” “_I’m_ a plotter” etc.) and not try out new methods. Not all of them will work for everybody, but that’s fine, but it is good to give them a chance.

    S. S. Van Dyne (who wrote the Philo Vance mysteries — he’s basically forgotten now, but he was the #1 selling author in the U.S. in the 1920s) used to start with an outline, then he’d do a compressed version of the book, without all the details, then he’d do a third pass to fill in the missing parts (his books contained a lot of digressions and footnotes with information about esoteric subjects like Chinese porcelains, dog breeding, and Egyptian archeological excavations).

  10. Shari Avatar


    It’s always such a bittersweet feeling to finish the first draft, isn’t it? I normally put in way too much and go over on WC, which means I feel like I’ve known the characters for years by the time I’m finished. Parting with them – even for a week before starting revisions – sometimes feels tough.

    I’m excited to hear about the next step of your journey as you dive back into the book again. As always, keeping my fingers crossed for all good things. You deserve them.

    Enjoy your weekend off! :)

  11. Torie Michelle Avatar

    Congratulations–first major hurdle cleared!

    Using [more] is a great idea. I do something similiar to that when I have an image in my head that I don’t have just the right words for when working on poems.

    Hope you’re enjoying your weekend off!

  12. linda Avatar

    YAY CONGRATS! Hope you enjoyed your nice long celebratory nap. :)

    Also, that sounds like a great strategy. I have a feeling I’ll be using that trick quite a lot!

  13. Joelle Wilson Avatar

    lol Chandler dancing. I think I saw that re-run the other night. I said it once but it bears repeating – Congratulations!

  14. Amanda Kendle Avatar

    Woo-hoo!!! That’s very exciting news. Congrats! Hope you have a great relaxing celebratory weekend. YAY!

  15. Brian Buckley Avatar

    Congratulations :-D

  16. Juliann Wetz Avatar

    Congratulations!! That was an interesting approach. I’m not sure I could do that. I usually take the opposite NaNoWriMo approach: I put in a bunch of crappy words to get to word count, then cut down. Which never seems to work as well as I think it will…

    Have fun in August!

  17. Kristan Avatar

    Thanks, everyone!!

    “If I actually planned to do it, I’m not sure it would work. :\”

    LOL yeah that’s my concern too. Well, I guess I’ll find out on the next project?

    EXACTLY. I’m definitely one of those stubborn, learns-the-hard-way, comes-around-to-it-a-little-late people. Sigh…

    Ah, see, I never would have thought to apply it to poetry too! SO VERSATILE! ;)

    I freaking love Friends. That’s what I do from 4 to 5 pm every day (while also working on chores).

  18. Les Avatar

    I need to try that, because that’s the exact issue I have. Getting overly worried about how it sounds instead of what’s going on. I forget I can change all that later.


  19. najla. Avatar

    Eeeeeeeeee!! CONGRATULATIONS!! I’m completely excited for you and very proud. I wish you all the best and can’t wait to hear/read about August’s fleshing out. :]

  20. Michi Avatar

    Congratulations! I just have to ask; are you actually making an e-book? I do have plans to venture in that field but I am not sure yet. Some tips from you would be helpful. And thanks for the video. I’m missing Friends. I love it!

  21. Kristan Avatar

    No, I’m not planning to turn this project into an ebook. I want to query agents and hopefully get published the traditional way.

  22. kaye (paper reader) Avatar

    I don’t know how I missed this post, as I’ve been looking forward to it for a while – although not more than you! Congratulations!

    I like the idea of using [more] and I guess I never really thought of it before! I always get stuck on what my characters are doing next that it freaks me out and then I stop, and have a hard time getting back into it.

    In any case, congratulations again!

  23. Kristan Avatar

    Thanks, kaye! It took me several tries before I could really embrace the [more], but I’m definitely glad to have it in my toolbox now.