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April 10, 2015

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April 10, 2015

7 Things That Helped Me Survive My First Novel

April 10, 2015

Yesterday I finished my first novel. Eventually I’ll get into how it came to be that I wrote my first novel (still not sure), when the process started (31 years ago?) and how long the whole thing took (felt like five years and also five days), but for now I want to focus on how you can finish writing your first novel, too. Here are my 7 TOP SURVIVAL TIPS.

  • I didn’t write all day every single day. Read this book if you want a reminder that most of the most accomplished writers work for approximately four hours straight every day. That doesn’t mean they aren’t writing or creating for the rest of the day, they’re just promising themselves four (or less) dedicated hours of the hard stuff. I did that, and it worked.
  • I jotted down notes before I went to bed about what I was going to write the next morning. A blank page is my enemy, so I figured if I had some bullet points on that page when I arrived to write, it would freak me out less. I was right.
  • I wore the same outfit essentially every day. I can waste impressive amounts of time deciding what to wear. That usually happens in the morning when I get my best writing done. I found that by putting on the exact same ripped jeans, baggy t-shirt and over-sized sweater every single weekday morning I got comfortable and into my spot at least 45 minutes faster. Wait it takes you 45 minutes to get dress?! Oops.
  • I followed a very detailed outline, but I RE-outlined along the way. Here’s the OCD part. The proposal that I sold contained a complete outline, which was a huge, huge help in the writing process. But things changed along the way, so I created a working outline so that I knew the actual story that was unfolding. I needed that to make decisions about where to go next, and I’ll need it again during the editing process to know where the hell everything is. It was extra work, but worthwhile.
  • Hummus. Hummus is a really energizing snack that you can eat lots and lots and lots of (right?…) without feeling like a blob that can’t lift her hand up to type another sentence. I consumed more hummus in the three months of finishing this project that a normal human should, but it’s better than the same story with chocolate as the substitute (note: I ate chocolate too, just not as much, ish)
  • I did not go back and read what I had written until it was time to edit. This is very, very hard for me because I like to make sure every page is perfect before I tackle the next. Bottom line: I did not have time for that kind of crazy. I delivered the manuscript in three chunks of 100 pages to my editor, about one month apart. I would only allow myself to read through the previous hundred pages after I reached the end. I cannot believe I ever wrote a thing without following this rule.
  • I celebrated a lot. At every milestone (50 pages, 3/4ths done, half a book, didn’t cry today!) I celebrated. I needed the motivation, and I needed the reminder that this was a big deal that deserved 100% of my time. At first I had trouble talking about the fact that I was writing a novel – I think I felt awkward about it, like I didn’t deserve to be doing it or something? I’m not sure – but the more comfortable and excited I became the more I shared what was going on, and every time I shared someone said, “wow, I hope you’re having a nice glass of wine at the end of today.” AND SO I DID!

Now I have a novel. It is 310 pages, and I love it very much. I don’t know what will happen once it heads out into the world, but that’s not really the point at this stage in my writing life. Finishing was the point, and I promise you, you can finish too.

Need a little help? Read this other thing I wrote on the topic. Need a lot of help? Take a Writing Pad class. Need a drink? Me too! I’ll be at the bar from now until Monday. But you’re only allowed to come too if you finish an entire chapter. Good luck!


  1. So exciting. MAJOR CONGRATS and excited to see where this takes you! I personally hope it’s set in NYC, but know I’ll be reading it even if it takes place in Iowa (just not Indiana). You deserve all the celebration this weekend- enjoy.

    (Loving how it’s SO easy for me to comment now!)

  2. Yay! Congratulations! Also, I want to second the part about hummus. I consumed vast amounts during my three-month sabbatical, and found it to be not only satisfying, but the perfect fuel for production.

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