*cries of victory* I did it, guys! I just finished my first first draft ever, a ~80 000 words fantasy clusterfuck that's supposed to be part one of a series. It's awful, rough, silly, and riddled with inconsistencies – but it's done. What a journey this has been! I feel as if I've just leveled up.
Before I move on the next part of this post, here's an overview: A dyslexic elf is looking for a book that's fallen into the hands of a necromancer who's using it to sow chaos across the realm. In his quest to retrieve it, he meets an unlikely cast of characters, each with their own endgame and intentions. Oh, and there's magic and dragons. (Stuff might change with rewrites and edits, so I'm just gonna leave it at that.)
First of all, I'd like to thank everyone here for providing me with advice as well as a comfy spot to procrastinate while I hid from working on this project.
Secondly, here's what I learned:
Writing a novel is a lot like building a house, in the sense that you will get nowhere if you start by worrying about the paintjob instead of focusing on the actual structure. I've abandoned a lot of projects before (basically anything longer than a short story) and now I realize it's mostly because I kept trying to build from the roof down instead of starting with the foundation. Then there's the actual grinding part, the tedious hard work, the simple act of putting words on a page. I'll get to that in a moment.
Outline. As much as you need to.
I used to believe outlining was nothing but an excuse to avoid the grind. I was wrong and I'll venture to say most of my inconsistencies are the direct result of bad outlining. I know some people believe in pantsing it but this whole experience has taught me I'm unable to do that.
Discipline over motivation.
Don't think about the word count, don't fret over the content. Just put stuff there, preferably on a regular basis. I started out around May last year. I'd write maybe twice or three times a week, about 300-500 words per session. I still can't do it everyday but lately I've been doing it every other day, work and all, clocking in at about 1500-2000 words. Personal record was reaching 2700 in only a few hours, so it's all a matter of practice. There will be days when it will suck. Do it anyway, you can always edit crap and bonus part is that you build up the habit. That way, when the inspo does hit, your keyboard will barely keep up.
Draw a map. The world will end up creating itself. Mountains here – rough climate, difficult travel. Sea – ship travel and ports. Forests – what lurks inside? Hills, plains, marshes. Where will people choose to live? And so on. The more boundaries you set, the easier it is to build on that.
This is by far the most fascinating part of it all. I started out with some vague concepts, developed them into cardboard cutouts then added some water and conflict and just sat back to watch them grow into tridimensional individuals with a will of their own. Looking back on the character sheets I'd written at the very beginning, I can't help but laugh at how much they've changed. It might seem hopeless in the beginning but as long as you keep hard at it and let the story flow, the chemistry will surface.
The first time I experienced this, I had written myself into a block. One of my POV characters is supposed to be a 16yo human. He was supposed to talk to his (more or less) father figure, an fairly old elven blacksmith but it just kept coming out bland. Then I took a step back and pondered. I listened to my character, I listened to his elder then it just happened. Magic. Chemistry. Teenage guy is looking to rebel. He's aware he's being stupid. The older guy is aware of this as well, he's had a lot of kids like him in his care over the years, so he doesn't take it personally, even though the kid is pushing it. And there it was. Shown, not told, all through a quick exchange. But I digress.
This brings me to my next point: don't panic. You will hit snags. You will go through blocks. Sometimes you can write yourself out and push through. Other times it won't work. Just don't panic. Stop what you're doing, take a step back and do something else. Give it a day or two or three, play a videogame, watch something or read. It will come to you eventually, when you're relaxed enough. It will come to you in your sleep or in the shower. It will dawn on you and feel liberating as hell. Trust yourself, you'll work it out.
Back-up. Save. Religiously, as if there were a conspiracy out there to delete your work. I kept at least four copies at all times (Cloud, PC and various storage devices). I spared myself a heartattack or two like this.
Last but not least, read.
Binge the genre you're working in. Make notes, get angry, laugh, wallow in self doubt. Then remind yourself all those people went through that and now they have books out there. The good stuff will show you where to aim but it's the bad ones that will teach you how. So try to stay omnivorous.
And most importantly: Don't lose hope. There is no such thing as a good first draft (not for most of us mortals that is, I've no doubt there's an exception to this somewhere). You can polish a turd but you need to pile it together first. And with that in mind, I assume this concludes my first first draft rant. See you in a while, folks, when the impostor syndrome finally catches up with me or when I start rewriting.
PS: Sorry if I'm rambling and/or am incoherent. I have written this right after closing the Word doc.
EDIT: Words are hard and I am tired.