What My Second Novel Has Taught Me

Posted on February 1, 2013
I completed the first draft to my first novel, Dramani, in the Winter of 2012. I wasn't exactly thrilled about it, but I couldn't figure out why, so I put it down for a while and started writing short stories for a few months.  Then I picked it up again in the Spring and wrote a huge plot change. The 2nd first draft was finished in June of 2012. Still unsatisfied, I put it away again until August when I finally changed it to the story I wanted it to be. It took almost a year from when I started writing to when I finally finished the story.

You may be asking, "What happened? Why so much hesitation?"

Good questions. It took writing my next novel for me to figure it out.

I started writing Dramani with my characters fully developed in my head, but the plots and sub plots were not. I didn't have an outline of any sort, and I thought my ideas would flow through to the page effortlessly. I believed the plot would eventually "reveal" itself like a light bulb once I reached it. Hence the rewrites and hesitation.

During the year I had queried a ton of agents at each version of the story with no success. Looking back now I realize my queries reflected my unsure footing, and I'm certain agents picked up on it.  My synopsis was rewritten almost as often as the actual novel. I had several versions of the synopsis and they were all just as convoluted as my thought process was back then.

It wasn't until August that I realized exactly what I wanted to do and finalized the story to what it is today. Since you can't re-query agents (sort of an unspoken rule of etiquette), I self-published in October 2012. By then, I was so suffocated by the amount of work that was already put into the first novel that thinking about the sequel was a complete turn off. So instead of working on the sequel, I started work on a totally unrelated novel.

For my second novel, Everett's Jubilee, I did things differently. 

One Saturday in September, I sat on my couch as my son played Wii Bowling and wrote a messy, chicken-scratch summary of Everett's Jubilee in my notebook in a span of four hours. (Yes, my son played Wii Bowling for four hours straight...my parenting skills still need developing.)  I thought the whole thing through, end to end, plot, sub plots, character names, personalities, the ending, etc., and before I knew it I had pages full of giant bullet points. This was the first draft of my synopsis. This was my outline.

Then, I put my notebook away for day to give my mind a rest, and to bring myself down from the high of knowing I have a good story to write. The next day I was ecstatic to find the story still flowed and I was still happy with it. I read my notes again on Monday morning and I was so excited about the story that I couldn't wait for my kids to go to school so I could start writing.

Of course, having bullet points didn't give me details of how things were to occur. For example, in my scribbles I had written a bullet that read "Everett bumps into Jubilee with a barbie-doll-type date. Lots of awkwardness and misconception." That turned into two chapters once I wrote out the scenes.  But having that bullet there, something I needed to check off in order to continue with the story, helped tremendously.

I wrote almost everyday while the kids were in school, and finished my first draft just before Christmas. It was invigorating. I loved it the moment I finished that last chapter. The story was perfect and hasn't changed one bit.

Once I finally finished the book, I began writing the pitch. Holy cow, it was easy. Then, from the pitch, I built a formal synopsis. Again, easy since I have been living and breathing it from the start. 

What did I learn? I learned the exact process that works for me.

When I started writing my first book, I did the same research everyone does about method and process, and it all seemed to strict and formal. I thought my gut was enough to guide me in this endeavor, and that I would be one of the lucky few who can just wing it. I was wrong. I'm just like most...I need a guideline of some sort to make the writing easier. Not a strict, step-by-step, scene-by-scene outline, but something from beginning to end, and I have to be happy with it. I have to love it, and when I talk about the story I have to know it, even before I write it.

Now, while I querying agents, I'm working on the 2nd book in the Dramani series. I'm still in the initial chicken-scratch phase, spending more time on the outline than I did in the first book because there is so much story to tell. I have to decide what is told now and what moves into the 3rd book. I'm already feeling optimistic about my process and the outcome of the 2nd book in the series.

My advice to writers...if it's in your head get it all down on paper in quick bullet points, end to end, and remember to use a pencil. Or if you only write with felt pens, like me, get a big notebook with lots of room for chicken-scratching. Or it you are a digital-only person, keep versions of your notes so you can go back and revisit ideas you may have deleted before but may later be relevant. There is nothing like looking back and seeing how your story evolved from an inkling into a novel.

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