how to write your first novel… what i’ve learned so far

It’s now the beginning of November and I’ve just finished taking an awesome writing class. I haven’t written on this blog lately because I’ve been busy getting down the first draft of my novel, but I wanted to share some updates on what I learned in this class.

When I first signed up for the Extreme Novelist course at the Writer’s Center over the summer, I felt pretty intimidated. Reading the course description, I knew that writing an entire first draft in eight weeks time was a lofty goal, even for seasoned novelists. That being said, this course has given me a whole new approach to writing. I am an editor by nature and I approach art I experience every day – books, movies, TV shows, even events – with a critical eye, even when I don’t want to.


Sometimes, it’s hard to progress in my own work because I’m constantly looking for ways to perfect what I already have written, instead of creating new material. Thankfully, this course has helped me focus much more on the process of writing, rather than the idea of perfection, which we can never completely reach.

Here are some of the key things I learned in this course.

Creating and editing use two different parts of the brain. Only use one at a time. We can’t write and create freely when we’re looking at small things to correct and nitpick at the same time. We have to turn that “editing impulse” off and save it for later when we have more material to work with, like an actual first draft to delve into and edit.

Let your subconscious do the work. This is a big one. First drafts are expected to be imperfect. Instead of putting the pressure on yourself to write something amazing, or even good, just set out with the goal to write. Tell the story, however it initially takes form and you might be surprised by the amount of “good,” usable material that comes out of writing rapidly and freely.

Prioritize writing. Everyone manages to waste time in the day doing something. I’m definitely guilty of spending too much time on Instagram or online shopping for things that aren’t essential. You have to make time to write, whether that means getting up early, cutting back a bit on social plans, or eliminating some time-wasting activities that simply aren’t important.

Stay “in the story”. It also helped me tremendously to be constantly thinking about the story I was writing, even in the back of my mind while doing a mindless task at work or riding the metro or bus. Forcing myself to come back to my story almost every day made it easier to remember where I had left off and where I saw things going next.

Escape into your story. This is similar to staying in the story. Something my teacher suggested when people in the class were having a difficult or stressful time outside of their writing lives, was to use the story they were writing as an escape. Watching a movie or reading a good book is often a form of escapism, and it turns out writing one is too.

Hopefully, I’ll be finishing up this draft soon, just in time for National Novel Writing Month, a similarly intense program that encourages people to write a 50,000-word first draft in one month. I think I’m going to use the momentum of National Novel Writing month to edit what I have and prepare it for the next step, which will be having some of my writing friends beta-read and give me feedback.

Have you ever participated in National Novel Writing Month? What tips have helped you stay on track and finish your first draft in a short amount of time?


– la fille americaine




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