10 Lessons I Learned Writing My 1st Novel

When I first started writing my 1st novel, Pendomus, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’d written other “novels” as a teenager, but this was the first novel I was attempting as an adult. I wasn’t quite sure how to get started, or how to go about fleshing out the story of a girl on a different planet. I just knew I had to try. As it turns out, writing a novel is both as hard and as easy as it sounds. With NaNoWriMo 2016 now under way, I thought this would be a great time to share my experiences with you. Perhaps to motivate? Perhaps to commiserate? Either way, I hope it’s helpful. Here we go…

  • Goals are essential — Writing is all shiny and stuff, but without goals, you’ll likely never get to where you want to be. This is why events like NaNoWriMo are so awesome. They give an actionable number and goal for aspiring authors to reach for each day. Whether or not you make the 1666 word count is irrelevant. What matters is you pick something that’s doable for you, stick to it, show up every day, and write your little heart out. When you do your best, give as much as you can, you will eventually reach that goal.
  • Know your plot — You don’t have to have every detail mapped out — where’s the fun in that? But it definitely helps to know the overall goal of the book. What are your characters trying to do? Where are they going? What kinds of trouble can they get into? How can they resolve the problem at hand? When will the reader know everything has been tied up?
  • Plans go awry — The best laid plans and all that. Yes, they will forsake you when you lease expect it. I don’t care how much of a plotter your are. When I first started writing Pendomus, Runa was a 12 year old girl who was all alone in the world. Next thing I knew, she was meeting other people and ended up being a seventeen year old. Eh, shit happens. And I’m glad I rolled with the punches, rather than stick to my guns here. It ended up allowing her to have more depth of character and be more realistic as the series goes on.
  • Characters magically appear — Yep, it happens. There you are, happily typing along and all of a sudden, someone new appears. That was the case with Traeton and his group of misfits in the Safe Haven. I had no idea they would make an appearance and end up being such an integral part of the storyline of the Pendomus Chronicles. If you ask me, when characters appear, this is the best kind of character. It means they were already there — waiting to be born. You just didn’t know it yet. When you map out every detail of a book, sometimes we don’t leave enough room for the unexpected. I love being surprised, so it’s something I write in a lot, and enjoy reading myself.
  • You’ll surprise yourself — When you start writing, you may have a clue of what you’re doing — or you may not. But as you continue on with your writing, you’ll always end up surprising yourself with it. Sometimes in the depth of the storyline, sometimes in the way you were able to write for five hours straight and hammer out 10K words in a day. Other times it’s something as simple as going into an area you had no idea you’d be interested in going. Or it could simply be the fact that you managed to complete #NaNoWriMo working a full time job, with three kids in the house, a husband, and a dog. ;)
  • Endings are hard — You’d think endings would be easy, but let me tell you, they’re a pain in the ass. They’re a fun pain, but a pain none-the-less. When you’re writing upwards of 70K, it’s easy to get lost in the mundane and want to really excavate the characters and their world. Sometimes so much so, that finding the common thread of the plot can be hard. This is definitely something I still struggle with at times because I tend to be a strange mix of pantsing and plotting.
  • Write for you, not money — Forget writing a novel because you think it will bring you fame and fortune. Don’t get me wrong, it’d be nice. But that’s not the reason to labor over your words. Write the book you’d want to read and you’ll end up crafting something totally unique. By being original and focusing on your voice as an author and your interests, you’re already going to be way ahead of the game. Even IF you’re one of the lucky ones who make money on your craft.
  • The time for editing — There’s a time for writing, and a time for editing. When you’re in the middle of your first draft, that is NOT the time for editing. Many aspiring authors get hung up on every word, only to fail because they can’t ever get true lift-off. Do yourself a favor; when you’re writing — write. Make time for editing AFTER your first draft is complete. DONE always trumps PERFECT. (Hint: Perfect doesn’t exist!)
  • Externalize your brain — Novels are a beast. If you plan on having more complicated plots happening, you need to invest in an external brain. (Heck, if you’re a Mom or Dad with kids in the house, you probably need one, too! HA!) I use a combination of lists, Excel documents, Evernote, and voice memos. You can us whatever works for you. I know a lot of authors who use the notes in Scrivener and this works great for them. While I use the program itself (I simply can’t make Word work for my brain), I tend to have notes in a few different spots. Though, with the new Scrivener iOS app, who knows? I just downloaded it for NaNoWriMo…maybe it will take over? We’ll see. I cannot speak more highly of Scrivener itself, though. Super program, if you’re looking for a better way to manager your novel.
  • Get a good beta — When you first start, I cannot express how critically important it was for me to have a great beta-reader. My beta-reader-extraordinaire kept me motivated and going when I had no clue what the heck I was trying to do. (Hollah, Sherry!) As you grow into your role as an author, you’ll find their feedback will be lessened. This is in part because you (hopefully) learn from the lessons of the past, and because they trust you as an author.

If any of these lessons resonated with you, leave me a comment in the section below. I’d love to hear from you.

If you’re gearing up to write that 1st novel — Happy Writing!


Carissa Andrews is a Multipassionate MN Entrepreneur, Sci-fi Author, freelance writer, graphic designer and artist, unapologetic progressive, Lightworker, truthsayer, and occasional badass.

Her YA science fiction novel Pendomus, is available now through Amazon. Polarities, Book 2 of the Pendomus Chronicles is near completion and Revolutions, Book 3 of the Pendomus Chronicles is her 2016 NaNoWriMo project. Stay tuned for more details on their release!