What I Learned Finishing My First Novel Rewrite

The rough draft of my very first novel took me five months to write. I was so proud, I printed it out and made my first round of notes by hand with a red-inked fountain pen. I didn’t think it was that bad. Then, I started the chapter-by-chapter rewrites.

The first few chapters were fun. I mean, I scrapped most of what I had written, but the new words seemed readily available. I was sending out the chapters, people were reading them and making notes, and it was getting better.

Then, I reached the middle. My only solace was that, as a reader, I knew I wasn’t the first writer to struggle with the middle section. I hated it. I rewrote everything even more, I cussed in the margins, and people stopped giving me their notes. I get it. I would have stopped, too, if it wasn’t my book.

Finally, last week I reached the ending. I really, really rewrote the final chapters, but the epilogue stayed almost exactly the same. Suddenly, I looked up, and I had finished my first major rewrite of my first novel. It had taken fourteen months.

A lot can change in fourteen months. I changed a lot in fourteen months. My household changed a lot in fourteen months. I’ve changed jobs and everything else, and the only constant was this book. Now, this book is on pause while I wait for feedback from my friends, and I’m left to think about the process and start my next book (and maybe some short stories I can share).

So, what have I learned so far?

Progress isn’t linear.

Just like working out, eating healthy, or doing anything else to improve yourself, progress was never linear, and past experience had very little to do with the future predictions. Some chapters were smooth, and some seemed almost impossible to fix (until I did or scrapped them). Devoting an hour to writing a day, and still trying to churn out original article and short stories, I could never chart my progress well on this book. I thought developers were bad at estimating large projects, but it’s nothing compared to authors and their projects. All I could do was force myself to sit down and work on it. Some days, I rewrote a whole chapter, and some days I just tried to outline a way out of the corner I’d written myself into.

Timelines are meaningless.

After finally accepting the last point, I had to accept the meaningless of my own timelines. Nobody’s waiting on this book, and my own schedule was completely arbitrary. It didn’t matter if it only took my five months to write the first draft, and nobody really cares how long it took me to fix it. When I go back and fix more, nobody will care how long that takes.

Anonymity is a gift.

I never understood this before, and I didn’t really take advantage of it as a developer or designer. I finally got it while I was writing this book, though. The fact that nobody was waiting for it (and almost nobody is probably reading these words) became a great gift as I struggled through the slog. I’m too “old” as a developer to majorly screw things up, and I don’t have the pleasure of working for tiny agencies anymore. As an author, though, I would have cracked long ago if anybody had been anxiously waiting on these chapters. You’ll probably ignore me, too, but I do want to reiterate how great it is to still be an unknown quantity at times.

None of the words matter until I publish them.

This was a big thing. I read the first draft, and I cringed. Then, I realized it didn’t matter. Nobody else had read those words, and I could fix them before anybody could judge me. Even my rewrite will probably have some cringe-worthy moments, but that’s okay. I’ll fix those before anybody but my closest friends and family read them. Along with being unknown, this was the greatest gift (and it would still apply even after I’m known).

I can be two things.

Finally, I learned that I could be two things. This wasn’t just part of doing a rewrite, but it was a life lesson that I finally learned near the end of the process. I can be a web developer and a writer, and neither one has to be at the exclusion of the other. I don’t have to quit development, and I don’t have to give up my dreams of writing another book. I can be a web developer and a writer. I can be two things.

Well, that’s everything I learned. I also learned that I write really sparse rough drafts, but I think that will change. I’m excited to get back to this novel to finish it up, but I have a lot of ideas for short stories (for my kid and for adults) and at least one killer idea for my next novel. Of course, I’m still anonymous, so not that many people will be following this, but I’m now okay with that. I’m still a writer.