This Monday, I finished the first draft of my suspense novel, SEVEN DUDES DOC AND THE SEVEN. I clocked in at a little over 51,000 words. Like a round of cheese being nibbled on by mice, my draft has some holes in it, but it’s still whole and finished.
As my friend Lewis likes to say, stick a fork in me, I’m done.
I’m taking a break from SEVEN DUDES DOC AND THE SEVEN for the rest of October and November. In November, I’m doing NaNoWriMo and writing the first draft of the sequel to The Contenders. Then, I’ll return to SEVEN DUDES DOC AND THE SEVEN in December and January.
But for now, I’m finished with my manuscript.
I’m taking a break for the rest of October to rest, read, watch movies and shows, see friends, walk, and clear my head.
I’m happy. Yes, I am. Very happy!
But mostly, I’m relieved.
Because there were so many days when I didn’t know if I could do it.
It took me nearly nine months to write this first draft. But prior to starting my draft, I’ve been rolling around the idea of SEVEN DUDES DOC AND THE SEVEN in my head, and taking notes on it, since 2005. That’s eleven years. So, to be truly accurate, it took me eleven years and nine months to write the first draft.
Crazy, I know.
Starting in February, I only wrote one chapter a week. Sometimes less.
It was incredibly disappointing.
Some days, I could not make myself write at all.
Lack of habit.
I was transitioning from my business to being a full-time writer and everything felt new, strange, and just not right. As I’ve written in past posts, I thought it would feel so natural to write full time. It’s what I’ve been wanting to do for so long. But as with so many momentous transitions, it did not feel natural. Even a transition that I wanted so badly took me a good four months to get the hang of it.
Once I established a habit of writing five days a week, things started chugging along.
Sometimes, I’d fall off the horse and have to dust myself off and get back on again. Fear still hung out with me. But I didn’t let Fear drive anymore. It was relegated to the back seat.
But again, once writing became a five-day-a-week habit, things got better. That was key. I had to write every day like a habit. Like brushing my teeth–I had to do it or else it felt weird!
Habits WORK. During these last two months, I consistently wrote a chapter a day, five days a week.
My first draft ended up having 82 chapters. Many are short chapters, but still, 82 chapters is a lot of chapters. I realized that for SEVEN DUDES DOC AND THE SEVEN, it helped me to write shorter chapters to keep the suspense going for my reader and for myself.
I didn’t know this when I started out.
It’s true that with every book you write, you learn how to write a book.
This technique of many short chapters may not work for the next book. It likely won’t. That’s okay. I need to just go with it, and follow what the story wants to do. As my friend and teacher Brian McDonald says, “You are not the master of your story, but a slave to it.”
Peg Cheng is the author of The Contenders, a middle-grade novel centered on the question, can enemies become friends? She is currently writing another novel that is a re-imagining of the Snow White fairy tale set in 1980s Seattle.