Five things I’d tell myself before I wrote my first book (if I could go back in time!) – Jaimie Admans

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By Jaimie Admans

It’s been about twelve years since I wrote my first novel (crikey, I feel old!) and even though the only thing that particular novel will ever be good for is lighting a bonfire, it was a huge achievement.

I’d been wanting to write a novel since my teens, I’d managed a few chapters of different ideas but nothing had ever stuck, and I had a folder full of handwritten pages of abandoned ideas. I wasn’t sure what I really wanted to write. I loved reading both horror and chick-lit, and every idea I had seemed to be a mix between Sophie Kinsella and Stephen King, which was – unsurprisingly – nowhere near as good as it sounds!

And then I read a book called See Jane Date by Melissa Senate. It’s a chick-lit romantic comedy, it was made into a film starring Charisma Carpenter of Buffy/Angel fame, and as soon as I closed the book, something clicked. I had connected to Jane in a way that I hadn’t connected to a character before. She was struggling with similar issues that I was struggling with, and I just knew. That was what I wanted to write.

I began my first real attempt at a novel. It was a ‘what if’ situation from my own life – embellished for fictional purposes, of course – but I knew how it would begin, how the middle would go, and how it would end, which was better than any other idea I’d started on before! That novel ended up being 80,000 words of pure terribleness that no one ever has or ever will read, and it took about six months to write, but it proved that I could write a novel, and led to my next attempt which was a lot more successful!

So with that in mind, if I could go back in time, here are five things I’d tell myself before I wrote my very first book.

1. Don’t go back and edit.

When you’re writing, just write. The goal of a first draft is to get words down on paper. Well, computer screen. This is something I took away from doing NaNoWriMo for years. The only way to write a novel is to actually write it. You can tinker with sentences and tighten up descriptions later. You can double-check things on Google later. You can do the housework later (or never. Never works for that one too!) There is nothing in the book that can’t be fixed later, and while spending hours poring over chapters you’ve already written still feels like writing, it’s not the same as adding new chapters. The first draft is for keeping the forward momentum up – the second draft is for looking backwards.

2. Don’t get distracted by shiny new ideas.

In every book, without fail, I’ll get a fantastic new idea for a new story. It’ll seem like the perfect idea, and I’ll consider abandoning the one I’m writing to do the new one instead. I now know from experience that this is a terrible plan. Jumping headfirst into new ideas is why they so often don’t pan out. I need time to research them, to let the ideas slot into place, to let the story unfurl itself slowly and the characters come to life in my mind. The shiny new idea will still be there in a few weeks/months when you’re done with your current project, and you’ll probably be even more excited to get started on it after the characters and plot have been percolating for a while. Write down all snippets you get, from huge plot twists to lines of dialogue, pin things that remind you of the new idea to a Pinterest board, but force yourself to hold back from starting on it. Anticipation is everything!

3. Know how it ends

This is a mistake I made a lot, and have even made again in recent years. There was one connecting factor between the first three books I finished: I knew how they would end before I started writing them. Knowing the ending doesn’t mean your characters won’t have room to grow, and it doesn’t have to be set in stone, it doesn’t matter if you change the ending halfway through or if you don’t know quite how the characters will get there yet. If I don’t know the ending, I know I will blunder my way to about 40,000 words and then stall. I know that saying ‘it’ll come to me as I write’ doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter how vague it is, I just have to know what direction I’m heading in.

4. Write in linear order

Knowing how it ends is great, but actually writing the ending first? Our survey says uh-uh. This is a mistake I made only once! Following common writing advice – if you’re stuck, move on to a scene you’re excited about – I was stuck about halfway through a book, and really excited about the ending, so I wrote it. Massive mistake! To make yourself sit down and write every day, you have to be excited about telling the story. There’s a need to see your characters through to the end. If you’ve already written it, where is left to take your characters to? I really struggled with this. I felt like the story was concluded even though the middle bit was missing. In this particular story, there was also a massive revelation at the end that changed one character’s attitude towards another, and it tainted the story. The main character already knew what she wasn’t supposed to find out until the end. It crept into the writing because I’d already written the revelation. And there was a whole muddle of who-knows-what-and-when, and mentioning of things that hadn’t happened yet because I’d already written them, even if they came at a later point in the story! Now, no matter how excited I am about an ending or a later scene, I just jot down snippets in my notes. Lines of dialogue or observations, but never again will I write the ending first!

5. Write down everything, no matter how certain you are that you won’t forget it.

That amazing piece of dialogue you think of while lying in bed at 2am? You will not remember that in the morning. Keep a notebook and pen by the bed. Stick one in the bathroom so when you get an incredible idea while washing your hair, you can drip your wet hands over to it and scribble it down on soggy paper. No matter how good you think your memory is – admittedly, mine is exceptionally terrible – you cannot trust yourself to remember everything. I think I’d be a millionaire by now if I could remember all the writing ideas that I’ve forgotten!

5.5 It’s okay to be proud.

Writing a novel is a massive achievement. Even if it’s rubbish and the only thing it’s done is teach you how not to write a novel. I didn’t tell anyone I was writing a novel until I’d finished it, and I still remember the look on my mum’s face when I told her. She was so proud. She told all her friends even though I begged her not to. She still asks to read my very first novel to this day. (The answer will always be never, but still!)

Writing a novel takes dedication and discipline to sit alone every day and force words onto a blank screen when they don’t come easily. It’s something that many people dream of doing, and you’ve actually done it, and it’s okay to celebrate that!

Jaimie Admans is a 32-year-old English-sounding Welsh girl with an awkward-to-spell name. She lives in South Wales and enjoys writing, gardening, watching horror movies, and drinking tea, although she’s seriously considering marrying her coffee machine. She spends far too much time on Twitter and owns too many pairs of boots. She is the author of chick-lit romantic comedies The Chateau of Happily Ever Afters and Kismetology, and she has also written young-adult romantic comedies Afterlife Academy, Not Pretty Enough, and North Pole Reform School.

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