The first draft is done, now what?

To recap for anyone new to my site: I was traveling around the world when a fellow traveller said “You should write a book about this”. So I did. I finished the first draft of what will be the first book in a series of cozy mysteries a week ago. I had planned and researched that story for about a year, so I wrote the first draft in three weeks. There, you’re all caught up.

Since then, I have taken a few days off to rest and to adjust to a reality where I actually managed to write a book. Until then I wasn’t sure if I could. Is the book finished now? No, of course not. It will need a lot of editing. But having never written fiction before, I wasn’t sure I would ever get even this far. So now that I did, I had to start thinking what to do next. I had a few options available, so what to do?

Edit the first book

Well, what are you waiting for? Edit the damn book and get it published! The eagerness to do that was there, but most of the advice I read online was to let the first draft mellow for some weeks before doing the next edit. The time will let you get a more objective look at the story, and to see its weaknesses. I can see the rationale for this every day, when I read old blog posts for example. Some could clearly have used another edit, despite usually letting them air for an hour or two before final read. And there’s always a typo somewhere, or a re-structured sentence that is missing a verb or something.

Besides, after thinking about the story for so long I needed a bit of a holiday from the story, which brings me to my second option.

Take time off

Well, since I needed a break from the first draft of the first book, maybe I should just take a week or two off completely? It had a certain appeal. But what would I do? I had just spent almost a year and a half travelling, and I wasn’t tired of Edinburgh or my home yet to set off again. Of course I could have taken time to just explore my new home town, but I was also very aware of the fact that until I got something published, I was living off my savings. So a few weeks off at this point didn’t appeal.

I was also worried that if I took time off, I would lose my steam. Like that one time when I took two weeks off from the gym and I didn’t go back for a couple of several months years. I had the writing bug now, and I had to write or else I might never go back.

Start planning the second book

A funny thing happened when I was writing the first book. I had roughly planned a 12-book long arc for my main characters before I actually started writing the first book, and had ideas where the following books would take place and sometimes even who was murdered and why. So during writing I kept getting glimpses of the second book and sometimes even later ones. I kept a dossier of notes, which I would scribble when those ideas for the following books would crop up. Actually, the opening scene of the second book came to me months ago, but I knew nothing else about that story back then and so I parked it to wait. Now other ideas related to that first scene kept bubbling up. And then I got this great idea that linked books 2 and 3 together and I couldn’t wait any longer!

So that’s what I have been doing since. I have been planning the second book, doing a bit of research for the specific location and so on, planning the whodunnit, whydunnit and howdunnit, and conjuring up additional suspects and romantic interests.

One thing that added to the excitement was that I could start the second book using the new tool, Scrivener, that I stumbled on during my last week of writing the first draft of the first book. As I discovered with my post-it note planning method, I think in scenes, and this tool just gets me. When I come up with an idea of a scene, I can just add a new text item in the book folder, and write a brief note about it, to hold the thought until I am ready to actually sit down and write the book. I can even color scheme the text snippets according to what kind of scene it will be (e.g. back story, or main mystery).

By now I have almost 40 ideas all written down on their own little text slips. Some are descriptions of scenery that will get absorbed into other scenes later, some are stream of consciousness ramblings about a character and what their function will be in the story and some are back flashes to the main character’s story between books, but most are scenes that drive the story forward. The great thing is that these snippets are visible in Scrivener sidebar, quickly accessible for checking a prior idea, and easy to shift around when I start creating an outline of the plot (first this happens, then that, and then this follows…). So I no longer need the post-it phase.

This phase is fun, exciting, a little scary (I basically have a blank page in front of me!) and hard to quantify. As I wrote in my earlier post, I respond well to having a quantifiable target that I can track and tweet about. How can I track my progress when my task is not “write xx pages in a day”, but “plan the plot”, when I don’t know how much time I will need for it or how long it actually should take? It took me a year to plan the first book but that was because I was traveling and blogging with little time or energy to spend on actual writing. And I needed to do my homework.

So what I have done is work every day. Happily, I usually wake up in the morning with new ideas in my head that I need to write down before I forget (thanks subconscious!). More ideas come to me when I’m doing other stuff like sitting on a bus with a dead iPhone and thus nothing to read, or climbing up and down stairs in ruined palaces, or when I’m trying to watch something on Netflix. But having these little moments of inspiration is not enough. So I sit in front of the laptop and force my imagination to run wild (and sometimes pushing and shoving it to just get it to even inch forward). The location of the story sets its own limitations, as does my first scene. If that is to happen, then specific things have to happen before it and will happen as a result of it, and it means I will have to have a character like so, and suspects like these, but oh now the timeline doesn’t work for this person to come in, and that means I have to add so and so… And so it goes.

I used to wonder where writers got their ideas. Now I know. Some just pop up. Most you have to work for, plot point by plot point, character by character, scene by scene.

I will be traveling next week so the book progress will slow, but hopefully in a week I will be far enough in my planning that I can start writing book 2. And then? I think then it will be time to go back and write the second draft for book 1. And after that, perhaps I will start planning book 3. We’ll just have to wait and see.


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