Making Progress: My Outdoor Adventure Novel


I did something I swore to myself that I wouldn’t do.  I had to.  I had no other choice.

Per Stephen King’s (as well as most of my writing professors’) advice, I don’t read any of my writing until I finish a first draft.  Whether I am working on a blog post, an essay, or a full–length novel, I try not to look back until I’m finished with the drafting phase.  Afterwards, I go back and determine what works and what doesn’t, decide what needs revised or omitted, and then revise, revise, and revise again until I’m fairly happy with the finished product.  With blog posts, I tend to write, revise, and publish posts within a week or two, but for longer works, like longer essays and stories, I strive to “let it rest” for six weeks before returning for the critique and revision process.  I had fully intended to continue this process for my outdoor adventure novel, but life doesn’t always concern itself with my intentions.

Over the past month, I’ve been forced to take a writing hiatus.  Moving and all of the chores, errands, and details associated with putting my family’s belongings into storage have occupied nearly all of my free time.  In addition to my lack of writing opportunities, I also felt out of practice when I did find a few minutes to write.  The words just didn’t seem to flow as they do when I am writing regularly.  But as soon as we arrived at the cabin in the mountains, I started a program to get my fingers and my mind back into top writing shape.  Since the first night here, I’ve journaled incessantly.  I’ve filled pages and pages with my thoughts and observations.  In addition to journaling, I’ve also been writing blog posts, revising a short memoir, and writing new essays.  Finally, after hours of practice, I had time to write and the ability to do so again!

I started writing again on my novel a few days ago.  But before I started, I had to ignore King’s advice about not reading a first draft until it’s finished.  I started at the first page and read the entire draft up to the very last sentence.  I had to.  I couldn’t put myself that far into a character’s mind or that far into a setting and plot without refreshing my memory.

Even though I didn’t follow King’s advice exactly, I did resist the urge to fix or change anything.  Even when I found a typo or a missing or extra word, I left the draft exactly as it was when I wrote it.  I decided to leave all of those little issues (and maybe a few bigger ones as I revise) until I’m ready to actually study and revise the piece properly.

I did, however, discover a surprising positive side–effect of reading the first draft.  I was actually quite happy with nearly every aspect of the novel and felt extremely inspired to keep writing!  I enjoyed the protagonist’s character development.  The story was compelling.  In fact, I couldn’t wait to read what happened next.  The nature element worked perfectly, providing me with a real sense of setting as well as supporting the actions and emotions within my writing.  But more than anything else, I enjoyed the psychological aspect of the book.  I loved seeing how a dire situation is influencing my character and how he responds to those situations and influences.

As of right now, I’m about half–finished (35,000+ words) with the first draft.  I expect that when finished, the draft will probably be around 70,000 words.  I’m going to keep pushing hard to finish the first draft over the next several weeks.  Although I can write anywhere, I can’t think of anyplace better to write a novel set deep in the mountains of West Virginia than on the front porch of a cabin looking out into those mountains.

How about you?  Are you writing a novel right now?  Or is blogging, journaling, or shorter works occupying your time?  Do you abstain from reading your first draft until finished or do you revise on the go?  I’d love to hear about your writing process!


8 thoughts on “Making Progress: My Outdoor Adventure Novel

  1. Pingback: Asks: Do You Look Back before You Look Ahead?

  2. This post is loaded! From one writer to another, this is the same way I feel. I, too, have to get the down and dirty 1st draft done before I can even think of revisions of any type. If I screw with it before I complete it, I’ll get it messed up for sure. The big thing you emphasize here, at least for me, is revision, REVISION! They say all writing is rewriting. Certainly true for me. My novel, which finally debuts next month, was a seven-year writing project. I had to restructure and rewrite the entire manuscript several times.

    Stay the course, my friend. I’m living proof that perseverance pays off!

    • Thank you for the comments as well as the encouragement!

      I tend to get too far “into the weeds” if I worry too much about my first draft. Better to make progress than to stare at a screen trying to work out the absolute perfect sentence or worry about coherent symbolism.

      I agree that revision is the key! All of my better work has been purely a product of revision. I often encourage others to just write – write as much as your fingers and mind can withstand. Seventy percent of it will probably be fluff, but that thirty percent, now that’s where you’ll find the magic!

      Congrats on your debut! Writing a novel is a massive undertaking, an undertaking far greater than most realize. But even after the first draft, and even after the countless revisions, publication is a huge ordeal. Congratulations that you’ve made it!

      As I progress further on my own work, I’ll probably publish a post or two about revision processes as well as my thoughts and actions concerning publication. I hope you’ll chime in with your experiences! I’d appreciate your input, and I suspect that quite a few of my other followers would appreciate it as well.

      Again, thanks so much for the thoughtful comments. I sincerely appreciate it!

      As your book debuts, be sure to let me know. Hopefully I’ll have more reliable internet by then and will know based on your posts, but if not, let me know and I’ll check it out!

  3. Can’t go wrong with the advice from Stephen King – he’s honest about his mistakes, admitting what was crap and what wasn’t. He’s better when clean and sober! I’ve defended him for years, so quite happy that the snobs have shut up.
    For short pieces, like the weekly blog posts, I generally write without revision the first day, leave it between 24-48 hours and then get heavy with the revisions. I’m not as ruthless an editor with my own work as I could be, relying on readers to be patient and interested in the content if not the style. I think that’s ok for informal writing on a blog.
    Lengthier pieces get left in a drawer, often for months. Then I find I’m ready to reread and rewrite. Not sure it gets any better…I struggle to finish substantial projects – two unfinished items, each in excess of 40 000 words is testament to that. They were written when I felt I had time, and my recent poor excuse has been lack of time. Starting OldPlaidCamper has brought me back to better habits, and fewer excuses related to writing, as well as a more determined effort to use time wisely.
    I have really enjoyed reading your post here. It is a real commitment to make your writing work, and you clearly have the necessary determination and inspiration to see your novel through. I am looking forward to reading more about your process (and the completed work, one day), and will use your example to give myself a kick up the backside and finish some of my work!
    A great post – thanks!

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, my friend. Always appreciated!

      King definitely gets snubbed by the critics. I can’t speak for any of his newer books, but I learned as much about writing from his “On Writing” and a study of “The Shining” as I did from anywhere else. If you haven’t read “On Writing,” you should definitely check it out. Not only does King give good advice about the actual writing, he also gives advice about how to write, how to carve out the time, how to develop a process that works for you, etc. Any time that I need some inspiration or need to get focused on writing, I dig into “On Writing.” It always helps.

      I agree about blog posts. Less formal. Less revision. Less stress. Hopefully readers will enjoy them even if they aren’t “perfect.”

      I totally understand how starting OldPlaidCamper helped with the habits. That’s one part of why I came back to SmoothingIt. It forces me to write regularly and to always write for an audience. I try to carry the audience aspect over from blogging and into my more formal writing. Regardless of where you are trying to publish, someone will be reading your work. Often writers forget that aspect in their writing.

      I hope you finish both of your longer projects! I’d be interested in reading them. In fact, if you get to a final product, I’d be more than happy to review and provide feedback. Regardless, I’m happy that you started the blog, I’ve enjoyed reading your posts and am glad to have met you!

      Thanks again! I appreciate your input!

      • “On Writing” is an excellent book, and I really should dig it out. “The Shining” is right up there, and I have to say, if it is a favourite, you might not want to bother with the recent sequel. Wasn’t bad, but no need. His recent books seem to contain a lot of nostalgic elements – sometimes incorporating brief encounters with earlier characters. Nothing wrong with that, and goodness knows he’s entitled to do as he pleases, but they feel like clever plot devices and loose end tying. I’d still rather read a middling Stephen King more than most other fare…
        When I ever get something approaching a final draft, I’d be delighted if you’d consider looking it over. Walking home this evening, I realized I do write in excess of 50 000 words each academic year, in the form of student report cards. Some of my finest creative writing, let me tell you. (Truth is, I do enjoy report card writing – there’s a genuine challenge there to be honest yet encouraging – and all in a paragraph or two!)
        Anyway, I see you have left some comments over at OldPlaidCamper, so I’ll go check those out. Brave of you to read so many in a sitting!

      • That’s a lot of report card writing!

        I enjoyed reading “The Shining” and expect that I’ll read more of King’s work as time allows. It was actually the first book that I read from a writer’s perspective. Therefore, I really appreciated a lot of the different aspects of King’s writing.

        The internet is actually working well tonight so I decided to spend a while going through your posts that I’ve missed over the past few weeks. Excellent stuff, I must say!

      • Thanks for taking the time, it’s appreciated. (All that OldPlaidCamper in one go – brave of you!)
        Report cards twice a year, January and June. I could write shorter comments, but once I start…brevity not my strong suit when writing. Pity the poor parents who happen to be English language learners themselves. I sometimes think I’m probably the last person to read the report card.
        Enjoy the rest of your mountain time!

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