Within the last week, I’ve completed the final round of revisions on my first novel and started querying agents.

Woo! Huzzah! Happy dances all around.

10 Lessons I Learned While Writing My First Novel


It’s been a long road… I started this novel about four-and-a-half years ago. It was my first novel, my first serious creative writing venture, and I’ve grown a lot as a writer and as a person along the way.

Here are the top ten lessons I learned while writing my first novel:

1. Everything will take longer than you expect.

And that means everything. Think you can whip through that revision in a few weeks? Try a few months. Plan on querying agents by the new year? Maybe by the end of next year.

Art simply doesn’t play nicely with timelines. So instead of expecting it to cater to yours, plan on needing more time than you think you need.

2. If you love an idea, trust it.

You know what I’m talking about, right? That totally-in-love feeling you get about an idea every once in a while.

Not the kind where it sparks and then deflates seconds later. The kind where you think about it all day and it keeps you up at night and maybe even enters your dreams. When you love a story idea that much, that’s an idea to run with.

3. The most important question is “What if … “

This simple question got me over every hump of writers block while writing my novel. What if the hero is too desperate to listen? What if the villain is right? What if I finish this whole bottle of vodka?*


4. Crazy is okay.

Yes, your plot needs to make sense. But that doesn’t mean crazy things can’t happen—I cite the Whomping Willow in the Harry Potter series. Stories (and fantasy especially) are a place to get wild.

5. The bulk of writing is rewriting.

I thought getting through my rough draft meant the hard part was over. I could not have been more wrong. The second and third drafts took even longer, and were way harder.

But, somewhere, eventually, edits start getting easier again… and that’s called the light at the end of tunnel.

6. Getting outside readers is crucial.

It’s just impossible to be an artist and view your own creation with an unbiased perspective.

My writing group partners and beta readers pointed out inconsistencies, missing information, and ways to make my story better that I would never have found on my own.

7. Critique is a gift.

Receiving critique can sting a little. But to offer that kind of insight takes time, attention and guts—no one likes to give negative feedback.

The ones who give it to you do it because they care, and they believe in you.

8. If you start hating your work, don’t trust it.

We al go through phases where we start hating our work … it’s inevitable when you spend so much time on something. Don’t let these feelings win. Fight through it.

9. By the time you’re done, you know nothing about your own story.

You’ve just spent years fleshing out every last intricacy of a world, characters, and plot, fighting to breathe life into them with rich complexity. Now boil down that 80,000-word manuscript to a paragraph for a query letter or promo summary.

It’s impossible. At first. But if you let go and step back for that birds-eye view, you’ll get there. Be patient and be willing to try a few different approaches.

10. The end is only the beginning.

Completing your manuscript is a huge feat. But the real adventure is still ahead—querying agents (or self-publishing), promoting, and connecting to readers.

Writing a Novel Is an Endless Learning Process

I’ve learned a lot over this four-year journey. But the biggest lesson? Despite all the early mornings, late nights, and cramming my novel into the corners of my life for four and a half years, it’s totally worth it.

Writing as an endless learning process… I don’t know if it’s possible to ever truly master it. But we can keep getting closer by continuing to look for the lessons in our writing.

Think about your recent writing efforts. What lessons have you learned from your efforts? Let us know in the comments!


Think about your recent writing efforts. What lessons have you learned from your efforts? Share them below in the comments, and remember to support each other by responding to others’ comments, too.

By day, Emily Wenstrom, is the editor of short story website wordhaus, author social media coach, and freelance content marketing specialist. By early-early morning, she is E. J. Wenstrom, a sci-fi and fantasy author whose first novel Mud will release in March 2016.

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