Thursday, March 17, 2011

What I Learned From the First Draft of My Thesis

Last week, I turned in the first draft of my thesis, which is also my first full length novel. The feeling was amazing! Not only had I finally written a full novel at 63,000 words (I intend to revise it and get it up to about 70,000), but I had finally completed a longer piece. While I’ve written plenty of short stories, I’ve never finished a full novel and it’s a completely different beast.

First, a little background on my thesis: I am writing a novel for my MFA creative thesis. It’s a young adult novel in which I wrote the first 26,000 words last year and the remaining 37,000 words during the entire month of February and the first week of March. What is really telling about this information is that I actually wrote the bulk of those remaining words in about 2-3 weeks. I had a tight schedule and could not afford to not finish the book before March 7th.

One of the things I learned throughout this first draft is the importance of outlining. I could not have finished without some sort of plotting before hand. Did I stick to the outline? Haha, not at all. I mean, the “outline” (which was really a list of plot points) was originally written ten months ago, and changed a lot over the course of working on the book. But, it was a place to start and I had a vague idea of how it needed to go. Once I realized the novel was deviating, I started revising the plot as the story continued. This worked, for the most part, and at times I even had to plot out individual chapters.

The biggest thing I learned from this first draft was my ability to focus and get work done. With typing directly into Scrivener, I could write about 1500-2000 words a day if I really focused and used the timer method. However, in the last two weeks of working, I still had about five chapters left to write at about 16,000 words. What saved me was hand writing these chapters. I discovered that by writing these chapters by hand, I was able to write twice as much (between 3000 and 4000) in less time. Sure, afterwards, the hand-written work had to be typed up, but it didn’t take very long to do so. In the end, it worked out better this way.

Whether writing the story by hand brought me back to my childhood where I’d hand write stories every minute of my free time, or whether I was just less distracted by hand-writing because I was away from the computer, there is no way to tell for sure. When I wrote on the computer, it was necessary to keep Apimac Timer open and do “word sprints” with myself. Write for ten minutes straight with no distraction, then screw around for five minutes. It worked really well for a while, but on the days where I was feeling lazy, those five minutes of screwing around turned into fifteen minutes, then turned into forty-five minutes. It’s much easier and works much more efficiently to do sprints with other people, but I know the timer method is good for me when I don’t feel like hand writing.

Now, before anyone freaks out that I wrote a book in such a short time, don’t worry. I’m still going to be editing and revising it. My thesis mentor should have her notes back to me some time next week, then I’m spending a week or so fixing the first draft (it will make the draft at v1.5) before I send it out to beta readers for more feedback (still have to find me a couple betas). The final version is due at the end of May, I think, so I will have all of May to rework the trouble areas.

I’m sure there will be more posts on my thesis/first novel journey since there is much more to learn, but this is it for now. I really learned a lot about my process and about how to write faster and more efficiently. There is no reason to let your “inner-editor” stop you from just telling a story, and I won’t lie, there was some bad writing in my first draft. But I remembered there will always be time to go back and fix it, and didn’t waste my time worrying about it.


  1. Congrats on turning in the first draft of your MFA thesis! That will be me in the fall. :) Mine is a collection of short stories, though.

  2. @octoberrose: Ooh! How exciting! What is the theme of your collection? Good luck with it! And thank you for the congrats!

  3. I'm a strong believer in listening only to the muse and letting the words flow when writing a first draft. Now that yours is done, you can trot out the inner critic and set him to work.

  4. Fantastic! That is so exciting! Having completed an MFA in last May, I still remember well the panic and insanity that goes with finishing that draft.

    Remember: while the you do want your thesis to be as good as it can be, there is life beyond the MFA. Don't sweat it too much because you can always revise and rework things later too!

    Kudos on getting so many words down in so little time. That is really an accomplishment! (And I totally agree with you about writing longhand... I wrote most of my second novel that way.)

  5. What I Learned From the First Draft of My Thesis <-- that's what i was looking for
    Thesis Dissertation