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  • Holly Brunnbauer

8 things I learned while writing my first novel

Updated: Nov 16, 2022

1 year & 8 months.

That’s how long it took to write and edit my first novel.

7 months to write the first draft and 13 months to edit.

Officially, it’s gone through 5 drafts. Unofficially, it’s 531 because I’m one of those ‘naughty writers’ that goes back and tinkers.

While the pain is still fresh, I want to share some of my lessons.

A woman typing on a laptop with a coffee and lots of plants beside her.


Don't be precious.

Everyone says ‘write forward’ and ‘write messy’. As a recovering perfectionist, this is easier said than done. Now that I know the real magic happens during editing, I get it and will do my best to adopt these approaches.


Have a plan.

Before starting, I had a loose plan of where the story was going. Next novel? There are spreadsheets, people. I know a lot of people like to go rogue and discover the story as it unfolds, but I could’ve saved myself at least two drafts if I had planned plots, sub-plots & beats better.


Get feedback early as possible.

Feedback is critical at all stages. Don’t wait for the words to be perfect.

When I presented my first chapter to a bunch of strangers in a writing course, I was confident it would be well received. It was ripped to shreds and rightly so; it was AWFUL and I’d rather burn my house down than ever let anyone read it again. Had I not gotten feedback early on, I would’ve written a very different story.


Motivation is a myth.

Habits are the key to finishing and once I realised this, I began treating writing like a job. It sounds like it sucks the joy out of it, but writing a novel is a long process and I never would’ve completed it if I waited for inspiration to hit. For me, writing is about momentum. The more I write (and regularly), the less I experience ‘writer’s block’.


Separate fiction from reality.

Writing a novel consumed my every waking thought. The characters became stage-five clingers and would not leave me alone—even in the shower. They chatted incessantly in my mind that it was impossible to switch off. The only thing that helped (besides a G&T) was writing at the library to separate my writing life from my real one.


Find an accountability partner.

I’ve been fortunate to connect with other writers through courses and the lovely world of Instagram. Committing to weekly Motivational Monday emails and swapping chapters has helped keep me on track. I also credit my consistency to sharing my writing goal publicly. The fear of public humiliation was a great motivator.


What you think, is what you become.

We writers are a fragile bunch, eh? Personally, one bit of criticism or self-doubt can knock me about for weeks. That’s why I developed a habit (see, there’s that word again), to pump myself up before writing sessions. I know this sounds woo-woo, but I write positive affirmations over and over, hoping they’ll sit in my subconscious instead of negative Nelly thoughts.

Here are some examples -

Consistent effort adds up.

The words flow freely.

Creativity is limitless.

I show up. I do the work.

I’m improving every day.


Take care.

Stress pimples, sore backs and grey hairs - oh my! Writing has taken a physical toll on me. When I’m in beast mode (aka - working towards goals & deadlines), I tend to let the important things slip. I have to set alarms to remind myself to have breaks and hydrate. Sometimes, I’m so in the zone and forget to pee. Too much? Sorry.


Want to find out what my first novel (DELIGHTFUL MESS) is about? Here’s a sneak peek.


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