28 Lessons I Learned Writing My First Novel

18 months ago, I quit my stable paycheck.

I quit because I was drained, depressed beyond depressed, and burnt the fuck out.

The only thing that brought me a modicum of joy, was writing. But all my creativity was being sucked dry from my dead-end job.

Then, the pandemic hit. My best friend died. And who I was, metaphorically died with her.

Following My Dreams

18 months ago, I quit my stable paycheck so I could follow my dreams of writing.

18 months later, and my book will be published in 5 days (as of this posting). Go buy it here!

In those 18 months, I went from barely seeing the light anywhere – even when the sun rose – to being the light, guiding others to find theirs.

In those 18 months, I have learned more about myself than I ever could have imagined was possible.

Financially, me quitting my stable paycheck was the absolute worst decision possible.

But mentally, it was a godsend.

Because in the past 18 months, I have learned a shit ton of life lessons that I never would have learned otherwise.

Especially when it comes to following my dreams of becoming a published author.

A Writer’s Dream

If you have ever wanted to write a book, or are in the process of your first book, some of these will change your approach or strategy.

If you are already a published author, some of these will hopefully resonate with you. Or not. No two writers are alike. I’d love to hear what you have learned!

If you aren’t a writer but a reader, these lessons will hopefully give you some insight into what your favorite authors go through so you don’t take them for granted anymore.

If you aren’t a writer or a reader, but maybe someone who just stumbled upon this blog post, I hope you gain a little more gratitude towards writers who follow their dreams.

Because, at the end of the day, following your dreams, no matter what, changes your life and the lives of people around you.

As writers, we dream about changing lives, and the world, one word at a time.

But we are the behind-the-scenes superheroes. The ones who write the stories of the main characters who fight battles that writers could only imagine being a part of. At least, I feel like a superhero when I write, changing the world one word at a time.

Canva does a design challenge every Wednesday. I have never participated in one but I just HAD to when the prompt was “What if superheroes had Business Cards?” I created this business card in less than 10 minutes.

Paying it forward, one word at a time

Today, I am passing the lessons I learned while writing a book to you.

This post is not about all the other life lessons I have learned in what I am referring to as a “gap and a half” year.

That post will be here soon, so keep an eye on that.

This post is all about the trials and tribulations of becoming a first-time published author.

This post is about the road bumps I hit so you can veer out of the way.

This post is about the small wins you will find along the way that will keep you writing.

And most importantly, this post is about how you will find yourself in the process.

28 Lessons I Learned Writing My First Novel

  1. Make sure all names are finalized BEFORE working on the FINAL edit. Thank me later.
  2. I procrastinated hard for 6 months, and felt endless amounts of shame, and regret, and embarrassment because I wasn’t doing the one thing I told the world I was going to do. In the end, it took me 3 days to go from chapter 8 to chapter 30 to an Amazon pre-order link. That shame, regret, and embarrassment will be worth it in the end because when you arrive at the end – nothing else will matter. In the end, you needed to go through that period to make sure your final version was the BEST version. At least, that’s what happened to me.
  3. I can’t wait to write my next one. Idea seeds are finally being planted. It’s like I had to make room before dreaming of a new world.
  4. I have the phrase “the characters in my book are not my family” on repeat in my head to remind myself that, even though my characters may or may not resemble people in my everyday life, no they don’t… If you write a book about your life – whether loosely or tightly – you will have to reconcile the fact that the people you base your characters on might read your book. You have to reconcile that they may get mad at you. But in a sense, if your writing didn’t make them feel something, you did something wrong. If you make your possible real-life muses feel, you are on the right track. Ok, so that’s what I tell myself to sleep at night. I really don’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings. I am just telling my truth. Or rather, my character’s truth.
  5. I need to tell my mom that any family member or friend who reads my book, who also knows my mom, knows and loves her unconditionally still. This book will change nothing. She is not the villain in my book that she thinks she is. No matter how blue in the face I get, I cannot sway her opinion. She needs to either read it and see her character’s transformation. Or she needs to forget it exists. The only villain in my book that IS a villain, is dead. Literally.
  6. Once you finish editing, finish formatting, and hit that upload and submit button on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, you will sit back and wonder: is that it?
  7. To piggyback off #6 – you will then start to panic because that was way too easy after how much you struggled to get the dumb book finished.
  8. But when you share your accomplishment with your friends and family, they will be so damn proud of you.
  9. This might be the most important life lesson I have learned: you need to believe in yourself just enough to write it. And then you will need to believe in yourself just enough to read through it. Then you will need to believe in yourself just enough to do first-round edits, send it to beta readers, edit it again, and then believe in yourself just enough once more to Hit. The. Submit. Button.
  10. To piggyback off #9 – all stages of writing a book require a little bit more courage. In the end, all that courage will add up and you will be so fucking proud and confident that you will second guess hitting submit.
  11. To piggyback off #9 AND #10 – just fucking trust the process. Period.
  12. I am a Happiness Vigilante. That is how I want to be known. That is my legacy. And that is what my groupies would be referred to as – The Happiness Vigilantes.
  13. When you read my book, #12 will make sense.
  14. You will wait for the characters to talk to you and tell you their next move. And then you will realize that you are the author and it is your responsibility to create the next move. But then you will panic again because, like, that is too much responsibility and you will wonder where the hell the adultier adult is but like in author form – an authorier author?
  15. You will learn about yourself. As an author, as a writer, as a storyteller, and as someone who can build new worlds.
  16. You will learn about what motivates you, what inspires you, and what keeps you writing.
  17. You will forget to eat because you aren’t at a stopping point yet. When you finally do get to one, you will forget you are hungry, so then you will keep going until the next stopping point. The cycle will continue until someone jolts you out of the hyperloop to demand you eat, or brings you food. But even if they bring you food, you will probably forget it exists, even if it’s right in front of your keyboard, between you and your computer.
  18. If your book is done and you already submitted the manuscript to Amazon to be released, just release your book sooner rather than later. The waiting is killer. And that is why I moved my release date up 10 days. The longer the wait, the more time you have to second guess EVERYTHING.
  19. Don’t be afraid to promote the shit out of your book.
  20. Also, don’t be afraid to bug your friends and family to buy your book.
  21. But be gracious dammit. People will choose not to buy your book. That’s life. Do not take it personally. Some people cannot afford to buy a book or some may just not be a fan of reading (if my husband reads my book, I don’t know what I am going to do with myself. I will have to hope my jaw doesn’t break through the floor).
  22. Self-publishing is amazing. No nasty no’s. No holding your breath, hoping the 60th submission doesn’t get rejected too. As long as you put in the work to make your book damn near perfect, self-publish that shit. Of course, you will need to market and advertise and tell EVERYONE you meet. Maybe even make a business card for your book to hand out (I may or may not be currently working on that one).
  23. Your life will change. Your life will change in ways you neither dreamt of nor expected.
  24. Your self-confidence will skyrocket because you just did a thing that millions of people only dream of doing. If you are like me, you just made a HUGE FUCKING DREAM come true! Ride that self-confidence wave forever. Because dammit, you fucking did it. It doesn’t matter if anyone else is proud of you. YOU SHOULD BE PROUD OF YOU.
  25. That first sale will make it all real. And you will want to show up to that first buyer’s house with champagne and confetti canons and a marching band and the very first personalized signed copy of your very first book. But, don’t keep refreshing that pre-order report on Amazon KDP. It will drive you crazy. But don’t ignore it either. Pre-orders provide Amazon with key analytics that will help tell them how to push your book.
  26. To piggyback off #3 and your next book – remember that title you have had stuck in your head for the past 3 months that has no plot, no characters, no nothing except the title and the first chapter? Yeah, that one? The ideas will start flowing once you publish the last book. It’s like your mind magically makes way, moving the old story out of your brain space to make room for the new one because for the past year, you have done nothing but think about how you can make your last novel That. Much. Better.
  27. To piggyback off #26 – Once you send the last book into the universe, people WILL ask you about your next book. TAKE A BREAK. Please, oh please, take a break. I don’t actually know if this will work but I am going to take a break before starting my next one.
  28. You literally put your heart and soul into your book. Each character has a piece of you. Each scene is based on a piece of your life. Each plot twist, crisis, and climax are all pieces of you. And that’s what makes writing a novel scary, spine-chilling, downright unnerving, yet beautiful, exhilarating, and impressively energetic.

127,519 words and 429 pages later, this is the result:

This Published Author’s Next Steps

429 pages later, I still have unrealistic expectations that my book is going to go viral, be a bestseller, and even get picked to be on the Silver Screen.

These are unrealistic goals. I know.

But dreaming is half the fun. Dreaming is half the motivation.

But, no matter what, I know there is ONE person out there who needs to hear my story, and that is why I am a word artist.

As for what comes next for this published author, I have a title and the first chapter.

Next year, I will have book #2 published and I will be able to see if I took any of my own advice or if I will have 28 more life lessons to share with you all!

To read how this same novel changed my life last year during Nanowrimo, you should read this.

Oh, and, don’t forget to buy my book!!!!! Please. And thank you!

Now, I do have a question for you.

> If you have ever written a book – what was the biggest life lesson that process taught you?

> If you want to write a book but haven’t yet – what’s holding you back?

In the meantime, Adventure on with Curiosity,

~ Kelly “Beast” Steele

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