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First Draft Finished!

March 01, 2019

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash


I've finally finished the first draft of Shurlan

How did we get here?

I made the decision to write a book in August of last year. For me, the theme came first. I wanted to write a book about the importance and power of a growth mindset:

This is a concept that I want my children to learn and that's why I wanted to write a book about it.

Armed with my theme, I started thinking about what story could carry that theme into the brains of readers without them even being aware what was happening (Inception).

Once I decided to write a story, my brain was constantly working on this. My kids often ask me to tell them stories (it's the reason I decided I needed to get better and story writing in the first place). I was driving my son to the store and I told him a short story about a young woman who was going to nursing school. In that moment, I decided to call her "Zes." I knew that I wanted magic to be part of my world and I asked my son what I should call people who have magic abilities. He said "shurlan."

I still didn't know what those magical abilities would be and what the rules of the magic system would be either. I was in the car shop waiting for my car to get fixed and I remember having this idea:

That was the first magical ability that I thought would be cool for my book.

Not long later, our family with on a drive into the mountains to look at the beautiful trees. I talked with my wife about my idea and in the course of the drive, we had come up with the rules of the magic system called "displacement" which allows you to swap an attribute between yourself and a target. We came up with a bunch of rules and limitations and other abilities to make the magic system interesting. Most of the way the magic system works today in the book was determined in that car ride.

Due to the magic system, I decided to change the name of magic practitioners to "displacers" because that made sense, but I still wanted my son's contribution to be in the book, so I named the city "Shurlan"

Antonin Januska decided to join me for NaNoWriMo and created DevsWhoWrite on discord which has been an awesome little community of like-minded writers (like Zack Argyle, Jani Eväkallio, and it's grown!). My friend Joel Hooks recommended storygrid.com which has been an incredible resource. I strongly recommend writers look into that methodology and listen to the podcast. After learning several outlining/plotting/analysis methodologies, this is still by far my favorite. Isaac Lyman introduced me to the Writing Excuses podcast which has been phenomenally good as well.

So in about two months leading up to starting writing Shurlan, I had consumed a crazy number of hours of podcasts, spent an outrageous amount of time thinking about my book and talking it over with my wife, and outlined exactly what was going to happen in the story using the StoryGrid 15 scenes methodology.

November came and went and I did it!

I finished in my hotel while I was in San Jose giving a workshop at PayPal. The next day, I got on a plane to fly home and happened to sit next to author Dan Allen who was working on editing his previous year's NaNoWriMo to get it ready for publishing. I saw what he was doing and asked him about it. We had a great chat on the short flight and he gave me a bunch of advice.

Since then my wife has read it (she's been wonderful!) and because I tweet about it a lot and I've been so public with the manuscript I can't say exactly how many people or who has read the whole thing, but I'm guessing over a dozen of people have read my first draft of my first novel (😬). In particular I want to thank Jen Luker and Parker Bond who were among the first to read it through and have stuck with me through it and been huge helps so far.


I knew that the book had a lot of problems, but I had followed my outline really well and I think that's important. It allowed me to win NaNoWriMo and gave me a manuscript to work with. So I decided to take the entire ending and rewrite it. I've been working on that for the last few months and at the end of February I finished! AND I LOVE THE NEW ENDING!

... Just in time for NaNoEdMo: National Novel Editing Month!

Oh yeah, and I also went to my first writer's conference > and met Brandon Sanderson who's had a major influence on me and my writing!

So what's next?

Well...

So even though I've got a bit of work that I knew I needed to fix, I also have to basically completely rewrite or completely remove scenes to make it so the reader doesn't have the magic system's real capabilities revealed to them too early. I'm really excited by these changes, but they're going to be pretty significant! I've got a LOT of work to do here.

I started making edits last night and I plan to win NaNoEdMo this month by spending 50 hours editing my novel and fixing all the things I have written down in my notes :)

So if you're hoping to re-read the new ending, I'll just say you can feel free, but I think I'd like to have a chance to make my first pass at editing all the things I know aren't working first. I'll get back to you when that's done!

Thanks for reading. Keep believing! ⚪

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Kent C. Dodds

Kent C. Dodds is a JavaScript software engineer and teacher. He's taught hundreds of thousands of people how to make the world a better place with quality software development tools and practices. He lives with his wife and four kids in Utah.