Sunday, May 27, 2012

How Writing the First Draft of a Novel is Like the Trimesters of Pregnancy

We writers tend to view our work-in-progress as our baby.

Baby Cup
 photo credit: Andrew Mason {Flickr Creative Commons}

Perhaps it's because our stories are precious to us, or perhaps it's simply because writing the first draft of a novel is indeed like the trimesters of pregnancy--exhausting work that takes time. As I anticipate the arrival of baby number three, I'm beginning to appreciate the time it takes to write a {good} novel. I'm seeing the process with a fresh perspective. Everything beautiful takes time {a luxury I have in this season of my writing life). I cannot rush the process, just as I cannot will my baby to grow his heart, lungs, eyes, and ears in one day. I need to experience the three trimesters in order to see my story to fruition.

Trimester One: A Tiny Seed

Trimester one is all about a story idea and the exhausting work that follows. It's the seed that's planted in my head during a morning walk--the one that speaks louder than all the others, and it's the one I pursue. 

The first few weeks are filled with elation. I love the characters, the setting, the growing plot, and I envision a beautiful ending. However, soon I realize the amount of research and work needed to accomplish my goal. It's tiring work, and some days, I'm crawling. But overall, the work is exhilarating. I'm writing a novel!

During these months, my story develops it's vital organs--an roughly sketched plot, characters, setting, and a moral premise.

Trimester Two: A Growing Story 

Trimester two is all about growth. It's during these months my story begins to develop and change as I type out my daily word count goal.  My characters take on new shapes and forms. I discover more about them, and they speak to me now. I'm feeling their movements, hearing their heartbeat, and witnessing them hijack my pages. My manuscript looks much different from when I started.

Soon my plot takes on a different twist than I expected {it's a boy, not a girl}, and I'm taking the turn. However, my manuscript is now far from neat and tidy. In fact, it looks much different from when I started, and now that it has changed direction, there's more work to do.  

Overall, during this time, I'm feeling great. The story has some major holes, but it's moving forward, and I'm getting closer to finishing the first draft.

Trimester Three: The Birth of a Novel

Trimester three is the completion of the first draft. These months are grueling, and those last few thousand words seem impossible. Nothing fits right. Questions fill my mind. What was this story about again? And why is it taking so long to finish? Why did I think this was a good idea?

Since it's my first draft, I press forward, following all the twists and turns, listening to the characters, pounding keys in the moonlight. And soon it's the moment I've dreamed about.  I type a writer's two most glorious words in the English language--the end. Though the labor is difficult, I give birth to a novel, and it's exquisite. It's my baby, after all. 

And now the real {editing} work begins. 

Do you refer to your work as your baby? Can you relate to any of these trimesters?

Melanie N. Brasher is a full time mama of two boys and wife to an incredible husband who understands her bicultural background. She moonlights as a fiction and freelance writer, crafting stories and articles toward justice and change. She's a member of American Christian Fiction writers and a contributing blogger for Ungrind. Though she's an aspiring author, she'll never quit her day job.


  1. Very interesting and insightful blog. Thank you.


  2. Oh, did I laugh at that picture! Priceless!

    Yes, my novel is my baby, and I'm very excited but also sensitive and protective about it. Unlike with your baby, however, my third trimester is taking years, not months. Maybe, since I'm rewriting it, I should think of it as a false pregnancy initially ~ and now this is the true pregnancy!

    Loved the metaphor--thanks!


    1. Thanks, Steph! Isn't that picture funny? I'm so glad I found it. Yes, it may not actually take nine months to complete. Some will get it done much faster, others will take longer. I've heard of people finishing a first draft in a month. I would love to get there one day. Perhaps with more practice. :)

  3. I especially identify with the third trimester. By that time in my real pregnacies, I was tired of the process and just wanted to get it over with but had to drag on through. My books also seem to hit a point where I want to be done with the first draft but have to struggle to get there. Great comparison.

    1. Yes, I found myself feeling the same way in the third trimester of my book and pregnancies. Thanks for reading, Kathryn!

  4. This is more like an elephant's birth - it's taking years. LOL

  5. Great post, Melanie. Yes, I can identify with all the trimesters. That photo was startling and yet brought a smile. I've referred to my books as my "baby" the first time I hold the actual published work in my hands. I get sort of weird, to be honest. I sniff it, run my hand over it, open it and look at the pages, turn it over to see the back cover, and then pretty much cry and pray over it--that the Lord will get the book into the hands of His choosing and that it might make a difference in someone's life in some way, large or small. I don't think that awesome feeling will ever grow old. Many blessings to you and your lovely family.

  6. JoAnn,

    I LOVE your heart, and I love that you pray over your stories. I pray God blesses you as you write. I think I would cry as well! It must be an amazing feeling. I hope to experience it one day. :)

  7. I feel sure you will experience it, Melanie! My story is that I wrote my debut novel in 1-1/2 weeks (yes, you read that right), but it took 12 years to get it published! It's Awakening, which I believe you won at the ACFW last year. You see, I put the writing aside (but not the passion for it) to raise our three children. I finally picked up that manuscript for my debut novel in late 2005 and only had half of it. You might enjoy the story on my website at; the Lord gave it back to me in a miraculous way and then confirmed it was the one I should try and get published. I honored the Lord, and I felt He in turn was honoring me in blessing me with getting it published. His hand has truly been apparent in every aspect of this journey to publication, but the key point is that everything has been in His timing and in His way. He's opened the doors, as I pray He'll open them for you.

    1. Thanks so much, JoAnn! Your story is so inspiring and encouraging. Yes, I have your book and it's on my nightstand reading list! Thanks for your kind words.