My first novel went through many forms over the years of development, as first novels do. Initially, it only existed in my head. That's where most first novels start and end. They never make it onto a hard drive.
I was still young when I began the writing process, but I was in my later teens, and so my original concept of a YA series had shifted to a more adult perspective. Many things changed. The concept became edgier and more complex. My intended protagonist was demoted to a bit part, a walk-on. New characters took the scene and made me fall in love with them. This was a commitment I would keep.
When I started my novel, I didn't even have a computer of my own. I wrote at the public library as time allowed. The process took years, but when I got my own laptop, I wrapped up the book in a comparatively timely fashion. I had a novel, and a monster of a novel at that. Over 700 pages of character development, drama, romance, and equestrian sports. Over 700 pages that represented the road to growing up.
I never wrote for a specific audience. I wrote for myself, and I tried to write as well as I could. I tried to keep it fresh, and convey emotion. Then I looked for an audience. Finding an agent can be difficult, and I wasn't willing to compromise my story to fit the mold. When the traditional route failed to pan out, I took the reins and self-published my debut, Training Harry. Surprisingly, there was a market. Not everyone appreciated my very adult, very contemporary equestrian saga, but the majority of the reviews were encouraging. I had achieved my goal of writing an entertaining, edgy read full of the true heart of the horse. Some critics complained about the strong language or argued that the book could use editing - what first novel doesn't? - but the consensus was that I knew what I was talking about it when it came to horses.
Blame it on my lack of the internet. I grew up off the grid, and horse magazines were my version of time-wasting on Facebook. Instead of whiling away my hours on BuzzFeed quizzes and clickbait, I read articles. Case Reports, training articles, recaps of the Olympics and the WEG. I was an equal-opportunity horse nerd, and all that reading served to make me an all-around armchair expert. Coupled with my physical knowledge, the muscle memory gained from years of riding, my magazine binge-reading gave me an excellent knowledge base. My research was practically done before I ever started writing.
There's nothing like your first novel. No outlines, no expectations, no clue what you're doing. Even if the end result is a little raw, even if there's work to be done, even if it doesn't work out exactly like you wanted, at least you can say you have achieved something. Because at the end of the day, you are one of the few whose first novels actually made it onto paper.