WHAT WENT WELL
1) The voice. I tried three times to write Starcaster, and something was wrong each time. It just didn't flow. Then, I tried it in first person. It worked perfectly. The voice for Starcaster is somewhat Jane Austenesque, however I was careful to avoid terms that sound strange in the modern vernacular. And, I was not afraid to spice things up every now and then. My "biology briefing" where my spy learned about the facts of life is hilarious, in my own humble opinion.
Throughout the entire novel, the voice never failed me, and I only occasionally felt constrained by the first-person viewpoint.
What did I learn here? When you know how your novel is going to open, experiment with writing it in both first and third person, and experiment with different viewpoint characters, if you're not sure which viewpoint to write from. Go with the one that feels the most natural. I did this for my cowboy science fiction story, where I again went with first person. I seem to be using first person a lot these days, but my Hollywood romance will definitely be third person. As will my Christian thriller.
2) The action. I never tried to write a nonstop-action type of novel before, and it was really fun. Acting on the advice of my critique partner, I was careful to end each chapter on a cliffhanger. Not that I really use chapters at all in this novel. I just note time and places with a space before and after. I wanted it to read like a thriller.
What did I learn here? Keep piling on the trouble. When your protagonist deals with one situation, ask yourself, "what's the worst thing that could happen?" And then do it. But make sure it works for your plot. Otherwise, you'll end up throwing out a lot of scenes.
WHAT I COULD HAVE DONE BETTER
1) Planned the ending. I wrote three drafts before I wrote an ending that I was satisfied with. Three drafts of the entire novel, not just three drafts of the ending. This seems very typical for me. The only novel I wrote where I stuck to my original ending was my first one. My short stories always seem to change as well.
In the end, I finally just wrote out the ending the way I wanted it, without consulting the rest of the manuscript. It worked out better than I expected. And, when I looked at the rest of the book, I realized that I would not have to do as much re-work as I anticipated.
What did I learn here? Just go with your gut. Don't worry about what you're going to have to rewrite. You're going to have to rewrite anyway. Embrace it and write an ending that really rocks. The last thing you want to do is disappoint the reader with the ending.
2) Planned the opening. Oh, I had a devil of a time with this opening. I must have written five different openings. I liked my original opening, but an early beta reader pointed out that it wasn't nearly dangerous enough for the accolades she got later. Finally, I wrote a scene that had only been referred to in the book--a scene that had nothing to do with my previous openings. It practically wrote itself. I also was able to write two of my leading men into the opening, along with the villain who Tory ultimately must defeat.
What did I learn here? You have to do a lot with your openings, but you must do it in such a way that sucks in the readers without bogging them down in backstory. Focus on the scene at hand and let the backstory come out in tiny little chunks throughout the rest of the novel. Remember your goal is to engage the reader--make them want to cheer your characters on.
True, I'm not yet a published novelist, but I hope I've learned a thing or two after twenty years of writing and three (yippie!) completed novels.
Have you ever done a post-mortem like activity for your novels? Try it! It's enlightening.