WRITING THE FIRST DRAFT OF YOUR NOVEL
How do you write your first draft?
You power right through it.
In the previous posts we talked about coming up with ideas for your stories and novels, character bios, creating an outline, using drawings and maps, research, and now it’s time to finally begin writing the first draft.
First, you need to decide how you’re going to write your first draft: by hand on paper or on your computer (or there’s always speech to text). That’s totally up to you. I usually do a mixture of both writing by hand and typing on my computer. I almost always start a first draft by hand in a spiral notebook, but I usually end up typing about the halfway point, sometimes going back and forth between paper and the computer until it’s done.
You’re ready to begin your first draft; you either have your pen and notebook ready or your writing program in your computer – one way or another the blank page is staring at you. And maybe you freeze; you just don’t know where to begin. My advice is to just start writing. Even if you don’t love every word or sentence you’re putting down, just get something on paper or on the screen so you’ll have something to go back and fix later on. My advice would be to get as much of the first draft down without going back and doing much editing. Of course you might make major changes to the story as you go along and new ideas may pop up, but if you’ve written a pretty detailed outline there shouldn’t be too many major structural changes to your story.
One of the worst mistakes a writer can make is worrying about the first draft being perfect. It never is. You’ll always want to go back and make some changes after you’ve written the first draft, tweak something here and there, some fiddling there. You’ll want to improve a scene, punch up some dialogue, go into more detail here and less there. No one is going to write a perfect first draft every time, so just get it all down on paper so you can have something to revise and improve.
Another mistake is thinking that your fist draft is garbage and then you give up. Your first draft isn’t going to be perfect, and sometimes when you’re in the middle of it, struggling with sentences and descriptions, backing up and editing as you go, the whole thing can seem like a big mess. But push through to the end and then let it breathe for a few weeks before beginning the editing. You might surprise yourself and find that what you’ve written is better than you remember.
Your first draft is exactly that, a first draft. you can revise it as much as you want to. I do many revisions on my novels, and usually I’ll have read and re-read a project ten or twelve times before I finally publish (this doesn’t include editors/beta readers looking it over for me). Some books I’ve written need more rewriting and editing than others, some books have been easier for me to write than others – every book you work on is different.
We’ve established that you’re just going to power through this first draft and not try to do major revising and editing along the way. So, how long is this first draft going to take you? Well, that depends on how fast you write, how much time you have available to write, and how many roadblocks you come across in your story (if you don’t have a detailed outline). It could take a month to write your first draft or it could take years, no way is the right way. I would still suggest that you try to power through your first draft as quickly as you can. You could even give yourself a goal of getting the first draft done in a month, or three months, or six months, but make sure you try to get a little writing done each day. Maybe you could give yourself a word or page count for the day or the week to accomplish if that helps. There will be days where the writing is easy, where the muse is singing in your ear, and then there will be days where just getting a paragraph or two down on paper is torture. But you must power through those days even if you only get a few paragraphs done.
I’ll admit that I don’t always write every day. Sometimes I’ll take several days off. I tend to write in spurts, maybe nothing for a few days and then I’ll bang out thirty or forty pages in a few days. But I’ve been writing for so long now that I trust my process and I know that I’m not going to let a significant amount of time go by without writing something. Remember, writing is like a muscle that needs to be exercised.
On those days when you don’t feel much like writing, just try to get a few paragraphs done, or even a few sentences. Sometimes when you begin writing, something magical happens and ideas begin to pop up in your mind as you write. If you’re really stuck, another trick is to take a piece of notebook paper and just start writing down what you’re going to write about in the next chapter. For instance, you could write something like: John will meet Susan in this chapter. They’ll meet at a store, one going out and one going in. They haven’t seen each other for a week now since their awkward first date. And on and on. Before you know it you might be writing dialogue and whole paragraphs about what’s going to happen in this chapter. This works for me a lot of the time if I get stuck.
So, just power through that first draft as quickly as you can and then set it aside for a week or two so it can “cool down” before you go back to it. We’ll go more into the “cooling down” or letting a manuscript breathe stage in an upcoming post.
How do you write your first draft? I would love to hear your writing process in the comments. Also, if you have any tips about maintaining motivation, I would love to hear them.
Next month we’ll talk about placeholder words or phrases in your first draft.
Hope this helps someone out there.
Until next time . . .