Updated: Jan 17, 2022
Welcome to my third post on the writing process. Today we’re tackling the first draft. This seems pretty self-explanatory. It’s the part you’ve been waiting for, right? You actually get to sit down at your computer and tap out your story. There’s not a whole lot else to say on this, other than I will offer some tips to help you push through this draft to the finish.
Time Management – We talked a bit about this in the planning stage, but if you skipped that part (naughty!), here’s a refresher. Try to set aside time every day to write. If not every day, then every day you can realistically commit to. If this means penciling it on your calendar, do it. If you don’t make a few sacrifices and choose to spend your time writing, this is all for nothing.
Write. – My uncle gave me some very wise advice once. If you want to be a writer... Write. Simple. Write. This is you telling yourself the story. Don't let yourself get bogged down going back and re-reading or self-editing what you wrote yesterday. Avoid minimizing your screen for a minute or two to check Facebook or even to check the thesaurus or look something up. If you can’t think of the perfect word just put something and use the highlight function to mark it so you remember you want to search for a better replacement word later. Caught up on naming some character? Just put NAME and move on. I do this all the time when I can’t think of something so that my train of thought doesn’t get pulled out of the story. Maybe you’re writing a scene and you’ve kind of captured what you want but you know you can do better—make a note “MORE” or “DO BETTER” at the end of the paragraph. At this point, the goal is to just get the story down, beginning to end. This is the stage where getting distracted will hold you up and you will never finish the book if you don’t just write. Don’t even worry if it’s good. It’s probably not! But it will be. You’re getting words on the page and that’s the goal. And on that note…
Goals – Set yourself some goals for word count. Daily, weekly, whatever you prefer. What got me onto doing this was National Novel Writing Month (#NANOWRIMO). The idea is you write 50,000 words in 30 days, which seems crazy, but if you do the math, is roughly 1667 words a day, which isn’t quite as daunting. Now 50,000 words does not a complete novel make (for my genre anyway), but it’s a very good start. Because I use a four-act structure, I chose to further break this down by working on an act each week. Be kind to yourself! It’s not the end of the world if you take a week longer than you intended, or even a month longer, but this gets you into the habit of working toward a deadline, even if it’s self-imposed. You certainly don’t have to sets your sites on 50,000 words in a month, especially if this is your first attempt at writing a book. Maybe aim for 20,000 words or 30,000 words and then figure out your daily goal based on that. There are no rules here. Set goals that are realistic for you.
Celebrate – Congratulations! You’ve slogged through it and gotten yourself a rough draft. In my case, it’s usually a dialogue-heavy hot mess, but it’s finished. This is the part where you reward yourself by binge watching something, reading a few books, whatever you enjoy doing. I like to give myself three weeks to a month away from my story to let it all simmer. Research some of those topics you might need to know more about before you hit the ground running on revisions. I tend to get a lot of ideas during this break, which I track on that notepad app I mentioned before.
Connect – This little lull is a great time to start connecting with other writers (if you aren’t already) either locally or virtually, because eventually, you’re going to polish this manuscript and need feedback from other people. These people are called Beta Readers. Find out if there are any writing groups where you live. If you’re not already on Twitter, I highly recommend it. The writing community on Twitter is so supportive. Lurk the hashtags #writingcommunity and #amwriting. You will find lots more, but also think about researching hashtags specific to your genre. Follow other writers, industry professionals, etc. Engage with them. I feel like this goes without saying, but BE PROFESSIONAL ALWAYS! If Facebook is more your thing, search for reading and writing groups. I can’t start listing them, but there are a multitude of genre-specific groups. Lot’s of these groups have saved documents or specific threads for matching up beta readers and critique partners. This is how you’ll find your people!
You might be thinking, Why wouldn’t I try to make my draft as perfect as I can on the first go? What’s the point of setting all these goals and writing endlessly and the story being shit because I wouldn’t allow myself to go back and fix everything as I went? Well, I am here to tell you that it is a lot easier to edit those words you’ve written than to waste hours staring endlessly at a blank page. Which segues quite nicely into what will become my next post, which is diving back in for revisions.