AKA the life of an author upchucking onto paper and hoping to whip all that…er…lovely mess into something someone somewhere will want to read….someday.
That paints a pretty picture, now doesn’t it?
Sometimes writing a first draft is like running through a field of posies while your hair blows in the lavendar-scented breeze and puppies and kittens run and frolic along side you.
You’re creating new characters. And you adore them! You’re building a whole world that is new and shiny and perfect and fantastic. You can write anything you want. Anything can happen! You don’t have to think about cleaning up any scenes or polishing up sentences or making anything make sense! (Ok. You might pay for that last one a bit later.)
Other times writing a first draft is like running through a field full of pricker bushes and thorns. With hot coals. And beside you is that mean girl from 6th grade who made fun of your bangs and how you wrote your A’s (really? who makes fun of someone’s A’s?).
Yeah. Not super fun.
Oy! You can’t find the right words. You aren’t sure what happens next. Your characters are all flat. There’s not enough tension. You can’t see anyway you’ll ever be able to make any of it better.
But, you know, what? So what? Writing a first draft is hard. You’re going to have to suck it up and deal with it.
Here are six tips to help:
#1: Get organized.
Take some time to do a bit of prewriting. Outline, free write, come up with your seven points, write up a beat sheet ala Save the Cat or choose a different exercise to help you wrap your head around your story. If you have some idea of where you’re going and what’s happening next it’ll be easier to write everyday.
#2: Set a daily goal.
Have a goal each day of how many words or how long you’re going to write that day. Sometimes I shoot for 1000 words and sometimes I’m happy with getting 15 minutes in. I
#3: Don’t slow down to research.
Don’t stop writing to research weird trees (Have you seen those Rainbow Eucalyptus?) Don’t research how a steam engine works and get distracted by steampunk gadgets (Um…but there are some really cool steampunk machines out there….) And don’t let yourself wander through the internet checking out victorian slang. (Although, that’s fun, too. But, crikey, knock that off!)
If you don’t know something or can’t find the write word or name, type NEED COOL NAME or INSERT SOMETHING FUNNY or CHECK WHEN TOILET PLUNGERS WERE INVENTED (I actually do need to look that one up someday….) instead of wasting precious writing time. It’s too easy to get distracted. (Can you tell that I speak from experience?)
One of my critique partners, Tasha Seegmiller, is a pro at this. I love coming across lines in her manuscript like, “Add romantic scene here that gives all the feels.”
Sometimes you don’t know what to write, but don’t let that slow you down!
#4: Give yourself a deadline.
How fast can you write your first draft? In a month? Or two months? Maybe by the end of winter? Pick a deadline and stick with it.
#5: Don’t worry about sharing it with others.
Your first draft stinks! Yeah, it’s supposed to. It’s a draft. And a draft is not a final product. You’re going to rewrite it and improve it and shine it up and make this story absolutely fantastic. BUT if you share your draft too soon you risk losing confidence in your work. Someone may make you second guess your work. They might give you advice that makes you want to start over. NO! Don’t do it! Which leads into tip number six rather well…
#6: Just write the stinking, rotten story!
It’s tempting to writing the beginning over and over again. I know. I’ve been there. Or maybe you’re stuck and you don’t know what to write next. Maybe you’re avoiding your laptop like the plague.
I once heard Richard Peck say, “When I had writer’s block I used to go for a walk. But I found I never came back.”
You’ve got to keep going! You can’t know what the shape of your story will be until you actually write it. ALL of it. Not just the beginning that’s easier to write over and over. Not just a couple of fun scenes that are fun to improve over and over. No, you’ve got to get the whole thing out.
And sure, it’s way easier to stalk people on Facebook or shop for another pair of Converse or make a batch of those Fluffernutter Chocolate Gobs (Yeah, those are pretty tasty.)
And just so you know….this post was basically me talking to myself. I’ve been struggling to write the first draft of my current WIP for more than a year. Maybe some of these tips will help me finally sit down and finish it.
Erin Shakespear writes middle grade fantasy full of quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures. With six kids, her days are full of quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures, and…loads of diapers. She also likes to dabble at photography, sewing, jewelry-making, and pretending she’s a grand artist.