When it comes to writing first drafts, there’s ultimately no right or wrong way to do it as long as you have a finished draft at the end of it. I believe that because we’re all different, we all have different ways of achieving our writing goals. That being said, we can adopt some bad habits that make our first draft take a lot more difficult than it needs to be. Maybe it’s something we started doing because we didn’t know any better, or maybe we started following the same practice as another writer we know even though it’s not something that clicks with us.
The first draft should be the easiest. No, really! There are absolutely no expectations for this draft; the goal is simply to get the whole story down on paper for the first time. As long as it’s there, it’s a success.
So, to keep the process quick and simple, here are some things to do—and not to do—while writing a first draft.
1. There’s no single right way to write.
Yeah, I kind of already said this, but it’s worth explaining further. Many people will claim that they have created the “cure-all” plotting/writing method, but they’re all wrong. Sure, it might be a good method, and maybe it works perfectly for you! But if there were one single standardised writing method, I would be worried.
The whole point of storytelling is that it’s a personal process; no one else can do it for you. We’re all unique and have our own ways of doing things. My husband and I might have the same type of toothbrush and toothpaste, but we don’t brush our teeth the same way.
Don’t get caught up in a writing/plotting method. The important part is the writing. If something helps you, keep it. If it doesn’t, throw it out.
2. Plan it all. Then write it all.
I’m currently reading Published. by Chandler Bolt, and while there is a lot of great content, his outlining/writing process actually made me laugh out loud. First of all, he advocates for a detailed, multi-thousand-word outline and claims pantsers can and should do it, too (uh…no?). But the real kicker is his suggested writing process, where you plan each chapter before you write it. As in, write a chapter, plan a chapter, write, plan, etc.
I don’t know of a single other person who advocates for this and there’s a good reason for it. Planning and writing are very different processes. When you sit down to write your book, you should be doing just that: writing. Inserting planning in between just isn’t inspiring and is a great way to encourage someone to quit in the middle of writing their first draft. Especially as someone who isn’t a fan of planning, I want to get it all done ahead of time. Doing it in small chunks in between writing would just prolong my agony and deaden my creativity.
Don’t split your focus. Plan it all, then write it all. (Unless planning each chapter right before you write it really, seriously helps you, in which case, see point number one. But in my experience, for most people, this method would hinder the writing process.)
3. Write. Then edit.
This tip is a common one, but requires an important distinction. It’s certainly true that you shouldn’t edit as you’re writing because, once again, you’re splitting your focus. But don’t think this means your whole story is set in stone as soon as you write it. If something is/isn’t working, it’s okay to pause, quickly make a note of it, and move on. Nailing down big picture stuff before and during your first draft is important so you don’t end up changing the whole story and deleting half of what you wrote later on.
Don’t be afraid to make “big picture” edits; they’ll help solidify your story.
4. Keep going.
At some point during your first draft, you’re going to run into a wall. It’s a matter of when, not if. I’ve written extensively on this topic, but the most important thing to remember is to keep going. Even when it’s hard. Even when you don’t feel like it. Write something, anything! One word is better than none.
Don’t quit. Writing a book is hard, and it only gets harder as you go along, but the reward of a beautiful book at the end of it all is so worth it.
5. Get support.
Writing a book is a journey that should never be taken alone. While others might not be able to write the book for you, they can encourage you. Some people (like me!) can even coach you through it and show you the way. Maybe you know someone else who’s writing a book who can keep you accountable. The important thing is to find someone who will listen, someone who cares about you. Go to them for inspiration or encouragement when you need some.
Don’t do it alone. Have others around to lift you up.
So, what does your process for writing a first draft look like? Do you have any “don’ts”? Let me know in the comments!
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When you write as much as I do, you have to take frequent breaks from sitting. A standing desk (not a whole desk, but a mini desk that will sit on top of my current desk with my laptop, keyboard, and mouse and extend upward) will allow me to continue working while maintaining that good blood flow to my brain. Thank you so much for your support that allows me to keep producing free content. God bless you! ♥️ E.J.Donate