The first draft of anything is s**t.
Says Nobel Prize-winning, best-selling author Ernest Hemingway.
If you’ve been putting off writing your book until “inspiration strikes”, or you’ve been writing it on and off for years under the mindset that writing slower produces better writing, to you I say: Let Hemingway’s wisdom dispel that myth. Whether you write the first draft in a month or over the span of ten years, it will always be garbage.
That’s not to have you get discouraged! Remember, every writer is actually a rewriter. The best books come out of painstaking editing. Consider this:
When you put off your book, delay the first draft’s completion, and write it over the span of many years, your writing will naturally improve, and your book will show it. The first few chapters which you wrote five years ago will be horrible in comparison to your newest chapters, written five years later with all the skills and knowledge you’ve picked up in the meantime. Because of the drastic quality gap, you’ll end up having to rewrite those older chapters, which will just set you back more, and the vicious cycle continues.
You could sit your butt down in your chair and bang out that book now.
It’s currently NaNoWriMo as I write this. And I know several people who choose not to participate specifically because they believe that writing a book in a month produces a crappy book. To this logic, I respond: it will be a crappy first draft either way. Better to get it all done now and have a completed book than to have an uncompleted book or no book at all. A completed book can be edited, queried, and published. An uncompleted first draft can do nothing but sit there and wait for you. It goes nowhere until you take it there.
To be clear, I’m not saying you have to participate in NaNoWriMo; maybe November is too busy a month for you. Maybe it just doesn’t fit with your current schedule or lifestyle. What I am saying is, if you’re going to write a novel, don’t put it off or let it sit there for years, going untouched for months at a time. Get your butt in gear and write the damn thing. It’s the only way to get it done.
But how? How do you get yourself to actually finish that first draft? Well, here’s what’s helped me:
1. You gotta love your story. And if you’ve forgotten why you love it, then fall back in love with it.
Writing a book is a lot like being in a relationship. Your story needs time and attention. It makes you think about it all the time. You miss it when you’re not writing it, and you desire it constantly. But even the most passionate romances have their dry times. That doesn’t mean it’s gone, and it doesn’t mean you should give up on the story. Far from it! “Falling out of love” with your story is just a cop-out, an excuse to not finish it. Falling out of love with your story is just a cop-out, an excuse to not finish. Click To Tweet
2. Get yourself psyched to write.
No, seriously. When I wake up in the morning and immediately decide that once I get out of class or off work I will definitely write, I start looking forward to it throughout the day. I count down the hours until my laptop and I can go on a coffee date at the local cafe (oddly called “Rough Draft”. Perfect, eh?). I turn it into an experience: when I finally get done with my obligations, I get myself in the right mood to write. I put on some cozy, comfy clothes. I take myself to my favorite coffee shop. I put my headphones in and turn on some story-related jams. And I don’t leave that spot ’til I’ve got my flow going. This makes writing time something special, instead of something that “must be done” like school or work.
3. Mark your progress.
Trying to complete a 50,000-word novel can seem like a daunting task (especially if you’ve never done it before). That’s why I’ve found it helpful to keep track of where I am in relation to where I want to go. For example, in the past (when I was a beginner) I would set chapter count goals. I told myself that I just had to write 20 chapters, so every chapter I finished was one step closer to completion. I could see and feel the progress I was making, which encouraged me not to give up because I had that feeling of “I’m almost there! Just a little farther!” Nowadays, I make little inforgraphics to track my wordcount. So when it feels like I’m in the thick of the work and am not making any progress, I just have to look and see that I am indeed closing in on the finish line!
4. Write with somebody. Or tell people you’re writing a novel.
Because I share so much about my writing journey on social media, kids I’ve never met on my college campus will come up to me and ask me how my novel is going! And several of my friends are attempting NaNoWriMo this month, as well. So the more people I’ve told about this commitment, the more I feel obligated to fulfill it and finish. Plus, people are always
pestering asking me about my book! With all this positive external pressure; with all these people checking in on me; I know I can’t skip out!
5. Set a clear end date and aim for it.
The worst thing you can do is to write a novel that you plan on finishing “whenever”. Whenever? That sounds more like never! Don’t be a Wheneverer! Pick a specific date, or general timeframe, and aim to finish by then. In the past, I have set and completed these goals:
- finish my first draft by the first day of summer (June 21st)
- finish my first draft by the last day of June
- finish my first draft by the end of summer
And now, I’m attempting to finish my first draft of All That is Gold Does Not Glitter by the end of November. Even if I miss my mark by a couple of days (or weeks, or even months), there still is a deadline to focus on and push towards. If you aim at nothing, you’ll have nothing to work for. Plus, professional authors have deadlines to meet. So you’ll be training yourself to live like a pro.
6. Power through.
There are going to be times when you hate the scene you’re writing. You get bored with it, or you lose your inspiration. It’s okay to take a little break, but you have to come back to it and figure out how to get over it. Writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perseverance. Believe me, when you force yourself to write through the blocks, you will eventually hit your flow. Writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perseverance. When you force yourself to write through the… Click To Tweet It can feel at times like you’re using dynamite to blast away at solid rock, trying to get that boulder to budge. But pushing yourself through is the only way to find the inspiration on the other side. You will shock yourself with how easily writing comes once you push past that boring/difficult/uninspired scene.
So, that’s it! Those are my tips on how I complete a first draft. What do you think? Are these helpful? Do you have a technique to finishing a rough draft? Let me know in the comments!
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