10 BEST Tips for Writing FIRST DRAFTS
Today we're tackling a subject that all writers can relate to, and that's how to write your very first draft. The first draft, also known as the rough draft, is exactly what it sounds like. It's the very first written version of your story.
A lot of people struggle with writing their first draft, so much so that they never make it past this step. While this is common, it's not particularly surprising. First drafts are a monumental undertaking and, especially if you're new to writing, it can feel incredibly insurmountable. But it really doesn't have to be that big of a deal. Any multi-published author can tell you that getting over the hump and finding a routine that works for you will make the process so much easier over time.
That's where I come in! I am breaking down my top 10 tips for writing your first draft so you can make the process as smooth as possible. These tips will help put the experience into perspective and make it a little easier for ya. Now, on to the tips!
This video is sponsored by ProWritingAid. As always, all opinions are my own.
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Number 1: Accept the Suckage
Honestly, the first thing you gotta do when you start a first draft is accept that it's gonna suck. You're gonna have moments where you're typing on your keyboard and all that's coming out is pure dog shit. Diarrhea, straight across the screen.
This is inevitable. It's very rare for any part of your writing to come out perfect on the first try. You're going to be tempted to type and delete, and type and delete, and type some more, and delete some more just trying to get it right. Don’t do it!
Just accept the suckage. Understand that yes, some of these sentences are going to blow. That's a problem you'll tackle another day. Because if you worry about it right now, you'll never finish. The first draft is all about getting words on the page. You can improve and refine them in draft two.
The first draft is all about getting words on the page.
Number 2: Outlines Save Lives
I know you don't want to hear it, but I’m gonna say it anyway, bitch.
First drafts are really hard, but having an outline makes them so much easier. They eliminate most of the pitfalls that can derail the writing process. Got writer's block? Not if you have an outline, because it will literally tell you exactly what you need to write next. Is your first draft filled to the brim with plot holes? Not if you already tackled them in the outline.
Obviously, you're going to have to experiment with different outlining methods to find the one that works for you. But if you've pants-ed yourself into a corner, outlining is the easy, obvious solution.
Number 3: DON’T Read It
I know you wanna. I know you're tempted. But don’t do it! A lot of people complain that they never progress on their first draft because they're constantly writing words, reading said words, realizing it's a clusterfuck, and then deleting everything.
You know what would eliminate this issue? If you don't read it. That's not to say you should never read your first draft. Just don't read it in the middle of a writing session. Focus instead on getting words on the page, and read that shit later–once you've finished your daily writing session.
Pro Tip: I personally will spend a day writing, and then read everything over the following day. This method works for me because it gives me enough distance from the writing session for me to not judge my work too harshly or overthink it.
Number 4: Don't Edit
Do you know someone who's been working on their first draft for five years? There's a good chance they've gotten stuck in an editing loop. Some writers never finish their first draft because they're too busy picking and prodding at it trying to make it perfect. It'll never be perfect. And yes, writing a book can take a really long time. But unless you have extenuating circumstances, you should never be spending years upon years on a single draft.
If this is an issue you struggle with, then the key is to fight your inner editor and plow through that draft. Don't edit anything. If that means you have to resist reading the first draft, then do it. At the end of the day, there is no point in picking at a draft that never gets completed. Save your perfectionism for draft number two.
Number 5: Okay, Maybe SOME of You Can Edit
While many writers are at risk of falling into an endless editing loop, there's a hefty chunk of us who are at the opposite risk. For some writers, including myself, continuing a first draft while knowing there's a laundry list of edits to tackle is a recipe for progress-crippling anxiety. They struggle to produce content ‘cause they can't stop thinking about how all those previous errors may disrupt the flow of their story.
If this sounds like you, fortunately you're not alone and the solution is simple: edit as you go. Yes, it's a tip that doesn't work for a lot of writers. But if you are the exception to the rule, have at it!
Pro Tip: For my personal routine, I will spend the entire day writing out my first draft without reading or editing anything. The following day I will read over everything that I've written, while making edits along the way. And once I've caught up, I continue writing and the cycle repeats itself.
Number 6: Habit Over Motivation
“But Jenna, I'm just not motivated to work on my first draft.”
No one gives a shit! Get over yourself! Motivation is great, but it's also unreliable. So instead of waiting for motivation to strike, focus on forming habits. Create some sort of writing routine and hold yourself to it.
For the first week, it'll probably be easy because you're excited and inspired! But after that, shit's gonna get rough. That's when you really need to push yourself and fight through the lack of motivation. Stick to your schedule, and eventually, writing will become a habit–a part of your weekly routine. Once you reach this stage, your writing will become a lot more consistent, which means you'll get that first draft done a lot faster.
Number 7: Set Goals
There are two types of goals writers can set: long-term goals and short-term goals. Long-term goals typically cover several months. I personally like to set quarterly goals, where I will list the page count I would like to write within three months. But when it comes to creating writing habits, it's extremely important to set short-term goals. Specifically weekly and daily goals. In these situations, we're strictly looking at productivity goals, and there are three ways to do this:
The first one is word count goals, where you are holding yourself to getting a certain number of words on the page by the end of the week or the end of the day.
Next are page number goals, where you're trying to get a certain number of pages written by the end of the day or the end of the week.
Then there are scene goals, where you're trying to reach or surpass a particular scene in your book. For example, my goal today is to finish the fight scene, or my goal for the week is to reach chapter four.
You can choose any goal-setting method that works for you. Feel free to experiment until you find the one that suits your process, but the point is to create some kind of goals. That way, it's much easier to hold yourself accountable.
Number 8: Understand Your Distractibility
Life is full of distractions that can derail your productivity. You need to pay attention to what specifically distracts you and work toward eliminating it. I say this because while some distractions seem obvious, not everyone reacts to stimuli in the same way. For example, if you find social media distracting, you can simply turn it off or put your phone in a different room.
However, I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum. I find complete stillness and silence very distracting. Because of this, it actually benefits my writing process for me to have something going on in the background. For example, a Discord chat. My point is, you are a unique snowflake and you respond to stimuli in your own special way. Figure out your distraction weaknesses and address them accordingly.
Number 9: Create a List
While you're writing your first draft, you're probably gonna start noticing a lot of your weaknesses. Maybe you realize you have a natural inclination to abuse the shit out of filter words. Maybe you genuinely have no idea how commas work.
If you're the type who edits as you go, you can potentially tackle these issues in your first draft. You can easily plug a scene into ProWritingAid and have it point out all of your issues with punctuation. From that point forward, you can avoid making those same mistakes in the future.
But if you're not comfortable editing as you go, which as we already covered is very common, make a list of your recurring issues. That way, once the first draft is over, you have an easy reference guide of what you need to tackle in draft two. Thanks to that list, you can easily plug your draft into ProWritingAid and you'll know exactly which mistakes to look for.
Number 10: It’s Not Done
“But Jenna, it's obviously not done! It's a first draft.”
Bitch, then why are writers always freaking out ‘cause their first draft isn't perfect? At some point, you're gonna read your first draft and think, “Wow, my story sucks.” You may edit it along the way and still feel like your book blows major ass. Before you freak out over how you are the shittiest writer in the world, take a deep breath and remember: it’s not done.
This is just the first draft. Your story doesn't suck, it's incomplete. There are like 10 more drafts to write. There's self editing, there's the professional edit, there's beta readers, and critique partners. There's proofreading! You got hella work to do!
The first draft isn't supposed to be good. In fact, if your first draft is even remotely decent, that's pretty epic. Pat yourself on the back! But if your first draft didn't shape up the way you imagined, breathe. It's fine! You can whip it into shape later.
So that's all I've got for you today!
First drafts are hard, especially if this is your first time tackling a novel. It's a major step toward getting your story out into the world. By using these tips and strategies, you’ll be able to get all your thoughts and characters down on paper and future you can edit them until they're fantastic!
Are you working on a first draft? How do you minimize distractions? Tell me about it in the comments below!
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