The First Draft

Since I have gotten several questions on various stages of the writing/publishing process, I’m doing a blog series on writing. Keep in mind that these posts are based on my own experiences & are in no way the “right” way to go about writing a book. This series is also focused on fiction writing and publishing.

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Last week we talked about the difference between an outliner and a pantser.

If you’re an outliner, then before writing your story, you will have written an outline, scene by scene, of your story—a guideline of sorts for you to follow. I forgot to add also, that if you’re a planner, then you might create detailed character sketches (what your characters look like, their personalities, their pasts, etc.) before starting your draft. You might also do some world building during this stage.

Once you’re finished with all THAT, you begin writing.

And if you’re a pantser, your journey begins here.

Some writers like to start writing at the beginning of the story. Others prefer to start with the scenes burning hottest inside their minds, then going back and filling in the beginning. Either way, the goal is to plant your butt in the chair and WRITE.

First, set a realistic word count (WC) goal for each day. If it’s too difficult, and you fail every day, it’ll only discourage you, so make it easily attainable. Most people start with the goal to write 100 words a day. Sound like a lot? It’s about the length of a paragraph. This whole blog is roughly 700 words, just to give you an idea.

You don’t have to write 100 words in your book, per se. It could be journaling, blogging, poetry, whatever. Just make sure you reach that goal. This helps spark creativity, exercises your writing muscles, and gets you into the habit of writing daily. And if you are writing it all in your novel, then this goal will help the story grow a little more each day.

Once you get comfortable writing 100 words a day, then up it to 200. Feel free to lengthen or shorten that goal however it fits into your schedule. Before kids, and when I had a full time job, my writing goal was 2,500 words a day. When I quit that job, it was somewhere around 5-8k words a day. Now that I have young children, I’m happy if I write 500 words in one day. Figure out what works for you, then stick with it.

If your life is unpredictable, or you have one of those jobs where you work 12 hour shifts 3-4 days a week, another idea is to set a writing goal for each week. Then allow yourself to rest some days, and catch up on your days off.

If you’re like me, creating a writing atmosphere might help get your head into writing mode. I usually have a hot cup of tea or coffee, and occasionally light a candle. The room has to be dim and quiet, which is why I write at night, after my two kids have gone to bed. Once you’ve established the atmosphere of your preference, get comfortable, and begin writing. 

Not sure what to write? That’s okay. It doesn’t have to be perfect, although I know you’ll want to perfect each sentence after you type it.

Don’t. Do. It.

Just focus on getting the story down on paper. Allow yourself to write shitty sentence after shitty sentence, and console yourself with the fact that you’ll get to go through this draft dozens of times after it’s written, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll pitch half of these lines anyway.  Perfectionism will only slow you down. 

You know what else will slow you down?

WRITING RULES. 

That’s right. You’ll be so concerned with using the correct grammar, or following certain writing rules, that you’ll get stuck. A lot. Don’t fall into the trap of following all the rules. Rules are important, yes, and there will be a time when you’ll have to learn them. Like, when you’re going through your completed draft a second or third or even a fourth time.

But now is not that time.

Now is the time to write that first rough draft. To get all the scenes down, to take everything that’s inside your head and vomit it onto the blank document.

Don’t slow down, don’t look back.

Just. Write. 

And in time, you’ll have completed what Anne Lamott likes to call in her highly recommended writing book, “Bird By Bird”: The Shitty First Draft.

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