2021 Update: All of this is still pretty accurate for me as far as how I complete my first drafts. Of course, writing the first draft as a new author is different from a mid-list author, but only in the fact that today I have a much better idea of my strengths and weaknesses.
This article is going to be a little more pep talk than informative. Writing the first draft is a significant accomplishment for any writer. It’s the first chance to see where that idea in your head is going to go. Even if you have outlined your story to death, surprises are sure to come when you finally put pen to paper.
Here is a list of “rules” I use to get my first draft completed with as little hair pulling and head-bashing as possible.
The first draft isn’t supposed to be perfect. Don’t fret if not all your characters have the perfect names or one scene doesn’t quite fit the way you hoped.
If you are anything like me, you may be tempted to polish that paragraph a bit. Fix those spelling errors and minor grammar issues as you go. Please don’t do it. Not only will it slow the writing process, but how will you know if your paragraph makes sense there if you don’t have completed work.
It may be super tempting to discuss your cool ideas with friends, family, and fellow writers. While it’s not always bad to bounce ideas off people when you get stuck on something, it can also lead to second-guessing your plan.
2021 Update: While I still find this ‘rule’ helpful at times, I talk about my writing all the time now! Yes, I may get distracted by shiny new ideas or ramble my way into a complete rewrite but in the end, talking about my work helps me work out the kinks. I have cultivated an amazing group of friends and fellow authors to bounce ideas off and talk through my struggles. If you haven’t found the right group or prefer the solitary writer life, grab a stuffed animal or rubber ducky to use as a sounding board.
Unless you have a publisher breathing down your neck (or inadvertently posted a publication date before your first draft was ready), don’t get caught up with the clock/calendar watching. Getting the first draft done is arguably the best part of the writing process. The time when your imagination should be able to roam free and mingle with your excitement to write. Take your time and smell the pages.
2021 Update: I am a major procrastinator! I know it, I embrace it, and I plan accordingly. It’s one of the reasons I chose Self-publishing over traditional publishing. Yes, the production schedule is more intense, but It’s my schedule to set. That being said, having some deadlines is important. I usually go with a looser month deadline instead of a set date and adjust that deadline as needed.
You can’t have a first draft if you never write it in the first place. Writing is hardly the best time and best place sort of activity. Get your words in whenever you can, and don’t be afraid to mix things up to help you get in the writing groove.
Now that you know the “rules” for completing your first draft, it’s time to get writing!