Don’t despair – You can do this!

My advice for completing the first draft of your novel

I completed the first draft of my first novel in fourteen days.  I don’t say this to brag.  I say this to encourage you.  You don’t need a year to write a first draft.  It might take you a year to get to the final product, but even that can be done in under six weeks, as was my book.  Let us meditate on what a first draft is.  

A first draft your beginning.  It is the structure of your story that needs to be built upon.  Think of it this way, when a contractor builds a building, they start with laying the foundation.  For a book, the foundation is your story idea.  Then the contractor starts building the skeleton of the building, which either made out of steel or wood beams.  For a story, this would be the outline of each of your chapter.  The next part for a contractor is to create rooms.  For your book that part would be your characters.  Lastly, the contractor put in the electrical and plumbing.  For a book this would be the visual details of your scenes and your characters.  It is only at this point, that your draft is complete.  This is the point where the contractor calls in the decorating team to make his work pretty.  That’s the editor’s job.

I hope this illustrates for you the definition of a first draft and at what point it is ready to go to the phase of being a book.  The great thing about a first draft is that it is not a perfect document.  Far from it.  It is your beginning.

Understanding your first draft

It is not ready for you to go over and check for grammatical errors

It is so tempting.  I know it is.  But I am telling you, once you start writing and then stop to correct your spelling and grammar errors, you’re going to frustrate yourself and feel like you will never see the next chapter, let alone the end of the book.  Don’t do it to yourself.  Let spellcheck do its job as you go along, but wait until your entire story is done, before you go back through the chapters to read and correct the errors.

It is not ready for your support group reading

I’m the kind of person that needs an “atta girl” every once in a while, in the midst of my book production.  Dear writer, if you start sharing your story with everyone, you will get a thousand different ideas of where you need to go next with it.  Again, don’t do it to yourself.  If you are looking to have conversations with as to whether your book is good enough, just let a bunch of people take a look at it, and they will be trying to write your book for you.

I will tell you what I do have. I have a cheerleading squad of 1 (one) person.  When I am working on my first draft, and I have completed several chapters, and I mean at least one third of the story, then I will send it to my cousin.  She will read it for me and give me her thoughts.  Most of her thoughts I reject.  Why you ask?  Because, what I want from her is excitement for the book.  If my cousin doesn’t like the story, she has no problem telling me so, and why.  If I can fix it I will.  If it’s beyond fixing, I start all over from where my story started to go awry.   But that’s my method.

It is not ready for your editor

Your first draft is not ready for your editor.  Go ahead and release that breath you were holding.  That’s right, your first draft is your story for you.  When you’re done, you can look at the manuscript and say, “I wrote a story.”  This will then be followed up by, “now I need to turn this story into a book.”

Tips on getting your story on paper

Writing your first draft takes discipline.  Writing is work.  Yes, we romanticize it by saying the muse comes along and words are beautifully pinned.  But that is not the everyday grunt and grind of getting the work out.  Sometimes, you just don’t feel like writing.  There are days you feel sick, or you have to take care of someone in your family that has gotten sick.  Because you have not taught yourself to be a disciplined writer, you’re going to have days where you just don’t want to write.  The problem is, if you let that stop you, eventually your story will leave your mind, and become a memory.  Here are some things I’ve done to discipline myself to write.

  1. Write every day.  Writing is an acquired habit. Due to it not being an automatic response after getting an idea, you must make a concentrated effort to get it done.  Even if you don’t write on your book, make a practice of writing.  Sit and type out a list of people in history you would like to meet and why.  Document something interesting that you learned that day.  Copy a page from a book.  The point is, you want to create a habit of sitting down to write.
  2. Time yourself.  I’ve done this when I have a hard time focusing.  I have days where I cannot control my mind from wandering.  When this happens a technique I’ve implemented is that of starting a stop watch to go for fifteen minutes.  I type away until the bell rings.  If I am in a good place, I reset it and type more.  If I am not in a good place, I get up and do something like vacuum my living room. I might call a friend.  I’ve been known to turn on some music and dance.  Other times I have treated myself to an under ten minute YouTube video.
  3. Background noise.  Most people call it music.  I have found that if I put on instrumental music very low, it helps me focus.  The music can’t have words, because I will get distracted by the lyrics.  I can her a line of music and before I know it I’ve zoned off to a memory or an entirely different story then the one I am supposed to be writing.
  4. Take care of the essentials. Before you start writing, go to the bathroom.  You may need to have a sandwich so that you don’t get distracted by hunger pains. Is the room you will be writing in at a comfortable temperature?  Make sure the chair and desk you will be working at has what you need for comfortable creation.  Does your pet or child need taken care of with a walk or a feeding? If you minimize the distractions before they happen, this will help you write?  Turn the ringer off of your phone, also.
  5. Speed write.  I had to do speed write to complete this article you are reading.  It was my last one of the day, and I knew I was going to start to get antsy.  I typed out my ideas as fast as I could, so that I could edit at my leisure.

There you have it.  You know the ins and outs of your first draft.  Now take a quick moment and tell me what you are working on.  Do you have a story to draft out?  If so, leave that comment quickly and start writing.


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