How to Finish that Troublesome First DraftsteemCreated with Sketch.

in writing •  3 years ago 

The Question

The question I've been asked by many aspiring authors is  "How do you write a whole first draft?" The same expression, wide eyes and eager faces, has always stuck with me. I thought I'd share my tricks and tips on how to do just that.

Eating a Whole Elephant

While in high school, being assigned to write a ten-page essay seemed incredibly daunting. The advice my teacher always gave me was to think of the essay as an elephant. I couldn't possibly eat a whole elephant in one shot. So I would eat it in pieces. I would set small goals such as reach a certain amount of words in a couple of days. Once that goal was reached, I could bite off another piece. Looking at my essay in this way, helped me complete it in a timely fashion without stressing too much over the big picture.

I look back now and laugh at how big a ten-page essay seemed to be. A full-fledged first draft of 60,000 to 80,000 words is now my new elephant. Same principle—give yourself a month to write 5,000 words. You've gotten that far? Next month, try to write 10,000 words. Works? Up it to a reasonable amount that's good for you. Soon enough, you'll have reached a word count befitting a full novel.

Are You a Perfectionist?

Maybe the enormity of the project, whether it's a ten-page essay or a novel, is not the issue. Maybe you write; then delete whatever you wrote because it's not exactly the way you wanted to word it. Then you write a paragraph; then delete the last two sentences because it still hasn't captured your sentiments perfectly. First drafts are not for perfectionists. 

I remember telling myself to just keep writing when I was writing the first draft of my first novel. I'm doing the same with the first draft for my second novel (which will be done in a few days). Sometimes, during my second novel's first draft, I'd ask myself, "Did I really have this much trouble getting a first draft done with the first one?" I have to keep reminding myself I did. What's fresh in my mind is not the beginning stages of my first novel but the finished product which came about because of rewrites and edits.

You Can Only Perfect What Exists

You need a structure to perfect. Yes, rewrites and edits are a necessary evil for most writers (I love them!). You can't stop while writing your first draft. Who cares if you didn't write the perfect adjective, adverb, or verb? Who cares if your sentences are sloppy? You can go back and clean up. Put your thoughts down before they disappear.

Outlines Shouldn't Be Set in Stone

Every first draft I've written, I've had a loose outline in my head. This can change from person to person. You can have a fuller outline if you like; however, I prefer the loose outline because I love the side trips it can allow. Some of my best plot points or subplot points have been because I followed the rabbit trail.

One of my most memorable rabbit trails was writing the beginning of my first draft of my second novel. I knew my character was a particular aspect to the story. Suddenly, that character suggested a revision. I began arguing with that character in my head. He argued he'd have to have this position in my world in order to fulfill my plan for his character. I argued back, thinking it wouldn't work, thinking it would jeopardize the entire plot. After a full ten minutes of arguing, I was enlightened. My character was right. So I wrote it in. Turned out it was perfect!

Silent As the Grave

Your first draft will probably be horrible. You might even think it belongs in the garbage. Remember no other eyes have to read its contents. It will not speak to any other person except you until you give it permission. I usually give permission after my second rewrite.

Garbage to Treasure

I recently visited a place in Montreal called Cinderella Garbage. It's a jewelry "store" that takes garbage and melts it down to make jewelry out of it. The pieces I saw didn't resemble garbage one bit. It was an amazing endeavour of recycling. Think of your first draft as a piece of garbage that under fire (all those rewrites and edits) will become a beautiful piece of jewelry that many can enjoy.

Do you have any extra tips or tricks up your sleeve? Would love to hear about it!

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