Ah, the first draft. The unsolved cruelty of the writing process. Every writer is haunted by the horror of the blank page, the cursor blinking in seemingly endless mockery. How to defeat such an evil? How to take this story by the horns and write it out from beginning to end?
Unfortunately, there is no magic answer. However, there are tips and ticks to getting through that first draft. Here are six of them.
1. Focus on the big picture
You may have some details, but you don’t need to have all of them. In the end, focusing too much on details will drive you crazy. You don’t need the perfect metaphor, the perfect imagery, the perfect anything in a first draft. You just need to get the story on the page.
2. Know how it ends
If you don’t know where your story is going, how in the holy hell can you even begin to imagine how to push the plot forward? Again, don’t get caught on the details. You don’t need to know precisely who gives who a meaningful look on page x of the last chapter. You don’t even need to know quite yet if every character makes it to the end alive. But you do need to know, in general terms, what happens. As in, ‘the bad guys win’ or ‘character A and B run away together.’ Knowing where you will ultimately end up is the best way to figure out how to move the plot forward.
3. Go in with a plan
Obviously, different writers have different strategies when it comes to planning out a long piece of work. Personally, I prefer to plot in big strokes and add details as the plot reveals itself. A friend of mine prefers to plot in big strokes and details as they write the first draft. Another friend, a long form poet, goes in with a concept and a theme and lets the ideas reveal themselves. Depending on you medium and genre, any number of strategies can work. See how your ideas naturally express themselves and find the strategy that fits best with what your brain is already trying to do.
Regardless of the plan you pick, going in without any sort of plan will make your job much more difficult.
4. When you’re stuck, keep working
By that I don’t necessarily mean to keep writing. When you hit a wall, you can’t wait for your flaky muse to do the work for you. If it works for you, force yourself to write. If it doesn’t work for you, work on the plot. Work with the characters. Consider themes and motifs. Work on something that has to do with your story. You’ll be able to work yourself out of the rut.
5. Editing is not a sin
We’ve all read a hundred of these articles, and most of them probably say something along the lines of ‘by god, man, do NOT edit!’ When getting through a first draft, editing and rewriting can be really helpful for a lot of people. I grew as a writer and an editor at the same time, so when I get stuck my first instinct is to read back, edit what I have, and draw inspiration from the process of it. Is it a perfect solution? No. I have caught myself stuck on one metaphor for more than a half hour in drafts past. But is it helpful for me? Absolutely. And that’s what counts. At the end of the day, you have to find what works for you.
6. Be passionate
If you’re not passionate about your story, don’t write it. In the processes of drafting a novel, passion becomes obsession becomes completion.Writing a novel is a deeply involved process, and if you find that you don’t have passion for your work then you may want to put your energy elsewhere. That is not to say you should give up after a couple of dull, passionless days. But if you’re not feeling it after some time, then maybe it’s time to put it in a drawer for awhile. You can always revisit it when you’re really ready to commit to it.
Questions or additions? Let me know in the comments below!