I love writing first drafts. I keep a notebook nearby, even next to the bed, so I can capture bits of dialogue and potential plot twists that might reveal themselves at odd hours. The story tumbles out in fits and spurts and I find myself thinking about it all the time, even when I should be doing other things! My characters demand I get to know them intimately. I dream about them. It’s exciting. It can be frustrating. But most of all, it’s creative.
I’ve learned to appreciate that drafting is one part of the writing process and editing another. They’re very different, so the approach I take must be different. Here are some things to think about as you write your novel’s first draft.
Do commit to finishing it.
The first draft is the framework from which you will build the finished product. Without this infrastructure, you have nothing to work with. Commit to completing your draft. There may be pacing issues, characters that need more depth, or plot holes that you can’t quite plug yet. That’s okay. The plumbing is in place. You can choose the faucet later!
Do whatever works to get the story on paper.
Do you need to develop a detailed outline? Are you most creative while outside hiking with your voice recorder in hand? Do you get in the zone on Saturday in the coffee shop? Do you work best with a daily word count goal or by carving out a specific time each day? Whatever your process, however long it takes, honor it while you are drafting your novel.
Do use as much detail as you need in the first draft.
One of my favorite writing quotes is attributed to Terry Pratchett. He says, “The first draft is you telling yourself the story.” I generally overwrite by about ten-thousand words, knowing I’ll have to slice and dice the superfluous detail out later. I’m using that space to create my world, define my characters, and work through the plot lines. Once I’ve thought through everything, and spewed it onto the page, I can strategically decide which bits to include and where to include them.
Don’t get caught up in perfection.
Sometimes I’ll write a scene and later realize it works much better elsewhere in the narrative. I’ll move it right away. Other times I’ll have an epiphany about a plot tangle and I’ll rough it in when the inspiration strikes, even if it’s further back in the narrative. Occasionally I’ll write a scene out of order. But what I don’t do is go back and spend hours perfecting a scene, finessing language, or worrying too much about detail. I can change whole scenes during edits if needed.
Don’t compare yourself to other writers.
This can be crippling. There will always be a writer with more experience, a narrative that’s awe-inspiring, a story with a brilliant plot twist. But only you can write this particular story, with your particular style and voice. Appreciate the work of others. Be your authentic writer self on the page.
Don’t stop writing.
Even when things feel stalled, I try to stick with my good writing habits. It isn’t always easy. The words don’t always flow. At some point, even writing a story that inspires and excites us can feel like work. Write anyway. It’s the only thing that will keep the process moving.
As writers, we imagine entire fictional worlds, populate them with vibrant characters, send those characters on an journey of some sort, and invite readers to join us for the ride. For me, writing the first draft is the best part. It’s a time of discovery, freedom, and experimentation. It’s when all the creative magic happens. Enjoy the magic, and keep going until it’s finished!