The best manuscript is a finished manuscript. But to get there, you must start with a first draft. Whether you’ve written multiple books or are about to embark on your first one, sitting down to create where there is nothing is a daunting experience. Here’s how to tackle writing the first draft:
Make a Plan
In writing parlance, there are two ways to tackle a book: either by plotting or flying by the seat of your pants (plotter versus pantser). People swear by one or the other, but if you are a novice, you should strongly consider plotting.
A plot doesn’t have to be intricate or completely planned out. There is much to be said for “discovering” the story or characters during the creation process. However, you can end up wasting time on plot points, or more likely, tangents, if you don’t have at least a minimal plan. Sketching out what happens in advance will also help with writer’s block. You’ll have an idea of what’s going to happen next.
Set a Goal…and Meet It
The only way to write a book is to…write a book. It sounds obvious, but to finish a 90,000 word document, you need to write on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be seven days a week, but it should be often. I recently wrote a blog post about setting small goals that you can meet, no matter what. You can check that out here: The Key to Conquering Writer’s Block: Think Small. If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, you might need to have a 2,000 word/day goal, but if you just hope to finish in six months or a year, you can be kinder to yourself.
The goal needs to be in stone, however. It’s far too easy to let life get in the way of writing. Writing is hard and demands brain power. It’s normal to want to put off the hard stuff, so make a writing date, word count goal, or time and stick to it.
Use Tech…and Avoid Tech
There are a number of products on the market like Scrivener or WriteOrDie.com to help you use your time wisely. They both help you meet your goals (one is more carrot and the other is more stick in approach) and track progress. It’s easy to forget that you really are getting somewhere, and visualizing how far you’ve come can be motivational.
On the other hand, it is so easy to let yourself fall into the trap of cruising the internet or social media. It’s procrastination because, see also: writing is hard. If you can’t trust yourself, put your phone in another room or disconnect from the internet. Pick a time—say, 90 minutes in which you’ll stay away from distractions. If you still don’t trust yourself, software like Freedom can force you off.
Don’t Nit Pick
The maxim, “writing is rewriting,” exists because it’s true. The first draft is only that: the initial version. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Don’t waste five days rewriting the first sentence. By the time the next 9,000 sentences are on paper, that one might need to be deleted anyway. The first draft isn’t about perfect construction, it’s about story telling. If you focus on that, your first draft will be a success.