Write That First Draft

Recently, I was wondering a lot about what’s stopping me to finish my second novel. Sometimes, I think it’s fear the other days I feel that I’m overthinking and outlining too much and most of the times it’s a confluence of all three.

Whether you are a pantser or an outliner there will be a stage of your writing process where you will have to deal with the first draft.

The first draft is especially hard for novelists, both pantsers and outliners. It means going into something unknown which will most certainly result in failure, but be aware that it’s the way it has to be. It will be unknown even if you have an outline because most of the time the outline doesn’t mean anything; there will be a point in your writing where something new will appear and you will discard the whole outline and go wherever your story carries you.

The purpose of the first draft is to carry your story from point A to point B and it will be bad; that’s a promise.

Down below is the list of the things you should keep in mind while writing the first draft of your novel and it should make your life a little bit easier.


Even if you don’t write outlines – prepare.

You should at least have a basic picture of your characters, their goals and the main conflict of the story.

You should also know something about the setting – where and when is the story happening and how it influences the lives of your characters.

If you are a pantser that should be enough, but if you want to make a more detailed outline just help yourself but remember not to overdo it.

Wear your drafting hat only

A writer should possess three main hats – outlining, drafting, and editing. The other hats can be marketing, networking but they are not that important for the actual writing process. 

While wearing your drafting hat you won’t pay much details on punctuation, grammar and many other things. If they come naturally to you, that’s fine but if you have to stop and think deeply about something, you should ignore it and fix it later, while wearing the editing hat. 

Wearing a drafting hat means that you should write whatever comes first to your mind and worry about it later. 

Write the first draft as fast as you can, relax and remove all your distractions

One of the methods to stop switching hats is to write as fast as you can.

If you cannot type fast you should perhaps learn how to type blindfolded. The keyboard is one of your main tools and you want to master it. It doesn’t take much time, there are simple exercises that can help you with that and most of the tools for learning how to type are free.

Writing fast also means let your mind carry you whenever it wants. Get surprised with your story development, let your characters talk and don’t worry too much about anything. Just draft it.

Some writers even write their first draft longhand or on the typewrites. Modern devices are equipped with some powerful tools but these tools can easily turn into distractions. For example, Neil Gaiman writes his first draft longhand and he says that he really enjoys writing that way, and it’s much more difficult to edit.  

Stephen King says that it’s very important to write behind the closed doors. You need to explain to everybody that they mustn’t interrupt you while you’re doing your job because writing is nothing more or nothing less than a job. 

Be Consistent and set small, reachable goals.

Write every day, even if it’s your birthday or Thanksgiving, or 4th of July or anything that might give you a reason not to write. It’s fine to take a break now and then, especially if you are sick but do your best to write every day.

Set yourself a reachable goal. For some writers it’s 500 words for the others it’s 2000. It depends on your writing speed and time available. 

Some writers don’t like word counts so they set a block of time instead. They are writing in the morning or in the evening or during the lunch break at their day job.

Do whatever works for you but keep in mind that you need to write consistently. 

Don’t Show it to Anyone

Your first drafts are meant to be seen by you and you only. Don’t show it even to your spouse, girlfriend, Siamese twin sister or your mother.

Nobody wants to read your first draft because it’s something that’s not finished. If you give them to read that, they will never be able to enjoy the final version of the story especially if you change and cut a lot. 

It’s going to suck

Another reason why you don’t want to show it to anyone is that it sucks, it most definitely sucks even if you are the next Tolstoy. Did you know that Tolstoy had to rewrite War and Peace over 50 times?

First drafts suck because they are not finished; they are rather a beginning of a long learning journey. 

While writing each story you are learning that story; the details of important events, personalities of your characters, you are missing grammar and language rules, you cannot see the most important points and plot holes, you are not even sure what the plot is and many other things. There are so many things involved and so many potential errors which means that writing a first draft which doesn’t suck is impossible. 

Just remember how much did you suck at riding a bike for the first time and it’s a pretty simple action and not to mention walking. How long did it take you to learn how to walk? 9 months? A year? 15 months? Why do you think that you can learn your story in one draft and maybe one outline?

Finally, remember: prepare, relax, write every day, don’t show it to anyone and get that shit done.