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How to Write a First Draft: 15 Writing Tips

How to Write a First Draft

Every stage of the writing process is challenging for different reasons. But in a lot of ways, first drafts are the most challenging.  This is when your story goes from an idea in your head, to becoming an actual book. It’s the first major hurdle to clear if you have a goal of publication. Because of that, it can be the hardest. 

To help you clear this first hurdle, I put together fifteen tips to help you write your first draft:

1) Tune out doubters 

There will always be people who say you “can’t.”  There will always be people who point out how hard your task is or how unlikely the chances of success are. This is especially true if you’re writing your first first draft. Learn to tune the doubters out from the very start. These people are not you. They don’t know what writing and your story means to you. They don’t know what you’re capable of.

However, if it’s difficult for you to tune these people out, then consider keeping your circle very small and only telling people you can trust to be supportive.

2) Don’t try to be “good”

First drafts are by nature, a hot mess. Ideas that seemed good in your head may not work on paper. Additionally, it can be hard to think about the story and write the story in polished, easily understood language all at the same time. Because of this, being a “good” writer should be the least of your concerns when you’re at this stage. The only think you need to worry about is making it to the end with a completed draft. It doesn’t matter if your language is repetitive, choppy, or unclear. Just get to The End.

For more on why your writing doesn’t have to be “good,” check out this post!

3) Do You

It’s not a bad thing to read about how other writers approach first drafts, but ultimately, you have to do what works for you. If you’re someone who does well with a plan, then take the time to brainstorm and/or outline before you start. If you’re someone who does better figuring it out as you go, just dive right in and get working.

Try techniques that appeal to you, but don’t feel like there’s any “right” way to approach a first draft. The right way is the way that gets you a finished novel as quickly and painlessly as possible. Do whatever works for you to make that happen. 

4) Try different techniques if it gets “hard”

If you find yourself truly struggling, it’s very possible that you’re following a technique that just isn’t working for you. I’m a firm believer in the idea that writing can be challenging, but it shouldn’t be “hard.” If showing up to your book to write becomes something you’re dreading, consider trying a different approach. If you’re a planner, try abandoning your plan and either making a new one, or diving into your story without any idea what’s coming next. If you’re someone who always gave yourself plenty of time to write, consider writing on the clock to keep yourself moving. 

I’ve got a whole post that talks about why writing doesn’t have to be hard, so if you want more on this topic, be sure to check it out!

5) Set manageable goals

Set goals that you know you can meet on a regular basis. When you first decide you want to write a book and tackle a first draft, it can be easy to get swept up in your story and in the idea of writing your book. You may look at the calendar and decide if you can write a chapter a day, every day, you’ll have a completed book in about a month. And while that math may work out, reaching that goal on a day-to-day basis may quickly become unsustainable.

If you set a goal you can’t keep up with, you’ll likely find yourself falling behind. And once that happens, you may start to get discouraged and think you can’t do this. But you can! You just have to make sure you create goals that fit into your life–even if your book takes a little longer to complete than you’d like. 

For more on setting manageable writing goals, check out this post

6) Set quantitative goals

Additionally, when it comes time to set goals, focus on setting quantitative goals, not qualitative ones for a first draft. Like we talked about earlier, the main goal of a first draft is simply to finish. Don’t let yourself get caught up in getting a specific scene right or nailing a chapter. Worrying about quality at this stage holds you back. Instead, set a goal you can measure numerically. I’m a fan of word count goals, but if you’d rather do page count or something else, that’s fine too! When you hit your numeric goal, let that be your win for the day, even if what you wrote is terrible. 

7) Commit to your goals and plans 

Now that you have your plans and goals, it’s important to commit to them! If you don’t commit, your book will never be more than an idea in your head. It will always be something you wished you could write. Committing is what will make your goals a reality. For more on how to commit to your writing, check out this post

8) Write when you don’t feel like it

If you’ve committed to your plans, that means showing up when you don’t feel like it. That means turning down fun things so you can get your writing in. It means putting the time in even when you know your story isn’t working and you’re probably going to have to rewrite and revise. Your goal is to get to the end. If you planned to write, show up and do something that gets you closer to that goal, even if you don’t feel like it.

9) But take time off when you need it

I know, I know. I just said to make sure you don’t slack off. But if you genuinely need a break, it’s okay to take one. Burn out is no joke and if you feel like you’re well and truly fried, you’re better off taking a day or two away, even if you planned to be writing. This is the difference between taking a genuine sick day and playing hooky. It’s important to take care of yourself. You will not reach the end if you’re brain is too fried to put a sentence together.

For more on this, check out these tips on taking care of your writing brain, and things you can do when you’re too drained to write.

10) Get a support system, but be selective

It’s a good idea to have people who can encourage and support you throughout this process. They can be other writers, but they don’t have to be. You really want people who love stories, creating, and believe you can do this. However, be selective about who you trust. There’s a reason the first point in this post is about ignoring doubters. Be sure you’re entrusting your dreams and goals with people who will build you up. You don’t have time for negativity.

For more on how to find these people, check out the post on finding the right early readers for you book. You can apply a similar principle here.

11) Leave placeholders for revision

As you draft, you may come across details that you didn’t think to develop or whole scenes that you know need to happen, but just can’t figure out how to execute. Don’t let those things hold you up. The goal of a first draft is to have a complete book–as in, you want to have a beginning, middle, and end. There’s nothing that says every scene and element needs to be in place. If you’re really struggling with a transition scene, it’s okay to write [ADD TRANSITION SCENE HERE!!!] and move on. 

Similarly, don’t let the fact that you forgot to come up with a character’s last name or some other small detail slow you down. You can just write LASTNAME for now and drop the details in later.

12) Don’t rewrite as you draft

You may write some scenes that you know are terrible as you’re writing them. Or you may figure out a key plot point halfway through the book that will mean a handful of scenes you already wrote don’t work anymore. I would advise against going back and rewriting before you finish the draft. There will always be things that needs to be fixed in a first draft. If you stop moving forward to fix every problem that reveals itself, it will take you forever to finish (if you ever finish at all). Instead, keep a notebook or a blank word document open on your computer and make note of the changes you want to make. This way, you’ll be sure you won’t forget the change, but you won’t stop your progress.

13) Celebrate small victories

Writing a book is a long process and, like we’ve covered, first drafts are typically a hot mess. That means you need to find your wins wherever you can. Celebrate every day you show up and meet your goals. Celebrate every week. And celebrate every milestone–making it to 10,000 words is a big deal. Making it to 100 pages is a big deal. Do something to appreciate and reward yourself. Then get back to work and start aiming for the next goal and milestone. This will help keep you going.

14) Remember why you started

If you find yourself struggling to stay motivated, remember why you started this. Remember the excitement you felt that brought you down this path. Remember how it feels when your story is really fun to write. If you felt those things once, you will feel them again. But that will only happen if you keep writing.

Which brings us to the last point:

15) Don’t. Give. Up!

If a completed and/or published book is something you really want, don’t let yourself get discouraged by the time it takes, the quality of your first draft, or the people who say you can’t do this. I promise you, every published author has been in the same place. They persevered. You can too.

I hope these tips help you get your first draft down!

Now it’s your turn: What do you struggle with when you write your first drafts? What helps you power through? Tell me about it in the comments!

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My Writing Process – Part 3: Drafting

My Writing Process Part 3: DraftingWelcome to Part 3 of My Writing Process series! In this series, I break down my writing process and share what I’ve found works best for me in the hopes that some of my process might help you too! (Missed the first two parts? Find them here: Part 1 – Brainstorming, Part 2 – Outlining.) At this point in the process, I’ve thought and I’ve planned, and I’m pretty sure I know exactly what I’m going to write. Which means it’s time to start drafting! I consider the construction of the first two drafts to be my “drafting” phase. Let’s take a look at what they entail!

Draft One

Set project and daily word count goals

At this point, through trial and error, I’ve come to learn what my general goals should be for a first draft. Typically, I shoot for a 60,000 word count draft goal. I tend to underwrite my early drafts, so while my finished books have been between 80k-100k, they’ve all started with 60k first drafts. If you’re someone who overwrites, you might want to shoot higher and be prepared to cut. Publishers like most novels to fall between 70k-100k (with exceptions, of course), but there’s no “right” number for a first draft. It really comes down to your writing style and how much or little details you like to write while you figure out your story.

The daily goal is dependent on the book. If I’m writing a book that’s more fast-paced, I tend to write quicker and move from scene to scene pretty easily, so in those cases, I start with a higher goal. But if the book seems a little more methodical, I tend to write slower, so a lower word count goal makes more sense. Typically, my daily goal is usually 2,500-3,000 words a day, and that’s something else I’ve figured out through trial and error. As a writer, my goal is to write as much as I can each session without killing myself. Any more than this and I feel fried and even a little burnt out.

Create a writing schedule

Once I know my goals, I get a calendar and plan exactly when I’m going to write. Typically I write 2-3 hours a day, 5 days a week, so a draft can take me anywhere from a month to six weeks. Again, this is something I figured out through trial and error. I tried being a writer who writes every day and I burned out pretty quickly. Even writing less, but writing every day, didn’t work for me. I need a few days where my brain can turn off and completely reset, so I take weekends off as much as possible. I’ve learned I can do a six day writing week if I have to, but five days a week is my ideal.

Daily drafting

I do my drafting in Scrivener, but any word processor or notebook will work! Some people draft best if they write slowly and take breaks. I’ve found I draft best when I draft fast and messy, and if I let myself get totally locked in and power through my session. My only concern for a first draft is to follow my outline and to meet my word count goal. Nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter if the writing is bad or scenes don’t completely make sense, or if I lose a character or contradict myself. I’ll fix it later.

To keep me from overthinking, I try to plan my days to the minute when I’m drafting. This limits my writing time so I don’t have any extra time to think too much. If at the end of the day, I reach my word count goal and moved my outline along, I’ve had a good day, regardless of the quality of my writing or the book as a whole.

It’s also worth noting, that I started writing on the clock when I tried writing “out.” So if you want to learn more about the benefits of writing “out,” I’ve got a post for that too! And for more on drafting on the clock, check out this post.

Dealing with issues

Since I’m prioritizing quantity over quality, there are A LOT of issues that come up as I write. The most important thing about a first draft is that it gets finished. Because of that, I don’t want to stop to writing to fix every problem that springs up. Instead, I keep a notebook next to me and jot down all the problems I find as I write. This way, I can keep moving forward without worrying I’ll forget what I need to fix later. As long as an issue doesn’t prevent me from moving forward, I keep working.

If I figure something out that does significantly change the course of the rest of the book, or if what I’m writing feels so wrong that pushing through is truly painful, then I will stop, re-outline, and create a new schedule. Typically, this happens pretty rarely thanks to my outlining, but it does come up from time to time.

Take a break

After I finish my first draft, I try to take about a week away from the story to clear my head and give me a fresh perspective. If I don’t feel fried, I’ll work on another project (learn more about a creative shift here), but if I do feel fried, I take a complete writing break and catch up on some TV or do something else that doesn’t overtax my brain.

Draft Two

Read the last draft (or not)

I usually don’t share my first drafts with anyone, largely because I don’t need help or feedback yet. At this point, thanks to my own notes, I have a good enough idea of what I need to do, that I don’t need anyone else to weigh in. Sometimes, I’ll read the first draft and take more notes about the changes I want to make. Other times, if the book really felt like a total disaster while writing it and I know I’m going in a very different direction, I won’t bother reading it. I’ll go right into prepping the next draft.

Brainstorm and outline

Once I have my notes and changes, I go back through and brainstorm and outline just like I did for the first draft.

Open a blank document

Because I drafted so quickly, I change A LOT between my first and second drafts. So much so that I’ve found the best thing I can do for myself is to retype the second draft in a blank document. I’ve found that because I change so much, it’s easier to start with a blank page than try to squeeze changes into the terrible draft I have. I don’t get rid of the first draft entirely. I print it out and keep it next to me so I have easy access to the good stuff, but I retype everything–even the stuff I plan to keep.

Sometimes, I will completely trash the draft altogether if I’m changing it that much, but often times, I’ll end up retyping at least half the draft. It sounds a little unconventional, but approaching my second drafts this way really opened up my writing process. I did a whole post about this technique, so if you want to learn more, check it out here!

Draft again

Then, I start drafting again. I follow the same approach as the first draft. Typically by this point, I have a better understanding of my story and my world, which means there are more aspects I want to explore. Because of that, I usually increase my word count goal to 70k. I also may give myself a little extra time each day. Now that I have a better idea of the story, I try a little harder to write the story I envision. There’s still a fair amount that I will need to fix later, but I try to be a little more purposeful with what I’m writing this time around. Other than that, my approach stays the same.

Share with Readers

When I finish this draft I still have another list of notes of changes I want to make, but usually by this point, my story is developed enough that I’m ready for other people’s input. I send my book to anywhere from 1-3 people I feel like I can trust to see what I want this story to be, and who can help me get it closer to my vision. It’s important for me to have people I can talk things out with and bounce ideas off of, so my early readers are essential to my process. If you want more on this, I have a whole series on feedback you can check out. Here’s the first post.

That’s how I approach drafting! I hope this helps with your process!

You can catch Part Four: Revision here!

Now it’s your turn: How do you draft? What do you struggle with when you draft? What helps you keep at it? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Why Typing Second Drafts from Scratch is Helpful

why typing your second drafts from scratch is helpfulI’ve taken A LOT of writing classes in my life and I’ve only had two bad ones. Yet, I got one very valuable lesson out of each of those less-than-awesome classes. One of those classes introduced me to the idea of typing my second drafts completely from scratch.

I’ll admit, I was super skeptical of this approach. Typing a first draft always felt like a lot of work. The prospect of starting with another blank page was in no way appealing. But I happened to be struggling with a second draft at the time and figured it couldn’t hurt to try. So I did. And let me tell you, it totally opened up my entire drafting/revision process.

Here are five ways starting my second drafts from scratch has helped me (and how it may help you too):

1) It’s like drafting with a safety net

Just because I write my second drafts from scratch doesn’t mean I trash the first draft. In fact, I actually print my first draft out and keep it next to me the entire time. I refer to it, and if there are scenes or chapters I want to include I retype them (and often write them better).

When you write a first draft, you have nothing. Maybe an outline, if you’re an outliner, but that’s it. But if you type your second draft from scratch, you can write with the reckless abandon of a first draft while having scenes and chapters as a safety net to add and modify as needed.

2) My first drafts are really messy

I have always been a fast and messy drafter. My first drafts are complete and total disasters! I often say my first draft is a lot more about learning what my story isn’t than what my story is. In a lot of ways, my second drafts feel like a second crack at the first draft (if that makes any sense). This process tends to go a lot quicker on a blank page without the old stuff in the way. Beyond that, even if I am keeping a scene or chapter from my first draft, I’m able to clean it up a lot as I retype it.

4) It helps me identify scenes, chapters, and storylines that need to go

Because my first drafts are so messy, there’s a lot that isn’t working, and there’s a lot that I need to let go of. But sometimes, identifying those things can be hard. Before I started this approach, I wasted a lot of time trying to fix boring or out of place scenes. I thought if I revised them correctly, they wouldn’t be boring or out of place. This, however, isn’t always true. Sometimes a scene is boring because it doesn’t belong. Personally, I often get really excited about what I’m writing–even if I know there are things I have to fix. I LOVE experiencing my story with my characters. When I started retyping my second drafts I found there were some scenes that I dreaded having to experience again because they just weren’t all that interesting. This became a very obvious early sign that a scene doesn’t belong and isn’t worth my time. Now, if I get to a scene that I’m not excited to retype and re-experience, it gets tossed or significantly modified.

3) It’s easier to let go of what isn’t working

Sometimes, I was aware that a scene wasn’t worth fixing, but letting it go was hard. In fact, I used to STRUGGLE to fix scenes and chapters that I knew really needed to be trashed because the idea of deleting them was just that painful. (Perhaps you know the feeling?) But when I type my second drafts from scratch, it’s so much easier to let that stuff go because it means I don’t have to retype it! Rewriting and adding a new scene or chapter becomes a refreshing change of pace. And I don’t have to touch the delete button once!

5) It’s a little like packing a suitcase

I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I pack for a big trip, it takes me two tries to get everything in my suitcase. The first try usually gives me a better sense of just how much space everything will take up and how it fits together. Then the second try, I have a better understanding of what will fit, what won’t, and the best way to position it all so the important stuff makes it. It also forces me to take a hard look at what I’m bringing and leave the stuff I can live without. I’ve often thought of my first and second drafts like this.

My first drafts give me time with my characters, plot, and world. It also exposes the characters and plot points I don’t actually need, and helps me understand how the ones I do can fit together a little better. Retyping my second draft is a lot like emptying my suitcase and giving myself a clean slate so everything can fit a little better.

I hope this helps you see why typing second drafts from scratch might be helpful!

Now it’s your turn: Have you ever tried retyping your second drafts? Or does it seem way too intimidating? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Writing Tips: What to Do When You Finish the First Draft

I was incredibly excited after I finished my first first draft! I still remember texting my friend up at midnight to see if she was up because I had to tell someone! But I also remember having no idea what to do next. I had put so much energy into writing and the only thing I was concerned about was finishing the draft. I hadn’t let myself think past that point. And once I accomplished that goal, I didn’t know what the next steps should be.

That was nearly twelve years ago. I know a lot more about the process now, so I wanted to share what I’ve learned for anyone who may have a first draft they have no idea what to do with. Here are seven things you can do after every first draft:

1) Celebrate

Always take time to celebrate what you’ve accomplished. So many people talk about “writing a book someday” and never actually make it happen. But you did! It doesn’t matter if it’s your first book or your twentieth, it’s always incredible. For right now, it doesn’t matter if your book is a hot mess. It doesn’t matter if like it or not, or if it’s even any good. You wrote a book! Do something to celebrate that!! It doesn’t matter if that celebration looks like a dinner out with your family or an uninterrupted weekend of nothing but Netflix binging. Do whatever will make you happy to mark this accomplishment!

2) Take Time Away

Before you take a look at your draft, give yourself time away from it. You’ve spent a lot of time caught up with your characters and your world. In order to be able to accurately access your story, you need time away. This will help you clear your head of any expectations and misconceptions that you may have developed about your story as you were writing it and return with fresh eyes. How much time you take is up to you, but I would suggest at least a week, then adding on as needed. And if you feel like you need something creative to occupy your brain, you may want to start playing around with a new idea. Just keep it light and playful. Your brain is still in recovery mode.

3) Read and take notes

Once you’ve taken some time away, it’s finally time to see what you’ve got. Give your book a read through! I recommend printing your book out if you can. There are two benefits to this. First, it will help you have a more tangible idea of all the work you’ve done. You likely wrote hundreds of pages–holding that and knowing you wrote that much is a powerful motivator in and of itself. Second, it helps you give your project a fresh perspective. If you’ve only ever seen your project on a computer screen, it will look different printed out, which helps you see your work in a new light.

While you read, try not to get hung up on rewriting and making changes as you come across them. You need to see your project as a whole before you can really know what you have. So instead of actually making the changes, just take notes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made a note and found I actually addressed the problem in a later chapter. It would have been such a waste to rewrite when I could just relocate a scene instead.

4) Assess problem areas

The biggest first draft issues tend to be plot, character, and world building. These are often central elements of a story, so you should put your attention there first. Again, before you start making changes, simply assess the problems. Are your characters consistent? Or does one of them go from a comic relief sidekick to serious brooder for no real reason? Are your plotlines balanced, and do they make it all the way through the book? Or does one of them disappear halfway through? Do we have a good understanding of the world you’ve created and how it impacts the events in your story? Take note of all of this an figure out what isn’t working.

Grammar, spelling, and typographical errors are so not important right now. There’s no sense fixing the grammar in a scene you may end up rewriting or cutting. For more on how to figure out what’s wrong with your book, check out this post.

5) Maybe get an early reader

If you’re having trouble figuring out what isn’t working, you may want to get an early reader. I tend to have a good idea of what I don’t like about my books at this point, so I don’t seek out a new perspective until after the second draft, but that may not work for you. If you’re struggling to either identify your book’s problems or come up with solutions, find someone who can help you. For some tips on how to find the right early reader for your book, check out this post.

6) Brainstorm solutions and make a revision plan

Once you know what your book’s problems are, it’s time to start making a plan to fix it. Even if you’re not a planner, I would suggest giving planning and outlining a shot at this stage. Get a blank sheet of paper and start with the problem, then brainstorm every possible solution and direction your story can take. If you have that inconsistent character point four of this post, consider what the book will be like if they were serious the whole time. Then consider what it would like if they were the comic relief the whole time. You may not have to do this for every single issue, but if you’re struggling or the problem is a big one, considering all angles can be a big help.

Then once you know how you want to fix the problem, go chapter by chapter and come up with a plan of action for how you’re going to weave that solution through your story. For more on how to create a revision plan, check out this post.

7) Get back to work and start revising!

Now it’s time to get back to work! That book isn’t going to revise itself and you put too much time into it not to see this through to the end. You’ve got this!!

I hope that helps give you an idea what to do after you finish your first draft!

Now it’s your turn: If you’ve finished a first draft, what’s the first thing you do (after you celebrate)? If you haven’t, what’s one thing you’re really looking forward to doing? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Create a Writing Process that Works: Drafting

How to create a writing process that works: draftingWelcome to part two of the Create Your Writing Process series! (ICYMI: In order to help you discover your own process, I created a writing process series with tips for developing a process that works best for you!) Today we’re going to talk about drafting. You can find the post on brainstorming here! Keep an eye on in the coming weeks for a post on revision and editing.

Drafting is obviously one of the first biggest challenges in finishing a book. You will never get published or reach any kind of writing goal if you can’t finish your project. Drafting can also be really hard. It’s the worst your book will ever be and it can be challenging to keep writing when you feel like you can do better. But you need to keep writing, and I’ve learned it’s a lot easier to do that when you figure out a drafting process that works best for you. In fact, once you do, drafting can get a lot more manageable and even be fun!

Here are some tips to help you figure out how you draft best!

Brainstorm or not to brainstorm

First, decide if you should brainstorm before you draft. I’ve found that brainstorming is really helpful for people who have a hard time thinking about their story and writing their story at the same time. For more on this, check out the brainstorming post from this series!

Speed options

I think there are typically two main schools of thought when it comes to how quickly a draft gets done: fast and reckless or slow and methodical. (But of course, you may fall somewhere in between.) Drafting quickly tends to mean writing carelessly. There will be gaping plot holes, characters that randomly appear or disappear halfway through, and details that you just can’t seem to keep straight. Quick drafts are the very definition of a shitty first draft. You’ll likely have a TON of work to do in revision before the book is in any kind of condition to be read. But you also won’t really know your story’s strengths and weaknesses until it’s complete. Drafting quickly means you’ll have a finished book to work with ASAP. The sooner you get a draft down, the sooner you can get to work on assessing your books problems and creating solutions.

Drafting slower and more methodically means you think a lot more about your book ask your write it. You may do half or even a quarter of the daily work the quick drafter does, but hopefully being more purposeful will mean you need less revision.

Goal options

Should you set a daily word count goal? Or should you set aside a set amount of writing time and track how much work you get done within that time? Ultimately, it depends on what motivates you and what frustrates/discourages you. If setting a daily quantifiable goal will keep you going and give you a sense of accomplishment, then daily word count may best for yours. Daily word count goals keep your book moving forward at a consistent pace. There’s also a great sense of accomplishment in knowing you’re getting closer to a book-length product, regardless of the quality of the writing.

On the other hand, if you find that word counts are meaningless if you hate what you’ve written, then you might be better off ignoring your word count and instead focusing on setting time aside to move your book forward in a positive way every day. But be careful with this approach. If you get too caught up in writing well while you’re drafting, it might be easy to quit if you’re not liking what you’re writing. Focus on moving your story forward, but do everything you can not to edit what you while you draft.

With both of these options, the key is commitment. Commit to writing the number of words you say you will, or commit to working the amount of time you say you’re going to work.

Sequentially or Out of order?

This one is pretty straightforward. If you’re someone who drafts sequentially, you write your book in order; so, chapter one, then chapter two, then chapter three. If you write out of order, you might hop around and write scenes or chapters from any part of the book as you see them in your head. Writing sequentially allows you to build momentum within your story as you write. Writing out of order allows you to write your book as it comes to you, so you don’t get hung up on “what comes next.” This really comes down to how your mind works best. The more logical you are, the more sequentially will probably work for you and the more abstract you are, the more it may help to write out of order. When it doubt, give both a try and see what works better!

How I learned what works for me

For a long time, I thought I was a methodical drafter. I would set hours aside and work with no thought toward word count or speed. And while I did tend to write quickly when I knew where my book was headed, it wasn’t my goal. My only concern was moving my story forward and enjoying what I was writing. It took me years to complete books, but I was typically pretty happy with the drafts I completed. Then I started my MFA program. My first class was, essentially, an extended NaNoWriMo. The number one goal of the class was to leave at the end of the semester with a completed draft of a book. I had to learn to write quickly and I had to be aware of my word count. Ultimately, I found it to be one of the most freeing experiences of my writing life.

I learned that the quicker I write, the less time I have to focus on what isn’t working and the more I have to pay attention to what is. And because of that, I’ve found that it’s easier to enjoy drafting. And since I spent two books drafting fairly slowly prior to this, I learned that my quicker drafts weren’t all that much worse than my slower drafts, but drafting quicker means I get to revision as soon as possible.

Some tips to help you find what works for you

Like I’ve said in the past, try everything at least once. Consider committing to NaNoWriMo, or at least the idea of writing a book in a month–even if you don’t wait until November to make it official. Then if that really doesn’t work for you, abandon this approach and try working slower. Then try setting a word count goal and don’t call it a day until you meet it. If that’s really frustrating or stresses you out, switch it up and try to focus on setting time aside for your writing projects.

You should definitely experiment with different combinations, but if you’re looking for a place to start, here’s something I’ve noticed. People who outline tend to do better drafting quickly with daily word count goals, and people who don’t outline tend to be slower, methodical drafters who do better setting time aside to get the work done. Neither of these approaches may be true for you, but if you try them both out, you can play around with until you find the right combination.

I hope this helps you create a drafting process that works for you!

You can find Part Three: Revision here!

Now it’s your turn: Do you draft better slowly or quickly? Do you set word count goals or make time commitments? How did you learn what works best for you? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Stop Editing While You Write: 5 Great Writing Tips

Stop Editing While You WriteThe mantra for every writer in the first or early drafting stages should be, “I’ll fix it later.”  It can be a challenge to keep that in mind, but it’s SO important. If you’re editing while you write, you’re ultimately getting in your own way. It’s hard to edit a book in progress because you don’t really know what you have yet. You won’t know until you finish your draft. Every time you stop writing to edit, you’re putting yourself farther from the finish line.

For the purposes of this post, I’m considering “editing” to mean both fixing language/grammar/sentence structure and more substantial plot changes. Basically, anything that you might stop writing to fix.

Here are five tips to help you stop editing while you write:

1) Make a list of problems

This is something I rely heavily on. In the past, one of my biggest excuses to stop writing and edit was, “I need to fix it before I forget.” But every time I went back to fix something it kept me from moving forward. Instead, I keep a running list of problems so I know what I need to check in on later. I keep bigger, overarching issues in a page on my notebook and more scene or chapter specific issues in the notes section in Scrivener. (If you’re in Word, the comments feature can also help with this.) This way I only stop long enough to jot down some notes, then I get right back to my word count.

2) For big changes, pretend you already made them and keep writing

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You’re moving through your books, hitting your word count, then out of the blue, you have a revelation about your project. And it’s a MAJOR revelation. One that completely changes the direction of your story. Since this revelation is so big, it would be easy to think you need to stop writing, go back, and put the changes in before continuing. But you don’t. You need to keep moving forward. Like the point above, all you have to do is take a time out and make notes about the changes you want to make. Then you keep writing as if you’ve already made them. Save changing previous writing for after you’ve finished drafting. If you don’t, it can become a domino effect. Once you make one big change, it won’t be long until you start making others. Keep your eyes on the prize and get to the old stuff later!

3) Remind yourself that it’s supposed to be bad

It’s amazing what changing your way of thinking can do for your writing. I think one reason a lot of writers have a hard time not editing is that we get too focused on the end result. When a book’s in its early stages, it is at its worst, so it can be easy to get hung up on how bad it is. One idea that really helps me manage this is to remember that it’s supposed to be bad right now. It’s not called the writing “process” just because it sounds good. It’s actually a process. Your work needs to be bad before it can be good. So, if you’re in your first or second draft and your book is a hot mess/bad/the-worst-thing-ever-written, then CONGRATULATIONS! You’re doing a good job!! Try to remember that!

Once I got used to the idea that in early drafting bad writing=a good job, it became a lot easier to accept and move forward. For more tips on this subject area, I have a whole post on embracing imperfection in your writing.

4) Write each day’s work in a separate document

Or, you can do each chapter/scene if you’d think that’d be best. The ultimate goal here is to put less of your work on your screen at once. There are two ways this can help.

First, sometimes it can be easier to fall into editing when you get stuck drafting. And then you might think, “Well, let me go fix some of the old stuff, so at least I’m doing something.” And the next thing you know, you’re editing everything and not moving your project forward. (Or maybe this is just me?) As much as this may feel like progress, it’s not. At least, not at this stage. It’s actually keeping you from finishing your book, which is a problem.

Second, it can also be hard to move on when you feel like what you’ve written so far could be so much better. And if you’re having a hard time with Tip #3, simply taking the work off your screen might be the way to go. The less previously written work you have access to, the harder it will be to edit.

5) Write on the clock

I did a post a couple of weeks ago that touched on the benefits of writing on the clock and how I use this technique. The idea is you set a reasonable writing goal to meet in a given amount of time. As I mentioned in that post, one reason why I love this approach is that it focuses on quantity, not quality, which is important in the drafting stage. It also makes it easier to push on and get your words down without editing while you write because you simply don’t have time for anything else.

I hope this helps you stop editing while you write!

If you’re looking for more tips like this, you might want to check out this post: 6 Tips for Finishing Your First Draft.

Now it’s your turn: Have you caught yourself editing while you write? If you have, how do you manage it? If you haven’t, what tips can you share? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Draft Faster by Timing Your Writing: Writing Tips

Draft Better by Timing Your WritingStaying on task and motivated to write can be a struggle–especially when you’re in the thick of the drafting process. One thing that has been revolutionary for me when I draft is writing on the clock. It keeps me focused on production not quality, which is vital at this stage of a book.

I’ve seen a couple different versions of this method. The more popular one is to set a timer and commit to working non-stop until the timer goes off. You control how much time you set, but if you’re looking for a guideline, maybe start with 30 minutes. Here’s an online timer if you need one.

This approach may work for a lot of people–including you–but it wasn’t enough to keep me motivated. I needed to see some sign of success in order to keep going. I’m a goal-oriented person, so it isn’t enough for me to just have dedicated writing time. I need to be working for something. So instead of just writing with a timer, I add some word count goal-oriented checkpoints along the way. This helps me keep my draft moving.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Make a realistic estimate

First, I make sure I have enough time to meet my daily writing goal if I were to work virtually non-stop. If I don’t have enough time, I either adjust the goal or see if I can find more time later in the day. If you don’t know what’s realistic for you, you may have to set the timer and just write non-stop for half an hour to get a baseline.

This step is important! I honestly believe one of the keys to finishing any project–writing or otherwise–is to put yourself in positions where you won’t be discouraged. If you create goals that are too unrealistic for you to achieve in the time you have to work, it’s highly likely that you will get discouraged. Don’t do that to yourself. You are better off planning on taking more time to finish your book and actually finishing it, than getting overambitious, getting behind, and giving up.

Here are more tips for setting manageable goals, and why setting reasonable goals is important.

Adapt for your own writing window

Once I know how much I can accomplish in a half hour, I adapt that number to the window I have to fill. I typically write in two-to-three hour chunks. My half hour word count, when I work constantly, is about 600 words. My daily goal is typically around 2,500 words, so I know I need at least two hours to meet my goal. If I have less time, I need to consider cutting my goals back. If I have more time, I consider either cutting my time back or, if I have it in me, increasing my goal.

One thing I wouldn’t recommend is having way more time to write than you need to achieve your goals. This defeats the purpose of this approach. In my experience, it makes you more likely to take your time and maybe even wander off to the internet. The point is to stay focused, so don’t let yourself wander. Change your goals or writing window instead.

Create checkpoints within your window

I found that in order to keep my motivation up, the best thing I can do is to create checkpoints for myself throughout my window. You can create your checkpoints as frequently as you want, but I’ve found that the more frequent mine are, the more motivated and focused I am. So for me, I’m not just trying to write 600 words every half hour. I’m trying to write 100 words every five minutes.

Maybe you don’t need to break your goals down quite this much for your draft, but I find it helpful. It’s easier and less intimidating for me to think about writing 100 words every five minutes than 2,500 in two hours. It also keeps me from thinking I can spend five minutes scrolling the internet and “make it up later.” I can’t spend five minutes that way if I know I need to spend that time writing 100 words. Additionally, each time I meet a small goal it reminds me that I can do this and it fuels me to keep me going.

Learn your super-focused rate

You may not have this experience, but I found that once I learned to be regularly focused and on the clock, I could write even faster if I needed to. 600 words/half hour is my manageable goal. I know that if I work at a steady, but fairly calm rate, I can reach that goal without too much extra effort. It’s more about staying focused than anything else.

However, once I learned to stay focused, I found that if I’m really locked in and time is limited, I can write 900 words/half hour. I don’t like to do this often because I burn out, but learning to write on the clock has helped me see that I can write at this rate if I need to. It’s a nice card to have in my back pocket for days when time is tight.

Adapt as needed

Your days and life may be inconsistent at times. There may be aspects of this approach that just don’t work the way you need them to. When that happens, don’t be afraid to mix it up! See if you can nail down exactly what isn’t working and why, then modify to meet your needs. The ultimate goal is to get your closer to finishing your draft. Figuring out how you work best is a big part of making that happen! So definitely make a change if you need to.

I hope this helps you draft faster!

Now it’s your turn: Have you ever tried timing your writing? Does it help? What tricks help you get a draft down? Tell me about it in the comments. If you have any tips to share, you can leave them there as well!

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6 Awesome Writing Tips for Finishing Your First Draft

Six Tips for Finishing Your First DraftEvery part of the writing process has its own challenges, but when it comes to a first draft, finishing is often the biggest challenge. First drafts are the worst your book will ever be and sometimes it can be difficult to push through terrible writing and plot problems to make it to the end. However, I’ve found that with the right approach, you can push through and maybe even have some fun. Or at the very least, you may not completely hate the experience.

Here are six tips to help you push on and finish your first draft as painlessly as possible.

(Side note: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something using the product links on this page, I may get a small commission. This comes at no extra cost to you and helps keep this site running. Thank you!)

1) Take time to figure out how you draft best

I strongly believe that one of the keys to a happy writing life is figuring out your writing process. One step to cracking that code is uncovering out how you draft.

There tends to be two main approaches to drafting: planning and pantsing (as in, you fly by the seat of your pants). If you’ve only ever done one of these before, I encourage you to try the other. I think sometimes it can be really easy to get stuck in the approach you first learned or first tried. And while yes, that may very well be the approach that works best for you, I think it’s important to try both so you know for sure.

The first time I drafted a book I planned. I did this in part because I’d heard that’s what my favorite author did it and in part because it just seemed like a good idea. It worked for me and finished the draft like that. I also wrote my second book the same way. When I got to grad school, one of my first classes involved drafting a book in a semester. We used NaNoWriMo creator Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem! as our guide. Baty challenges writers not to plan their books before coming in. I had never written that way, but I gave it a try. Halfway through the semester I broke down and started planning because not planning was painful for me. But I’m glad I tried it. I learned I am most definitely a planner and knowing that shaped not only my drafting but also my revision and editing process.

So, give both approaches a shot. If you hate it and it’s painful, then, by all means, switch back. But it’s worth at least trying the opposite approach so you can know for sure what’s best for you.

2) Turn off your inner editor

This is another concept preached by No Plot? Not Problem. It can be the hardest to get past, but I found it to be crucial. For me, part of this was also accepting that there would be problems I could not fix and questions I didn’t know the answers to. Once I did, it completely opened up my drafting. If I couldn’t fix these problems or answer these questions, it meant I didn’t have to try. That freed up brainpower to focus on what I did know and gave me a roadmap for what I’d have to fix in revision. I found I was able to draft much more quickly and I’ve come to genuinely enjoy the process.

Like I said, I know getting to this place can be hard. If it helps, try thinking of your first draft as an extended brainstorm instead of a “draft”. The point isn’t to write well. It’s to discover the story. You don’t need to answer questions or fix problems. You need to learn what the questions and problems are. The flaws need to exist in their entirety so you can fully understand them. In fact, your story needs you to write a bad first draft so you can learn what your story needs to be a killer polished draft down the line. So if you think about it, trying to write a “good” first draft is actually a disservice to your story. Why would you want to hurt your story like that? 😉

3) Set manageable goals

I think one reason writers end up getting discouraged is that they set their writing goals too high. This usually comes in the form of a high page count, high word count, or planning an unrealistic amount of writing time. If you continually fail to meet your goals, it can be easy to feel like you’re “bad” at this and give up. In actuality, you may have just set bad goals. Instead, take a look at the amount of time you can feasibly dedicate to writing, and consider how much writing you can reasonably accomplish in that time. It’s okay if that number is small and it takes you a long time to finish a draft. The key is to set daily goals you can actually meet and keep show up until you reach “The End”.

If you’d like to know more about this, I did a whole post on How to Set Manageable Writing Goals.

4) Show up on a regular basis and protect your writing time

Consistency is key. Maybe you can’t write every day. Or maybe you can. It’s up to you to decide how much time you can realistically dedicate to writing, but make sure you can put that time inconsistently. The person who writes 500 words on a regular basis will finish their draft–regardless of how long it takes. The person who writes 5,000 words from time-to-time/whenever they can fit it in, most likely will not. Set time aside for your story. Even if it’s only 15 minutes every other day.

Now, once you set that time aside, protect it. People will ask to do things or go places with them. They will ask you for favors. Learning to say “no” is important (Find some tips here.). It might be easy to think of your writing time as “free time,” but it’s not. It’s time for your story, which is something you care about. Don’t undervalue yourself or your story by saying yes to others just because their needs seem more legitimate. If you don’t consider your story legitimate enough to prioritize, who else will? You can’t finish your draft if you don’t give yourself the time to get it done.

5) Only share with understanding and supportive people

I know there are a lot of writer’s out there who don’t share their work with anyone until it is absolutely polished and perfect. Personally, I find sharing as I move through the entire process to be invaluable. But I don’t think that means you should share with just anyone. The quickest way to kill your aspirations is to talk about your project with people who either don’t get it or don’t believe in you. Any idea in the drafting stage is still new and undeveloped. If you share it with the wrong person and they poke holes and point out problems, it can be hard to push on. When an idea is this new, you don’t need to hear what’s wrong with it. You need to hear about its potential. Only discuss your story with those who can see what your story could be.

6) Don’t use being “too busy” as an excuse not to write

If you’re constantly looking for a large stretch of time to sit down and really dig into your draft, you may never make it to the end. Even if you come up with that time, you might also find that it’s easy to either procrastinate or overthink under those circumstances. Instead, write when you’re busy and try to use it to your advantage.

This is another point Baty argues. He says that you will write faster and have an easier time turning off your inner editor if you write when you’re short on time. I have found this to be absolutely true. When I have a busier day, it means my writing time is limited. That also means that I have a very small window to be productive. I don’t have a minute of that window to waste if I have any hope of reaching my goals. Because of that, I don’t have time to overthink or second guess. I just have to GO. Typically, I plan two to three hours a day to write. But when I have to, I can do the same work in an hour and ten minutes. Sometimes even faster.

When it comes to drafting, productivity and output are more important than quality. Working when you’re limited on time forces you to focus on that.

Recommended Reading:

I’ve mentioned No Plot? No Problem by Chris Baty a few times in this post. If you’re struggling with drafting, I highly recommend giving this book a read. Thanks to this book, I totally changed how I approached my drafts and it made the process so much more fun.

I hope you’ve found something in here that helps you finish your first draft!

Now it’s your turn: What tricks have helped you draft? What’s been a drafting struggle? Let me know in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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5 Awesome Writing Tips for Writing Your First Book

Five Tips for WRiting Your first bookThe idea of writing your first book can be seriously intimidating. Maybe even intimidating enough to make you stop before you start. In my experience, a lot of that overwhelm comes from focusing on too much at once–especially for the first draft of your first novel. The reality is, there’s A LOT you shouldn’t be focused on at this stage. To help you get away from some of those sources of intimidation, I put together my top five things you don’t need to worry about.

So with that in mind, here are five things NOT to do:

1) Don’t focus on the end result 

The big picture concept of A Finished Novel (and all of the work it would take to make that happen) can be one of the more intimidating hurdles to get passed. The whole idea gets so much more manageable if you keep your focus on what you can reasonably accomplish within a single day. If you can write 100 words, do that. If you can write 500, go for it. Be reasonable and focus on today’s task only. It may not seem like much now, but every word you write gets you a step closer to completing your book.

2) Don’t focus on how long writing your first novel will take

There’s a quote by Earl Nightingale that I love: “Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.”

I think this is particularly true with writing a book. It’s a massive undertaking and it will most definitely take time. It might very well take years. But seriously, so what? So what if it does take years? If this is something you want to do, why does it matter how long it will take?

Even if you only write for fifteen minutes a day on your lunch break and it takes you two years to finish a draft, you’ll have a finished draft in two years! Those two years are going to pass whether you’re writing your book or not. If writing a book is something you’ve always wanted to do, not writing isn’t going to get you closer to that goal. Writing for fifteen minutes a day will. And if you start today, you’ll be one day closer to the finish line.

3) Don’t try to make your first book perfect

I get it. Staring at the blinking cursor when you have a story to tell can be daunting. You want to make sure you’re picking the right words and saying exactly what you mean.  But those expectations are enough to hold you back when you’re writing your first novel. I challenge you to give yourself permission to be imperfect and just start writing. Put your characters on the page and let them run. Have fun with your story. Your only concern at this point should be to put words on the page. They don’t have to be the “right” words. You can find those later. (For more on this, I’ve got a whole post on Why Writers Should Embrace Imperfection in Writing.)

And while you’re at it, don’t feel like a chapter has to be perfect for you to move on. Your only goal of a first draft is to finish it. Don’t let yourself fixate too much on what you’ve already written. Once you finish a chapter move on to the next. If you don’t like a chapter or section, make note of it somewhere, but don’t try to fix it now. That’s a revision problem, not a drafting problem.

4) Don’t think of your readers

Another super intimidating element of writing is the idea of someone actually reading what you write. Your readers should certainly be considered and there will be time for them down the road. But now is not that time. Now is the time to be selfish. Think about yourself. Don’t write to be read, write to be happy. Write to tell yourself a story you want to experience. Odds are, if it’s a story you want to experience, there will be readers out there who like the same things you do and who will love to read it. But don’t worry about them now. Worry about yourself. Write for you. Write to be happy.

5) Don’t put pressure on your first book

It can be hard to get started if you’ve decided you need to write the next Harry Potter or Girl on the Train. You may start writing, read over what you’ve written, decide it’s not either of those stories, then delete it all and try again another day (or not).

Not only does that make it difficult to write, but it’s also squashing your voice. I would argue that the highest compliment isn’t to have your work compared to anyone else but to create work that others are compared to. In order to make that happen, you first have to let your voice exist on the page. So allow yourself to write with no pressure or expectations.  Write the story your heart is begging you to tell. It doesn’t have to be anything while you’re writing it. It just has to get written.

Bonus tip: Repeat regularly and build a habit.

Books get written when writers show up at their computers or notebooks on a regular basis. It doesn’t matter how bite-sized your daily goals are or how limited your time frame is. It’s all progress, and progress adds up. So start writing your book today. The sooner you type those first words, the sooner you’ll reach THE END.

I hope this gets you writing!

Now it’s your turn: Got a tip that helps you start writing? Tell me all about it in the comments below. You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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