Editorial Assistance

The First Draft Race

*This is a post that I originally wrote for The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog before it went down and came back. I'm reposting the article here since it is no longer on the site.

Writing the first draft of a novel is like a race, except it matters less who is first and more who can pass the finish line.

Let's say there are fifty runners. Even before the race starts, one can predict the outcome. Fifteen people won't make it past the preliminaries. Thirty people will struggle through and stop at the first round. The remaining five people, though, will win.

It's usually those fifteen writers, and a couple of writers who stopped at the first round, that never rejoin the race. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Maybe they've realized writing isn't for them, and they can redirect their energy to something they can better excel at. However, there are a few dedicated troopers that just keep coming back. Sometimes they get closer; sometimes they don't advance at all, but they take a deep breath and try again. It's not that they don't genuinely want a completed first draft. They don't know how to get there.

This article is for those troopers.

I spent about two or three years constantly starting new novels. Ten-thousand words, if even that, was as far as I could get before my passion dissipated. Still, I wanted to be a 'real writer' with all my heart, and I was certain, even at the age of thirteen, that 'real writers' actually, y'know, finished stuff.

Things changed for the better when I stumbled upon five methods that both challenged me and kept my passion going. Here they are, in no particular order:

1.) Nanowrimo: National Novel Writing Month, or Nanowrimo, is a contest where your goal is to write fifty-thousand words or more from November 1st-30th. Nanowrimo is great for encouraging you to just write and write with no inhibitions. The forums are friendly and infomative; you have a deadline to hopefully stop you from procrastinating as much; it's easy to gather a support group that will follow you way after November. I didn't win Nanowrimo the year I participated, but I did reach twenty-thousand words. Hey, that's ten-thousand more than my usual word count at the time!

2.) Inspiration: Watch movies that make you think, "Wow, I want to make my readers feel this attached and awed." Listen to songs that fit your scenes. Read a book that totally moves you or frustrates you enough to want to do better. It's important to refrain from getting too lost in fantasies. This can easily lead to more dreaming and less doing, but it is important to surround yourself with inspirations. You develop a need to finish, to fulfill your dreams. Needing feels a lot more significant.

3.) Prompts/Experimentation: After Nanowrimo, I realized my real problem. I wasn't writing in the right genre. So, to figure out where I really belonged, I started the Practice Package. My goal was to write a short story/scene in every genre and see what story held on the tightest. After that, I took a long writing break to experiment with life.  And it worked. I'm suggesting that you write stories from prompts or write outside of your comfort zone or live differently for a while. Maybe you'll learn what is holding your muse back
4.) Edit Less: Are you a perfectionist who finds it necessary to stop every chapter, every scene, every paragraph, every sentence...to edit? I understand your anxiety. I was once that perfectionist, and I know too many aspiring writers who are that perfectionist. You know what I tell them? STOP EDITING! Or, at the very least, edit very minor things that won't take too much thinking. If you know you have to edit something that will take lots of time and energy, write a note and save it until you're finished with the entire novel. You finish the first draft. Editing happens in every draft afterward.

5.) Discuss/Theorize Less: Writers love their stories. We're excited to think and talk about our quirky characters, interesting settings, and amazing plot points. It's okay to spend hours upon hours developing your stories or ignoring everyone's groans when you absolutely must tell them the awesome thing Sally told Matthew, but make sure you're actually writing. Otherwise, you can fall into the trap of telling the story so much that, by the time you've sat down to write chapter one, you're no longer excited to see where the story takes you. That, my friend, is tragic.
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