7 things to remember when writing a first draft

What may seem to be the easiest stage of the writing process is actually, arguably, the hardest. Exploring things to remember when writing the first draft…

In recent posts, we explored subjects such as where to look for inspiration and how to get started on writing a book. Now, we come to the first draft. The opening act, in a sense, of the practical writing process. Those who haven’t tried to write a book before might think this stage is easy as pie. Just bash out a load of words from beginning to end and you’re done. Wrong. It’s an arduous process, full of peaks and troughs, equal bursts of confidence and self-doubt. But, as is common in artists and creatives, a lot of it is just in our heads.

I’ve had my share of issues with my own work-in-progress, which is indeed in its first draft stage even now. I’ve even considered starting You Can Hear Chopin from the Attic from scratch midway through the process. Or just abandoning the project altogether to work on something else. To writers who may be struggling in a similar way, this list is for you. Things to remember while writing the first draft.

It’s not going to be perfect

This is the principle thing to remember in the first drafting process. Also an overarching point for those that follow, to be honest. When writing a first draft, you need to think of your story still as in the early stages of its life. It will be immature, riddled with mistakes and inconsistencies. If it was possible to write a perfect story in the first try, then everyone would be doing it. In other words, don’t contrive to make it perfect, or delude yourself into thinking it is perfect. In either case, it won’t be.

Don’t overthink the first draft

Following on from that, a massive reason for why a lot of aspiring authors give up on the first hurdle. They are too busy overthinking every plot point, every character detail, that they end up killing their story. Or, indeed, their love of writing it. As mentioned already, it’s an immature and imperfect fledgling of a story at this stage. So, let it. Obviously don’t deliberately make errors. But don’t stress too much over them right now.

It’s for your eyes only

A mistake I made a few years ago was giving a piece of a first draft to a friend to read. A friend, who, by the way, hadn’t written a book themselves. But their feedback was nonetheless brutal, and it put me off working on that particular project (even to this day). With this in mind, the first version of your work should just stay between you and you. It’ll fall to you to wheedle out the immediate inconsistencies in the first couple of read-throughs. And then you can give your manuscript to people with informed opinions (i.e., other writers) to read.

Don’t edit as you go

Again, this goes back to allowing the first draft to be imperfect. If you become conscious of a plot hole or something that doesn’t quite make sense midway through — leave it. Make a note of it somewhere (add a comment on the Word document or in the plan or something), to remind yourself to change it later. But don’t be tempted to go back and forth on yourself, or you will grind to a standstill. I refer back to my earlier point about overthinking and killing the love.

You’re going to repeat yourself

I remember when I was re-reading and re-drafting the Berylford Scandals books. In both instances, there were cases where the same dialogue (almost word-for-word) appeared in two or more different segments of the stories. And across both books, the same adjectives, the same verbs… words that at first seemed so profound and powerful, but then ended up making 10 or 20 appearances. Don’t worry about this either. You can explore your vocabulary and find new words later. As for repeated scenes and dialogue, it’ll be great fun in the editing process to see what can go in their place. It might take your plot or your characters in unforeseen directions, and may even improve the story as a whole (kinda the point of editing, really…)

Don’t be afraid to change direction

Whether you’re a massive planner or not, if a really good idea strikes you midway through writing, just run with it. If it’s as good as you think it is, you’ll keep it going until its natural end in the story, and you can rework the earlier content to fit it in the editing process. Whatever you do, don’t backtrack there and then. Main reason being, you may discover further down the line that that really good idea was actually pretty crap. Then you’ll have messed around with the earlier chapters for no reason. You may get annoyed and then abandon the project.

Just get the first draft down on paper

Really, all the above points boil down to this: MOMENTUM IS KEY. Think of the writing process like a shark. If it stops moving, it’ll die. Simple as. That’s why I’m advising things like leave any errors you become aware of. Don’t go back on yourself. Because it’s far more important to get the story, from start to finish, down on paper. You can play around with your vocabulary later. Reanalyse your characters and their actions in the redrafting process. There’s a time and a place to streamline everything, to tie up your loose threads, and so on. It’s called editing.

Thank you for reading. Is anything missing from this list? Get in touch via my Facebook and Instagram pagesAlso, read further posts out more about my latest novel, and stay up to date with my podcast.