This Business of Writing

How to Write Your First Draft

In General Information, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 24, 2010 at 5:50 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.


A wonderful mixture of accomplishment, hope, fantasy and desire comes over a writer when he completes his first draft. The problem, of course, is how to get that first draft penned and on paper. In this post, I hope to offer you some of the many tips and techniques available to assist you when you write your first draft.

1. Understand every writer has their unique methodology for writing a first draft and whatever works for you is what you should do. Try to find those tips that fit your personality and put them to good use.

2. The secret to your first draft is to get it done. I know that sounds obvious, but writing is a lot like college. It’s takes a long time, you often wonder if your investment will make any difference in your life and if you ever stop, it’s tough to get going again. The most onerous part of the process is to get that first draft on paper. Keep at it.

3. Understand the first draft of your novel may result in, and I’m being polite, garbage. In fact, though not necessarily true, your final draft may have little relation to the first. Don’t worry as the first draft is just that, your initial attempt to create your novel.

4. Many writers prefer to outline their story first. Some construct an extensive storyline with developed characters, plot arcs and all the rest. Others jot down a basic outline and get to work. Still others just sit down and write. Which of these methods calls to your personality?

5. It’s best if you choose your Point of View, or who tells the story, early in the process. Are you, the writer, also the narrator or might your hero tell the story? It’s much easier to edit later if this is determined before you get waist deep into your story.

6. It’s also to your advantage to understand your setting, or time and location of your novel, before you begin to write. It’s very difficult to write a story about a soldier in World War II then change the setting to the French Revolution. You may also wish to perform any necessary research on setting before you begin to write.

7. A general tip is to write your first draft with as much speed as you can. Type it if you’d like or freehand the thing if that works for you. It matters not, just get it down on paper. Think of your first draft as sort of a writer’s blitzkrieg, if you will. Move fast, ignore pockets of resistance and mop up later.

8. If you plan to perform your later edits on paper, you may wish to triple-space your first stab at the manuscript. This leaves more room for notes. Personally, I use MS Word so I insert “comments” during my editing process.

9. As you write your first draft, don’t worry so much about grammar and the like. You might even wish to turn off your grammar and spellcheckers as you write, then turn them back on when you edit.

10. Many writers, myself included, like to have a grasp of their ending before they begin. Many write the last chapter first. After all, how do you know what path your story will take if you don’t know where it’s going?

11. If you write mysteries or suspense novels, it may be a good idea to generate a story-logic list or an evidence list. This keeps those obscure details, motivations, and events you’ll not make obvious until the end of the story under better control.

12. Few writers have the discipline to write when they’re “in the mood,” so I advise you write every day. (I know, I know, I have children, too.)  Okay, I’ll change my advice to write on a schedule. If you only have one evening a week, set that evening aside. Establish an hours-long appointment on your calendar, complete with start and end times. Then adhere to your schedule. It’s a meeting with your characters and they require your attendance.

13. Fight every inclination to edit when you write your first draft. You’ll have these impulses and all they do is slow you down. Besides, the mere action of editing changes your mental perspective and reduces creativity. If you just can’t fight these impulses, turn off your computer screen as you type. That’ll solve the problem.

14. Some writers jump from chapter to chapter. As ideas come to them they write them down then mix and match later. Others create a written timeline of what events need to happen and when they need to occur. Again, what works for you, works for you.

15. Try to enjoy yourself. Let your imagination run rampant and your fingers fly over the keyboard. If something strikes your fancy, plug it in there. Later if the idea doesn’t fit, it’s not a problem as cut, paste and delete are our friends.

16. After you finish your first draft, set it aside to cool for a while. If you’ve not thought about it for a week, or better yet a month, errors will become more obvious to you when you do edit.

17. When you’ve completed your first draft, write the words, “The End.” They signify it’s time to celebrate. (See the first line of this article.) You’ll remove the words later but they do seem to have a dramatic effect on your mood when you finally pen them.

Many consider the first draft the worst part of writing a novel. I however, disagree. It is the single time in the entire process where your imagination is allowed to run unchecked and anything can happen.

Good luck and know I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”

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  1. I have violated #7 too long. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. It’s clear that there’s no right or wrong way. There’s no one formula for writing — which makes it fun. And you don’t have to be locked in to the way you wrote your first draft for your first book. Processes evolve along with your writing.

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