Every fiction writer has their own creative process. Some writers outline the plot of their novel in minute detail, some vaguely, and some not at all. Some type frantically in the evening while watching the news and some hand-write their pages first thing in the morning before they have had time to wake up. Some writers start with characters. Some with plot. Some with setting. Some writers start with just a single scene. Some only have a vague idea of a theme. Writers write as best suits them. There is no wrong way to write. Well, except, there is.
The wrong way to write is not to finish your first draft. It sounds simple but it’s true. If you never finish your first draft, you will never finish your rewrites, or edits, or pitch to an agent or editor, or publish. The key to writing is simple. It sounds simple. Write the first draft but this is easier said than done. The first draft is such a difficult task that 99% of writers never take their manuscripts from idea to completion.
As a writer with a brand new idea, you start your new project with passion and inspiration but before you have finished the first chapter, your internal critic is already telling you to go back and fix that line, change a character’s name, change the point of view, and myriad other issues. Some writers suffer from this more than others. There you are, writing with gusto until you hear your internal critic whispering that you should work out all of the details about the sub-plot before you bother writing. You are wasting your time on this draft. Your internal critic wants perfection right from the first word. It also offers you rational excuses why you can’t write: you’re too tired, you don’t have time to write today, or you just are terrible and should give it up. I think probably all writers wrestle with their internal critic at some point in time. Turning off the internal critic is the key to getting completing your first draft. Here are some ways to help:
- Write when you are most creative. For some writers this is early in the morning when the house is quiet and they haven’t had coffee yet. For some writers this is in the evening when they are winding down from their day. Each person is different. Find that time when your ideas flow. Note the time when you come up with a story idea, or a plot fix, or a new character. You will eventually see a pattern that shows you the time of day that you are most creative. If it is at all possible, make this time of day your writing time. Set aside this time every day just to write.
- Separate yourself from distractions. Whatever time of day is your writing time, plan ahead to make it a distraction free time. Turn off your phone, don’t read your email, don’t look at the internet, put the cat in the other room. Do whatever is necessary to allow yourself to be in that creative writing state. If you are prone to distractions (like me) you will need to plan ahead.
- Write every day. Writing every day allows writing to become a habit and helps the creative parts of you to flourish because there is the expectation that you will be writing every day. Just write. Anything. Even if you are not working on your novel. Write a letter to a friend or journal, or free-write (just write words without thinking about them).
- When you write, don’t edit in any way. Don’t correct spelling, don’t rewrite sentences. Don’t change anything. These behaviors cue your internal critic that it should be paying attention to what you are doing. You want your internal critic to take a nap so you can finish your first draft. Just write. You can rewrite and edit after you have your first draft complete. If you change your story midway through the second act, just keep writing as if everything else if perfect. Make a note of the change and plan to fix your manuscript in your rewrite. This will help you move forward with your draft without becoming too judgmental about your project.
- Don’t stop writing to do research. This will get you off on a tangent and you will stop writing. You will be looking at the internet which is a distraction, or reading, or taking notes on what you read. Your internal critic will start telling you what to do with this new information. Your internal critic will keep you from writing. Make a note of what you need to research and keep writing.
- Take a deep breath. Allow yourself to write badly. It is okay. This is your first draft and it is supposed to be bad. Let it be bad. Just write.
For most writers getting through the first draft it is the most difficult part of writing because ideas are flying, the brain is whirling and story ideas are changing from moment to moment. Let these ideas come. Make notes and keep writing. Write the changes as if all is well everywhere else in your story and enjoy the process as much as possible. Keep writing every day, even if you only write one page each day because in a year’s time you will have written 365 pages. Not a bad effort at all.