Thursday, August 11, 2011

Things to Remember when Writing a First Draft

I've started a new project, and every time, it amazes me how it always feels scary. Overwhelming. Impossible even. I don't even know how many books I've written, published and unpublished, and still, here I am, doubting myself up, down and sideways.

I did get myself the screenwriting book SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder I've heard SO many authors talk about, and I have to say, I love it. He breaks down the making of a story in such an easy-to-understand way.

Yes, it's geared toward writing screenplays, but it easily transfers to writing novels as well. Want to know what makes a good catalyst moment? Want to know what strategies to use when it's time to give your readers a breather, and where that should happen? I could go on and on, but I won't. It's good. Period.

As I'm writing this draft, I'm reading the book every night, based on where I'm at with the draft, and keeping in mind what my purpose is for the very section I'm writing. It's been incredibly helpful.

Anyway, back to why I'm doing this blog post. :) I was thinking about the things that help me when I'm drafting a story, that I want to remember, and thought I'd share them. So here is my "Things to Remember When Writing a First Draft List," in no particular order.

1) Sometimes it is fun and sometimes it is not. I think we want it to be fun all the time, but it just won't be. There will always be hard parts. Fight your way through them, and don't let them win.

2) Free writing in a different document is okay, to sort out thoughts, to ask yourself questions, whatever. Any writing is helpful writing, even if it doesn't necessarily add to the word count.

3) Some days, the hardest part is opening the document. So make it as easy as possible, by leaving off in an exciting spot and leaving yourself notes as to what you envision happening next. It's so much easier to reenter with little notes than simply a blank page.

4) Doubt is your biggest enemy. It will sneak up on you when you least expect it. It till make you cranky as you battle it, day after day after day.

I try very hard to think of the story as something I'm writing just for me. It may be good, it may be bad, it doesn't matter, I'm the only one who will read it and I have to keep writing because I want to see how it turns out. I really think it's when we imagine other people reading it, thinking about whether there's a place in the market for it or not, those kinds of things, that's when we find ourselves getting anxious. The first draft is not the time to worry about any of that, and as much as we can, we need to rid ourselves of those thoughts somehow.

Some days, if the doubt is really, really bad, I allow myself a break. And that means a break from all things publishing-related. I go see a movie or I go somewhere with my family. At that point, I need to get "out of my head" and gain some perspective. It's just a book!!

5) Be kind to yourself. If a little chocolate or some delicious caffeinated drink makes opening the document easier, why not? Once you get going, get in the zone, a lot of times, the need to munch or sip or whatever falls away.

6) Every little bit helps. Leave the document open and when there's time, sit down and work for 15 minutes. A big chunk of time may be hard some days, and don't let that keep you from getting in some words.

7) It doesn't have to be perfect. Let's repeat that, shall we?

8) It doesn't have to be perfect!!!

I'm curious, what's on your "Things to Remember when Writing a First Draft" list??


  1. I love this post Lisa. I'm pantsing my current WIP, and I so need to go back and read some of my craft books (SAVE THE CAT and THE WRITERS JOURNEY are two of my faves). I also have been using the "little bit each day" strategy. Trying to do at least 500 words a day. Today I did 1000 words. :)

  2. #2 is very important for me! If I have a safe place to play with my writing, sometimes it helps me get over the fear. (not always, but sometimes.)


  3. Thank you for the post, especially the part about being afraid to just open the document. I'm literally at the point right now, which is why I'm playing online and not writing.

    I think I psyche myself out because I'm afraid of the inevitable failure.

  4. I must say I'm quite a fan of Save the Cat! Love it. And the biggest thing I try and remember is to have fun with it even if the story is not funny. So I guess that translates over to have confidence b/c crazy stuff can always get edited out later or who knows - maybe my CPs will love it.

  5. Lovely advice that I need because I am struggling to open the doc right now!

  6. Great post, Lisa!
    I do best when I have a regular schedule--six days a week. The amount of writing time and the number of words on page varies, but I find it's much easier to keep my head in the story if I show up pretty much every day. And when I'm stuck, I tell myself I only have to write one sentence. I keep coming back with that one sentence deal until eventually I'm in the flow again.

  7. I recently got this book book, too. It is fantastic!

  8. These are really excellent tips! And I love SAVE THE CAT!, I've been using it for two years now, for both my novels and my short fiction. Priceless.

  9. Along with the rest of the crowd, I just index carded the YA I'm revising for sub using his beat sheet ideas.

    As for first drafts I just repeat "It's a first draft" over and over to myself when I get to a stalled point, or a self-doubt point, or a whoa where-the-heck-are-you-taking me point.

  10. Thanks for reading everyone!

    I feel so silly that I didn't get SAVE THE CAT earlier, but I'd never even heard of it, so I guess that's a good reason. :)

  11. I will repeat "It doesn't have to be perfect..."

    Now to remember this when I sit down with the pen again tomorrow. Great post, thank you.x

  12. Thanks so much for this post! It's really helping me get through nanowrimo when the doubt creeps in! Thanks again, :D