Nine things I’ve learned writing a first draft


1)         Beginning is really hard – It’s always daunting to open up a blank page. It always feels insurmountable to turning nothing into an 85,000-word novel, but just writing 500 words a day makes a first draft in less than six months. I know that the more I write and the further I get into my story, the more I want to write and my word count gradually increases.


2)         Not to worry what people might think – It’s easy to try and second-guess what readers might think of your story but the first draft is purely for you. Lose any self-consciousness and write for yourself. No one needs to see this draft. Ever.


3)         I won’t always enjoy writing it – It’s normal to go through a whole spectrum of emotions. Sometimes I love my story and think it’s the best thing ever. Sometimes I hate it and want to delete it all.


4)         Reading helps hone the craft of writing – Digging out your favorite books and reading them with a critical eye will help your first draft. What keeps you reading on? When does the hook come in? How are chapters ended? Reading is the quickest way to learn to tell a story.


5)         There are no rules – Most writers will recommend that you never edit as you go because it slows down the first-draft process. I always edit as I go because I like to know my writing is the best it can be before I move on. I’ve spent a long time reading “how to plot” books, frustrated because I couldn’t get my mind to think ahead and envious of other writers who can but I’ve accepted my process works for me. There is no right or wrong.


6)         You don’t have to write in order – If I feel stuck but I can think of a scene that will slot in somewhere else, I jump to that scene. I write in a program called Scrivener, which makes it easy to piece together scenes in chapters, and chapters into a novel. Scrivener offers a free trial and is well worth checking out.


7)         Don’t be tempted to switch ideas – There always comes a point for me where I’m struggling and I have a new idea I think is better than the one I’m working on. It’s tempting to stop writing and start something new but if you fall into this trap, you likely never finish a first draft.


8)         Characters take on a life of their own – With my debut, I used in-depth character sheets and planned their personalities, but the characters naturally changed so much I now never use sheets, and simply let them evolve into the people they are meant to be.


9)         You’ll think you’ll never type The End – Many times it will seem impossible and you’ll vow never again but all writers feel like this at some stage. Little by little, page by page, if you don’t give up, you’ll get there – and want to do it all again.