How to Finish the First Draft: Part 1

One of the biggest challenges of being a writer is finishing the first draft — especially if you’ve never completed a manuscript. There are as many reasons for not finishing as there are stars in the sky, so I thought I’d share with you things I’ve learned over the years that help me write those magical words, The End.

First I’d like a show of hands: how many people have have tweeted or posted on Instagram the hashtag “amwriting” when they aren’t actually writing?


No one? Okay, I’ll raise my hand. It feels good to tell people that you’re writing, that you’re a serious Writer capital W and you don’t waste your time on social media or playing games or texting or taking pictures of your dog. (Yes, those are my distractions.) But if you aren’t actually creating your story, you’ll never finish. And let me tell you, finishing a novel (or short story or poem) is one of the greatest feelings in the world. When I set out to write my first novel ten years ago (holy crap, I can’t believe it’s been TEN YEARS), I never imagined I could finish, and now I’m working on my seventh.

And you can, too.

Melanie’s Tips for Getting to The End

Focus on finishing the first draft
Don’t worry about the plot hole in chapter 7, or that you didn’t properly describe the main character’s living room—that’s what edits are for. Right now you need to get the words out and keep moving the story forward.

Don’t edit while you write
This is similar to point 1, but it’s worth repeating. If you keep revising the first chapter, you’ll have a perfect first chapter, but nothing else.

Don’t waste time trying to be perfect
I’m a perfectionist and could waste hours trying to think of the perfect word to describe how my MC is feeling, but I’ve made a rule to prevent frittering away my day: I have one minute to think of the correct word and if I can’t, I put the next closest word in brackets and move on. The brackets serve as a visual cue during edits that I need to change that word and I haven’t lost my momentum while writing.

Allow yourself to write crap
This could be an entire post on it’s own. Yes, you want your manuscript to be perfect, but first drafts are supposed to be messy. That’s why they’re called first drafts. I have a wip (work in progress) that I know needs about 20K words cut to make the story better. Yes, it terrifies me to know a quarter of what I’ve written needs to be deleted (well, saved in another document), but it needs to happen. But if I focused on that while trying to write the first draft, I never would have finished. Write crap now – edit later.

If you have questions or topics you’d like me to address, leave a comment below. Happy writing!

Keep reading–> How to Finish the First Draft: Part 2




About Melanie Hooyenga

Writer. Designer. Jock. Reader. Wife. Puppy-Mama. SCBWI member since 2015.

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