How to Finish the First Draft: Part 2

If you missed the first post in this series, you can read it here: How to Finish the First Draft: Part 1.

One of the biggest obstacles to finishing a first draft isn’t writer’s block, a lack of ideas, or a general feeling that you suck as a writer (although that last one can really do a number on your self-esteem). The biggest obstacle is not making writing a priority.

I’ll repeat that. You must make writing a priority.

Despite what some people may lead you to believe, we all have the same 24 hours in a day. How you choose to spend those 24 hours is what separates those who plan to write a novel someday and those who write novels. If you truly want to write, it has to come before other things fighting for your time.

You Can’t Do Everything

Here’s a list of popular TV shows I’ve never watched:

  • How I Met Your Mother
  • Downton Abbey
  • Breaking Bad
  • Game of Thrones
  • Walking Dead (although that’s because zombies scare the bejeezus out of me)
  • Scandal
  • Mad Men
  • and many more!

(Yes, I know I need to watch all of those. Breaking Bad and Mad Men are definitely on the list.) This isn’t to say I don’t watch TV, but I typically only watch a handful of shows during a season. (FRIENDS doesn’t count because I can recite those.) This doesn’t mean I spend all my time writing, but I choose what matters most to me and that’s what earns a slot in my day.

Here’s what makes my list:

  • Exercise
  • Cooking dinner with my husband (although he does the majority of that)
  • Reading
  • Spending time outdoors
  • Sports with my husband (softball, golf, kayaking, hiking, biking, bowling, skiing, etc)
  • Playing with and walking the dog

Our lists may be vastly different, but you have to be intentional about what gets a piece of your time and — here’s a big one — learn to say NO to things that take away from what’s important to you. (I could write a book on this, and many others have).

Schedule Writing Time

The majority of those things are done after work and on the weekend, when I rarely write. Mornings, before my day job, is my writing time. I’m fortunate that I live 2 miles from work and I don’t start until 8:30 in the morning, so I set my alarm for 6am, hit snooze a couple times, then write from 7-8am. That time is sacred and very little deviates me from my routine. Some days I don’t actually write, but I make sure I sit in my writing chair and have my laptop in my lap so my body stays in the habit.

Whether you’re a morning person or night owl — or maybe you prefer to write over lunch or in any ten minute chunks you can grab — the idea is to try to be consistent. If you’re a planner, write it in your calendar or put a reminder in your phone. Often times the hardest part is actually sitting down to write, so you (and your family!) need respect your scheduled writing time.

When I’m especially busy, I fall back on the idea of a class schedule. You know, 7 am is English (writing), 5pm is PE (exercise), and so on and so forth. By telling yourself what specific times of the day are for, you’re less likely to skip it.

Butt in Chair

If you’ve been writing for any amount of time, you’ve heard the phrase butt in chair. Of all the writing advice out there, this is the among most obvious and important. Unless you have one of those fancy-pants standing desks or you write with a voice transcript app, you need to place your posterior on a horizontal surface and let your fingers do the talking. Talking, tweeting, or blogging about writing are not the same thing as actually writing, no matter how amazing your idea or fabulous your first chapter. You must actually write. And keep writing.

Day after day after day.

But you’re doing this because you love it, so this doesn’t scare you, it excites you. Right?!

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Read Finishing the First Draft: Part 3.




About Melanie Hooyenga

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


  1. Glenn Yaniero

    I like the idea of class schedules. Having blocked times designated in the day seem to trigger action. Thanks, Melanie!

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