How to Finish the First Draft: Part 3

Welcome to Part 3 of my series How to Finish the First Draft. If you haven’t read Part 1 or Part 2, go do that and meet me back here.

Okay! Now you know how to get the words out (no matter how bad they are) and that you need to make writing those sucky words a priority, but there’s still that little voice niggling in the back of your mind, trying to distract you from getting your work done.

Allow yourself to write crap

Yes, we covered this in Part 1 but it’s important enough that it bears repeating. Perfectionist paralysis is the fear of starting a project because you want it to be perfect on the first try. I suffer from this but have spent years convincing myself that I will make it perfect LATER. For now, just write. Because…

No one’s first draft is perfect

Go to any bookstore or peruse Goodreads or Amazon. See all the books? I guarantee you every single one of those first drafts sucked. Maybe the authors with 20 books under their belt can turn out a more polished first draft than the author with only one or two, but unless you are a cyborg, you cannot churn out a perfect novel on the first try. (And cyborgs lack emotion, so who would want to read that?)

You can’t edit a blank page

This goes back to the whole writing crap thing. If you’ve edited before, you know that you cannot edit a blank page. You can cry and scream and curse at it (pure hearsay, I swear), but you cannot improve something that does not exist. Kick that inner critic out of the room. Tell them to make you another cup of tea or bake some cookies (food is an excellent motivator, btw), but do not allow them to interfere with the creative process.

Don’t edit — just write!

Again, there are writers who swear by editing as they write, resulting in a perfect first draft. I don’t completely believe those people, but I’m sure there are some who pull it off. For the majority of us, if we focus on editing before the novel is finished, we’ll never finish the novel.

Tips to keep going:

  • Leave notes from your outline at the bottom of the page. This way you know what’s coming next. If you’re a pantser, a few words about what’s coming next can do wonders to keep you from getting stuck. This has the added bonus of tricking your brain into thinking you’re not writing into the great abyss of the blank page, you’re just adding a little in the middle. No scary blank pages here!
  • NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month. Some love it and some hate it. I love it because it taught me what I’m capable of as a writer. Also, camaraderie. (They also have challenges in April and July if November doesn’t work for you.)
  • Word sprints & challenges with friends. Use social media to your advantage and challenge your fellow writers to a friendly competition. I belong to some FB writing groups where people will post asking if anyone’s up for a word sprint —basically writing as many words as you can in a 10 or 30 or 60 minute time period — but you can text a friend as well. If you’re competitive like I am, racing against another person does wonders for your word count. It’s even more fun in person because you can HEAR fingers pounding on keys. (I like to think my typing is taunting the other writer, but I’m overly competitive.)

And that’s it! I hope these three posts have been helpful. If you use any of these methods, please let me know how they work for you! I’m here to help and I want to know how it’s working. And I’m going to be using ALL of these for the rest of the month while I try to finish my first draft. While it’s physically possible, I think it might be too much for the middle of summer, but we’ll see!

Please share any tips I haven’t mentioned in the comments, and stay tuned for my next series: Whipping Your WIP into Shape.

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About Melanie Hooyenga

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

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