For me, first drafts take forever, especially when I fail to plan out my story before I start writing. I’m guilty of starting an outline once I’m forty or more pages into a novel and realize I’ve written myself into a corner. I’m not a pantser or plotter, rather something in the middle. I’m also guilty of having a lot of unfinished manuscripts (at last count there were twelve).
If you’re struggling with a first draft, my suggestions are:
- Stop and Outline
Outline your story. It can be as basic as “The Main Character must fight against an evil tyrant in order to save his/her family.” Have a concrete idea of what your story is about and add scenes to your outline. You don’t need all your scenes. I’m a firm believer in a basic outline, but I make sure I leave plenty of room for creativity. Over 50% of the scenes that make it into my books are never on the outline. Just be careful not to get stuck and plan for so long that you never start writing. Set a firm deadline for when you’re plotting will be completed and writing begin.
- Don’t fret about the grammar
Don’t be an obsessive English grad who has to have every sentence perfect. You’ll just piss everyone off around you. (By the way, I’m not judging you if you are one of those people. Some of my best friends are grammar nerds.) Know your basic grammar rules, but don’t worry in your first draft whether it’s who or whom or whether it’s gray versus grey. The nitty gritty comes after your first draft and hopefully a good editor will help you in the future.
- Always leave off at an exciting part
I don’t remember where I read this, but at the time I felt stupid for not thinking of it before. When you stop writing for the day, leave off at an exciting point in your scene. Instead of completely finishing a scene with two characters fighting, stop your writing for the day where a weapon is hurtling midair towards your main character.
- Keep Track of Your Word Count
Every time you work on your first draft write down your word count. NaNoWriMo allows you to do this with nice daily graphs. Outside of NaNoWriMo, the best option is to enter your numbers in Excel or make a list in Word. I’ve tried online word count trackers and none of them have worked well. See a daily word count helps increase motivation and show your progress. It’s hard to feel accomplished when thirty thousand words are still unwritten, but keeping track of your word count will help you to notice the small milestones. Maybe you wrote 2,000 words one day. That’s something to be proud of.
Read good books that either inspire you or fall in the genre you’re trying to write. When I got stuck on City of Deception, my novel coming out July 2016, I spent two weeks reading while on vacation. When I got back, I had a much better idea of what the book would look like.
An Additional Tip:
If you set a goal for when you want to finish your draft by, give yourself twice as long. I’ve learned the hard way that you will almost never be able to complete your goal on time. I’ve published two books and guess what? I’ve never been able to publish when I plan. I’m always off by at least a few months. Believe me, I’ve tried everything to motivate myself to stick to my deadline for finishing first draft. I’ve tried cutting out coffee, writing more each day, no internet or Netflix and even didn’t shave my legs for eight weeks. (Yeah, don’t ask about the last one. It is a great motivator though.) So, always give yourself more time. It will save you a lot of trouble later. Everyone has a different rate for how fast they can finish a draft.
As always, hope this helps! Oh, and now that I’m out of school, I’m going to try to post at least once a week. I’ve been a lazy blogger the last few months.