After 6 embarrassing years and a graveyard of unfinished WIPs, I finally finished my first draft today! Yes, that’s right. It actually took me the better half of a decade to finish a measly first draft that barely clocks in at 40k words. I blame my perfectionism and Netflix. To commemorate this rare occasion, I thought I’d write down the hard-fought lessons I learned.
Disclaimer: These are lessons I learned that worked for me. They obviously won’t work for everyone. I don’t claim to have universal writing advice that will apply to every writer out there. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to it!
Passion Will Only Get You So Far
Writing a book is a lot like being in a relationship. In the beginning, everything is perfect. You’re crazy in love and blind to your partner’s flaws and you’re both busy barfing rainbows at each other. As that honeymoon phase draws to a close, however, you start to see your partner isn’t the idealized perfect person you thought they were. You have your first fight. They do things that annoy you. You discover they’re secretly a Brony. If you’re not serious about the relationship, this is the part where you both break up and go your separate ways. But if you want the relationship to work, you have to put in the effort and make sacrifices.
This long-winded metaphor is the perfect analogy for writing a book because if you don’t put in the hard work, you’ll never finish writing your drafts. You’ll fall in love with that original story idea pretty quickly but as you start writing, you realize it’s not so perfect on the page like it was in your head. Also, there’s massive plot holes. Your characters turn out to be walking cliches and your world-building would make Tolkien roll in his grave. This is the first threshold that decides whether you end up working through these difficulties with hard work and discipline or whether your story winds up collecting dust in your unfinished WIP folder. Passion may be what gets you started on a project, but hard work is what will finish it.
Fast-Drafting Is The Way To Go
As a stubborn perfectionist, fast-drafting filled me with dread. For those unfamiliar with the term, fast-drafting is, as the title suggests, the process of writing your draft as quickly as possible. I first encountered the idea while listening to the Well-Storied podcast and thought I’d give it a try. By forcing yourself to write your story as fast as possible, you have no time to worry about writing the perfect sentence or crafting the perfect scene. It takes a lot of pressure off of writing the best draft in the world and more pressure on just finishing the darn thing, period. Since first drafts are meant to be re-written and polished anyway, this was the best method for me to get the first draft over and done with.
Outlining Will Save Your Story
I’ve spent most of my life as a fanatic panster that believed outlines killed creativity. I’m not claiming you have to outline in order to finish your draft. Go ahead and make it up as you go along. You do you.
But! I’ve found when I outlined the story, I was able to give it a structure that pansting my way through just would not have achieved. The initial passion of the story idea could get me though about 25% of the story, no planning required. But past that point, I need a roadmap to guide me through the intimidating slogfest that is the Second Act. The good thing is that the passion returns at the 75% mark and guides me all the way through the end. But without an outline, there is simply no way I can get myself through the middle of the book. This was part of the reason why had so many abandoned WIPs—I’d write up until the Second Act and then give up because I didn’t know where I was going. Outlining gave me a framework to work around. It didn’t even have to be set in stone. In fact, I reworked my outline half-way through the draft and took the story in a whole different direction. It didn’t kill my creativity; it helped me explore ideas I wouldn’t have otherwise thought of.
The First Draft Is Terrible and That’s Okay
Let’s face it: you’re never gonna write a perfect first draft. That’s why it’s the first draft. There would be no point to the drafting process if we were all capable of writing polished, edited, and publishable stories the first time around.
My first draft is a total mess. I changed character names halfway through the story. The first act has a giant plot bunny that needs to be amputated. I didn’t give a crap about my prose or using consistent verb tenses. There are minor characters that get introduced once and are never to be seen again. And then there are other characters who pop into the story, seemingly out of nowhere.
And you know what? I’m fine with that. I can always fix it.
That’s what second drafts are for!
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Like this post? What tips and tricks have helped you finish your drafts? 🤔 Or what advice has been not-so-helpful for you? 🙅