Writing Tips: 5 Tips For Writing a First Draft

1. Keep Moving Forward (Don’t Edit Prematurely)

The number one reason I hear when people talk about why they can’t write is, “I just can’t finish because I keep going back to edit what I’ve written.”

Editing your book before finishing a full draft is the worst idea for your writing process. Even if you have an outline, it’s unlikely you know everything that’s going to happen in the story. When you edit your first draft, it’s not a first draft anymore. But anything you write after the revision WILL be a first draft. It won’t seem to stand up to what you’ve revised. You’re trying to put fancy clothes on a skeleton and thinking you can pass it off as a person!

Over-editing is discouraging. It’s distracting. And it ruins most people’s writing processes.

At the beginning stage of your writing, you must KEEP WRITING. Don’t look back except to remember names and keep track of the plot.

Think Of Your First Draft As a Skeleton

Model of a skeleton
Image by Nhia Moua

Your first draft is the skeleton of your writing. Bare bones of plot, basic characters, bland action scenes. But they’re all there, written down.

Draft two will be your flesh and blood. You’ll add details, you’ll fix plot holes. You’ll bloat your writing until it’s fat and beautiful. Then draft three can be your trimming, grammar revisions, etc. You might have many more drafts than this. But draft one should always be your skeleton. Even if it has a ton of details, it will end up looking a lot different in the final draft.

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Just keep writing!

2. Write By Hand

Writing things down in a notebook
Image by Alejandro Escamilla

I know. I know. This one will be hard for some people. The first reason I encourage people to write their first draft out by hand is so it’s harder to go back and edit.

The second reason is that for most people, your brain thinks faster than you can hand write, but it thinks slower than you can type. While this may seem like a reason to type instead, typing your first draft can lead to some serious writer’s block.

If you feel like typing your first draft has been difficult, try writing by hand. Taking time to mull your words over can actually lead to some pretty decent writing.

3. Work On Characters On the Side

In my first draft, I let my characters run wild. They say and do things they would never actually say and do if I knew them better. But I’m just starting to get to know them. Instead of fighting over every word they say, I just keep writing everything that comes to mind.

Remember, corrections are for the next draft.

On the other hand, I don’t want to start the second draft without getting to know my characters on a deeper level. Sure, by the end of my first draft I’ve gotten to know them within the realm of the story. But what about their past? Their likes and dislikes?

Here is a starting list for character building. You can find details on this list by checking out the article “Writing Tips: 23 Questions For Character Building.”

23 Questions For Character Building

You can write each character’s miniature biography in a separate notebook or a word document. It’s great to work on this on the side of your actual writing (especially when you need a break), because it helps you get to know your characters as they’re developing on the page.

Also retconning is totally acceptable in your second draft.

4. Keep a Special Notepad Or Document For Ideas

Write your extra ideas down separately
Image by AbsolutVision

During the process of writing your first draft, you’ll have many ideas come to you. Ideas for this book. For possible other books. For the next scene. I have a tendency to write them in the margins of my notebook, but these get easily lost.

The best thing to do is to start a Word document, or you can use your character notebook. Make a special section for ideas, people, and places in your story. This way you’ll have an easy reference guide if you forget something. Or you won’t forget what the next chapter is about!

5. Share Ideas Not Writing

Talking about ideas with a group of people
Image by Priscilla Du Preez

Your first draft is going to be one of your most vulnerable pieces of writing. That’s why it’s important to share ideas not the actual writing. The ideas are the most important aspect during the first draft. The actual written words are not. Talk with friends, share it with a family member, teacher, or mentor. Collaborate with other writers online. Ask questions. But keep writing too!

Research After You Write

Don’t worry too much about doing research for draft one. At this point you’re just trying to drag characters along for a wild ride. Sharing ideas with people you trust can help work out basic kinks. Plus they might know about some topics you’re unsure about.

Collaborating ideas can get you more excited to write. If you find the right people, it can be an amazing experience to gain new insight into your writing. I’ve come up with some crazy ideas by talking about my books with writers and readers I trust.

Final Thoughts

What are your struggles when writing a first draft? What habits have you formed to get a first draft complete? Comment below!

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