The Writing Process: That First Draft

Happy (cold and rainy) Sunday, everyone! Depending on where you are in the country, you’re probably feeling like this is the perfect day to stay in your pajamas, find the nearest roaring fireplace and sip on a continuous supply of coffee (or tea, if you roll that way). Here in Georgia, it hasn’t made it out of the 30s today and the clouds look like they’re about to unleash some rain. For me, that’s the recipe for a pretty awesome day! 

I pulled myself out of my comfy coma for a few minutes to write that weekly blog post I promised you last week. Granted, I didn’t publish this on Friday, but at least I wrote one for the week! This whole “getting into a routine” thing is pretty challenging, but I know it will be worth it and I will be better for it in the end.

So for my first true weekly post of 2015, I decided I would continue my “The Writing Process” series. The next logical step in this series would be to talk about getting through that first draft. This can be either a very exciting part of writing or it can be one that you think might actually kill you before you get to the end of it. Or maybe you’re one of those writers that feels a mixture of both emotions. Either way, here are some of my thoughts/tips on starting and FINISHING the first draft.

1. Set a schedule. Or don’t.

Confused? Sorry. I’ve seen quite a few authors sing the praises of creating a set writing schedule and religiously sticking to it. I can see how this would work for some. I tend to like having things planned out and basically set in stone…but I’m not sure I can put writing under that umbrella.

After getting through two books (and living to talk about it), I’ve decided that I’m a borderline spastic writer. The only deadline I set is when I would like to have that first draft written and ready for editing. Other than that, I don’t try to force myself into a schedule. For me, forcing creativity will never result in anything creative. Do I think about my story all the time? Absolutely. But do I make myself sit at my desk every day from noon to one and tap out a few pages? Absolutely not.

When I wrote the first draft of The Mirror Stage, I had a completed 60-page TV script that I had already spent a year on. I had basically written that book at least five times before it was ever actually in book form. When I decided it was time to switch gears and turn The Mirror Stage into the first book of a trilogy, it really didn’t take much time for me to write it. I had numerous research and planning documents to refer to, as well as that script. I always knew where I was in the progression of the story, so I had a general idea of how much time I had left until I would reach the end of that first draft.

When it came time to start writing The Imaginary, it was an entirely different situation. Everything was all new (it had only ever previously resided in my head) and I was only working off of a loose outline. I found myself writing entire chapters at a time in an almost feverish burst of writing energy and then leaving the document untouched for a week or so before diving back into it again with my next round of inspiration. I realize that this will probably be frowned upon by other authors, but this writing method really helped me get through the first draft without ever feeling like I hated the story, questioning why I was even bothering or finding myself completely scrapping entire sections of the book at a time when I went back a few pages to catch myself back up in the story. This type of writing will not work for everyone, just like setting and adhering to a strict writing schedule will probably never work for me, but I’m sure there are some writers out there who are like me. So don’t worry! You’re not weird!

2. Come up with an outline, even if you hate outlines.

The Mirror Stage was more than outlined, so when I wrote that first draft, I never once lost my way. I had a multitude of avenues to quickly right myself and everything had been so structured, I never really worried about the story losing momentum or taking too many detours.

The Imaginary was my first taste of starting from scratch. I did some research on the different types of outlines that authors may use when initially organizing their story … and promptly got a massive headache. There are so many options out there! From listing out scene-by-scene to just doing an expanded synopsis, I found what felt like millions of opinions on exactly what was the “right” way to outline. I stepped back and just decided to revert back to my college writing days. I created an outline of what each chapter would generally cover and then added 2-3 bullet points of certain scenes or ideas I wanted to be sure to hit in that chapter. Other than that, I just kind of started writing.

While this at times scared me slightly, I actually relished the idea that the story was really going to tell itself. I don’t want to go totally weird on you and say that it “had a life of its own and I was just along for the ride” … but yeah, that was kind of the case. Story points that I had thought would be included ended up being tossed to the wayside in favor of something far better that just kind of evolved out of the story as I wrote it. I was so excited to sit down and write because I honestly didn’t know, most of the time, what I would end up with when I stopped typing an hour or so later.

So in summation, I would advise outlining as much as will give you peace of mind. You don’t want to feel totally unprepared when you go to start your first draft, but you also don’t want to plan out so much of your book that when the time actually comes to write it you find yourself bored before you even type the first word. Or maybe you do. I’m not one to judge. You do you.

3. Don’t be afraid to backtrack.

I’ve seen some authors say that you should never, ever, under ANY circumstances, read any part of your first draft until you’re done writing it. Well, those people must have photographic memories.

Because of my spastic writing “schedule,” I always go back a few pages and browse through where I left things off. My main reason for doing this is that I’m somewhat of a “virtual reality” writer. (I don’t know if I just made that up or not…) Basically, every scene in my books played out like a TV show or movie scene inside my head as I wrote it. That’s mainly why I decided I needed to assign actors and actresses to my characters, even though they would never actually be those people in real life. I needed faces and voices and mannerisms to animate in my head. So in order for me to successfully start playing the movie in my mind again, I need to immerse myself in the story again. And my method for doing this? Reading the last few pages of what I wrote.

4. When you finish that first draft, CELEBRATE!

Even if no one else knows that you’re writing a book, you need to act like what you just accomplished was quite possibly the most amazing thing happening on the planet right now. BECAUSE IT IS! You just wrote a book. Is it polished? Probably not. Is it ground-breaking? Maybe. Will people like it? Who cares. Don’t let your brain think about anything other than the fact that you just accomplished something that only a select group of people on this planet have done: wrote a whole dang book.

Treat yourself to a movie. Buy that item of clothing you’ve been eyeing online for months but have never been able to justify. Grab your significant other or a group of friends and go out for a celebratory dinner. Reward yourself in whatever way you see fit because you deserve it. You disciplined yourself, you kept your head down and in the game, and you came out on the other side as an author.


If you reached the end of this post, thank you! I hope something in there helps you and encourages you to keep going. Let me know if you have any of your own tips for successfully completing that first draft.

Until next time!

The Mirror Stage is available now on AmazonBarnes & Noble, and iBooks.

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