Plowing Through That First Draft

One piece of advice that professional writers have given me over and over again is to just keep writing until that first draft is done.

It’s also one of the hardest things I’ve found to do!

But it’s true. If you don’t force yourself to write — even if what you’re writing is crap — you’ll never get anything done. It’s better to just plow ahead with your story and worry about the pacing and the details later.

Just keep saying to yourself “It’s just a first draft.” No one will see it unless you show it to them.

But you have to at least get that done if you expect to ever have a book completed.

I’ve met so many potential authors who have commented that they have a book started that they never finished. They do the first few chapters and then go back and polish those up and then polish them some more and some more, and the book never gets done. Meanwhile, others who may not be as talented actually get theirs completed and published, because no editor will be interested in looking at your incomplete manuscript no matter how good it is.

The hardest part is pushing onward, no matter what. It is very tempting to go back and make changes. Instead you need to fight the temptation and say to yourself “I’m not allowed to make changes until I get to the end of the book.” That way, it becomes a reward you can give yourself when you finish.

This is especially difficult when you’re facing that dreaded Writer’s Block. Sometimes I’m at point A and I need to get to point B but am not sure exactly how to do that, so I just plow ahead. Even if what you write is later tossed completely, it should get you past that hump and onto the next section. And sometimes an idea will hit you that you never would have thought of had you planned it all out in advance.

For instance, in AXES OF EVIL, there is a climatic scene near the end where our hero — the coward Terin Ostler — meets his enemy, who has the most powerful magic weapon in the world. Terin, who has no skills whatsoever, must defeat the villain. How to do this? I wasn’t quite sure, so I began writing the scene. I just plowed ahead, figuring I can always come back to it later and fill in the blanks. Instead, when I was done I realized that my solution was perfect — not only did it make logical plot sense for the characters to act that way, but it was even foreshadowed in an ironic way. I guess my subconscious knew something I didn’t.

And don’t wait for inspiration. Writing is work! If you wait for that moment to hit, you’ll never get anything accomplished. Force yourself to write.

Imagine a sculptor staring at a lump of clay. In his mind, he has his outline of what he wants to accomplish — a horse, for instance — but he’s not quite certain exactly what the final version will look like. He starts molding the clay to the form he wants, and after a while, he can step back and look at his “first draft” and realize that even though it’s rough and crude, it certainly looks like a horse. He now knows how it will be posing and the rest is easier, because it’s the clean up and polishing.

If instead he had concentrated on the horse’s left foot, he’d end up having spent the same amount of time with a lump of clay with a very nice foot sticking out of it. Seeing that little bit done doesn’t encourage you to work harder, I don’t think. Instead, I think it depresses you that so much effort has been spent on a foot, no matter how good it is.

I always enjoyed working on the second and third drafts, because that’s where you can flesh out your character’s personalities better, insert some foreshadowing you hadn’t thought of before, and really turn the work from a passable story to something special. But getting through that first draft — that’s the hard part!

One Response

  1. Excellent post, Mike! I have always had a real problem with finishing those rough drafts myself, so your advice is particularly valuable to me.

    Now I’ll stop commenting on your post and go finish the damn thing!

    Rob

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