How To Finally Finish That First Draft

How to Finally Finish Your First Draft

So you want to write a novel? Maybe you’ve started, several times, but you can’t seem to get anywhere. There are several possible reasons you can’t finish that first draft. See if you fall victim to one of these pitfalls.

No story. This is often my problem. I may have a great character idea, or a gripping scene, or fascinating setting, but no clear idea of what my story is. So I’m stuck. If this is you, you have to figure this out or you can’t finish a first draft.

Free writing can be useful, especially in the planning stages. Free writing is basically writing anything that pops into your head for a designated period of time. Often just jotting down ideas as they occur, not even in complete sentences, can be a way to spark ideas and make subconscious connections. Try to ask yourself “What if?” and let your imagination take over. This is often more effective than trying to make a traditional outline.

Research. Yes it’s important, but not during the first draft. Because if you stop and go to the Internet to look up one simple thing, that will lead you somewhere else. The next thing you know, you’ve ‘researched’ until two hours are gone.

One of the most helpful things I found while researching this piece was the use of placeholders in a first draft. For example: when I need to fact-check or find a date, place, or detail, I type my initials, KMV, and go on. Then at a logical stopping place, I can search for the placeholder and then find the fact I need and insert it.

Overthinking. This can be as paralyzing as not having a story. If you try to have every scene or event planned, you’ll end up overwhelmed and stuck. Overthinking often goes hand in hand with Perfectionism. And I’m sorry to break the news, but perfect doesn’t exist. Not for best-selling authors, not for professional editors, and not for anyone else.

Remind yourself that this is a first draft. You don’t have to know everything or every connection. You don’t need to make it pretty. Every sentence doesn’t need to sparkle. Just allow yourself to relax and tell the story. You’ll soon be editing it.

Poor Time Management. The task at hand expands to fill the time available. I’ve certainly been there, feeling exhausted, but wondering what I have to show for another busy week or month.

To help keep yourself on track and using your writing time wisely, set a goal before you start. Give yourself deadlines. Set a target date for completion, so you can assess your daily or weekly progress toward the goal. This keeps you motivated to keep chipping away at it. If a target date for completing the entire manuscript seems overwhelming, set a goal of one chapter per week, or two chapters per month. Make your goal attainable but challenging.

Find a writing partner. You need accountability. You don’t necessarily need a critique partner, to read each other’s work. That will come later. But it’s very helpful to find a fellow writer who is actively working on a first draft. Set word-count goals, weekly or daily, and have a friendly competition. This can serve as a kick in the seat to get back on task.

I hope these tips can help you finally finish that first draft. Because the process of editing is a whole new challenge.

Happy writing!


Kim VernonKim Vernon’s poetry and short stories have won several local, state and regional contests, most notably the 2015 Lucidity Ozark Poetry Retreat Grand Prize.

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