How to Get the Words Down: 7 Tips for Writing your First Draft

The biggest thing I struggled with before I published Honey Butter were first drafts. Specifically: finishing them. My brain is impatient and always coming up with new ideas. I’d be writing one one day, and a different one the next. I have many unfinished manuscripts as a result.

Something that I learned which helps me, is to write the first draft fast before I get board of it. That’s why NaNoWriMo worked really well for me. I forced myself to just Get the Words Down. (See what I did there? 😉 )

You might not have the same problems I do, (at which I congratulate you) and the same things may not work for you that do for me. As writers, we are all wonderfully different. However, I do hope you will find something useful here. I’ve met many aspiring authors for whom this was their chief trouble. If you are one of them, then you have come to the right place. 🙂

These tips were first posted to my instagram account, which you can find here.

1 – Get Excited!

And no, the title is not ‘Get Excited.’ It is ‘Get Excited!’ Exclamation points all around!
But okay, seriously. It is scientifically proven that when you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll do better at it. Think of those book or TV series you love. How you can’t wait for the next episode/book to come out! You make fan art, fan-fiction, have animated discussions with friends, and whenever you have a spare moment you relive your favorite parts in your head. Or may it’s not even a story of any kind. Maybe it’s basketball, robotics, ceramics or origami. (fun fact, those are a few of my hobbies.)

Whatever it is, it’s never a chore to do anything related to ‘fill in the blank’.
That’s the way writing should and can be. If it isn’t like that right now, don’t be discouraged. That doesn’t make you a bad writer. Actually, that makes you a better writer than me, because I absolutely cannot write a book unless I’m excited about it, at least at the beginning. Later in the process, there are definitely things we just have to push through weather we want to or not. But when you’re writing the First Draft, when you’re just Getting the Words Down, you should try to be at least a little excited.

Robert Frost once said “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” And to that I would like to add “No excitement in the writer, no excitement in the reader.”

So get excited about yourself excited about your story. Interview your characters on fake talk shows, draw fanart, make Pinterest boards for scenes and ideas, (you can check out mine here 😉 ) dress up as your characters. Whatever it takes, get excited! And someday, there will be other people that you’ve never met, getting excited over your story too. Trust me.

 

2 – Freewriting

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of freewriting before. If you have, I encourage you to do a little today. If not, let me walk you through it: Get a sheet of plain paper and a pencil. Sit down at a table or desk in a preferably quiet, distraction free place. Set a timer for five to ten minutes. Write.
Writing anything. Write the first thing that comes into your head. Don’t worry about punctuation or spelling. Don’t try to be clever. Just write what you’re thinking. Have fun! Make mistakes, write messily, and embrace it all. DO NOT stop moving your pencil until the timer is up.

Next, read aloud what you’ve written. Quietly. Loudly. Whatever. Just go over it. You might be surprised. You might find a gem somewhere in there. If not, that’s okay because you were writing! And writing is the first step to becoming a writer! Yay for you!

Freewriting is a great way to help with writer’s block, in loosens up your writing muscles. It reminds you that a first draft does not have to be perfect.

You can pick a theme for your freewrite beforehand, or you can just go with the flow.

 

3 – Save Everything

Yes, you heard me. EVERYTHING. I don’t care how horrible you think it is. Save it. Maybe you won’t ever show it to anyone, maybe it won’t end up in the finished draft, and that’s okay. But still, save it.

Okay, but why? Why save everything?

Here are a few of the many reasons why:

1. Even if a scene isn’t going the way you want it to, there may still be a few gems in it. A particularly clever metaphor, or some witty jokes that you could transfer into a different scene. If you full out deleted all that, you’d miss out on the good bits that you could use later.

2. It might grow one you. I can remember several times when I wrote a scene one night and hated it. But after reading it again in the morning, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I remembered. Sleep on it before you delete it.

3. Someone else might like it. Writing is an art, and art is all a matter of opinion. You may not like something you wrote, but your brother or sister or friend may absolutely love it! Not to mention that you are your worst critic. Because you wrote it, you’ll look at it way differently then someone who’s reading it for the first time.

4. You can look back and see how far you’ve come, which will give you a lot of self confidence. We improve as writers the same way we grow taller; gradually. From your short term point of view, you’ve always been the same height, but it’s only when you look back on at the pencil marks on the door frame that you realize how much you’ve grown. If you save what you write, it’s like making marks as you grow. In the first draft of Honey Butter, I wrote some really weird things that I now look back on and laugh at. But it reminds me that I’m always growing and getting better, and so are you. 🙂

I have a document for each book I write titled ‘Snippets’ where I copy and paste paragraphs and pages of writing that I ended up cutting out. I also save each draft separately instead of editing the first draft once I finish it. Try it!

 

4 – Don’t Unveil an Unfinished Masterpiece

Also known as: don’t let just anyone read your first draft, especially before it’s finished.
When you first start writing your story, it’s still new. You and the characters still need to get to know each other. You have magic to play with and towns to explore. The last thing you need at this stage is an outside opinion, feedback of any kind will transform your mindset before you even know what you were thinking in the first place.

A side note, I actually do something that not many writers I know do: I let people read my first draft.

Most of my writer friends are probably staring at the screen in disbelief, but hear me out.
Some parents and siblings I realize, are not great editors, but somehow I was blessed with the best dad on the planet. He always reads my first drafts, and then we have long, super fun brainstorming sessions together. Later on my mom and siblings join in and become the best and funniest fans I could wish for.

I do not, however, allow anyone in my family to read my book before I’ve FINISHED the first draft, and I would advise you to do the same.

 

5 – Do NOT Edit

Going hand in hand with not letting anyone else read your first draft is; don’t let your inner editor read it!

The Inner Editor is a concept that the authors at NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) came up with. By the way, I highly recommend checking out NaNoWriMo, it’s what helped me to complete the first draft of Honey Butter. But that’s another post.

The Inner Editor is an obsessive perfectionist who sits on your shoulder while you write. And they HATE messy first drafts.

Messy first drafts are a part of writing though, so when you start on a new book, send your Inner Editor on vacation. Accept that what you write at first is going to be a mess. A beautifully wonderfully raw creative mess. And whatever you do, DON”T EDIT. Sentence structure, scene order, typos, and even some character development can wait until later. For now let your mind spill with magic and you hands flutter like fairy wings over the keyboard.
Now go write and book your inner editor’s ticket to the land of fine print.

 

 6 – Take a Walk

This is a short tip, but the gist is that It is scientifically proven that you are 10% more creative after you take a walk. So today, try to work in a walk before you sit down to write. Or maybe take a walk in the middle of your writing routine. If you can, walk outside and where there’s trees. Trees are also scientifically proven to calm your brain. If you can’t go outside then walk around your room. Or take your notebook to the park and walk for a while. Let your mind wander, don’t think about anything particular; just walk. Then sit down on a bench a do a little freewriting and see what happens.

 

7 – Be Yourself

There are no real rules when it comes to writing. Or painting. Or sculpting. Or singing. Or any and all art. Don’t take any advice too seriously. Not mine, not the blogs you read, not your parents or teachers.

You are the Author.

You are in Charge.

I’ve seen blog posts before on finding your writing ‘Voice’. But really, I think the only tip you need to find your voice is this: Be Yourself.

Writing lingo: I use it all the time. You’ll often hear me talking about chapters, scenes, flat characters, protagonists, antagonists, plot, subplot, opening hooks, cliffhangers and climaxes.

But what if none of that existed?

Imagine for example what writing would be like if you had never heard the concept of chapters? What would happen then? What about character roles? What if you didn’t put your characters into boxes of heroes, villains, sidekicks, and minor characters. What if they were all just people? Then what would your story be like?

The reasons we use things like chapters and character roles are good reasons. And I’m not saying  you should disregard them. But sometimes we as writers get so caught up in these rules that we forget to be creative.

A first draft is all about breaking the rules.

Take another walk. Don’t think about any outside influence. It’s just you and your imagination. That’s when art happens. That in and of itself is art in its purest form. That is when anything is possible.

That’s all for now! If you have any subjects you would like me to blog about, let me know in the comments and I’ll look into it. Now go write and –

Keep Writing!

– Millie

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