Guess what? I finished the first draft of my first novel!!!! I have 90,00 words of a somewhat coherent story. How does it feel you ask? It feels flippin’ great.
But it took forever. 1.5 years to be exact.
One of the hardest things about being a writer is actually finishing that first draft. We often linger on the details, editing as we go, which in many cases causes us to burn out and quit. That’s what almost happened to me! I almost never finished the dang thing.
So how did I kill the first draft once and for all?
I recognized my perfectionism as a stalling tendency.
The first draft is not the final product, and the goal isn’t to produce carefully thought out and polished pages. Giving up perfectionism allows you to embrace discovery. As Terry Pratchett said, the first draft is just you telling yourself the story. It doesn’t have to be pretty, correctly punctuated, or even sensical. Just have fun with the first draft and don’t let perfectionism get in the way of the story.
I stopped obsessively reworking, rewriting, and researching.
Drafting is not editing, nor is it researching. Don’t do one when you should be doing the other. Instead of wasting time with google searches I noted the idea that needed researching and simply pressed on. Likewise, when I noticed that a passage needed edits I made note of it and reminded myself that I can always fix it later. When I stopped sweating the mistakes I started making progress.
I sent my inner critic on vacation and gave myself permission to write badly.
As soon as I silenced my inner critic I began writing faster, and as I wrote faster, believe it or not, my story improved. When I freed myself from the tyranny of my inner critic my imagination came out to play and I came up with some pretty great ideas on the fly. Sometimes creativity and criticism are mutually exclusive.
I learned a lot on the journey from beginning to end. Foremost of which, the first draft needn’t (and shouldn’t) take an excessive amount of time. So this NaNoWriMo I was determined to take on a new story and finish the first draft in one month. And I did it! The NaNoWriMo draft was shorter and sloppier than the draft I labored over for a year and a half, but the NaNoWriMo draft was better. It possessed better ideas, was fresh and off the cuff, and unburdened by perfectionism or even proper punctuation.
Both drafts need work but the NaNoWriMo draft was much more fun. In the future I’m going to write my first drafts quickly instead of slowly. For me at least, it doesn’t matter how much time I invest in a first draft – it’s still going to need a whole lot of revision. I do believe that there are rare talents out there who can produce a first draft worth reading but for the rest of us mere mortals the first draft is going to suck. I’m sure you’ve come across the perennial words of Ernest Hemingway: “The first draft of anything is sh*t.”
To everyone out there struggling with a first draft. Good luck! I’d love to hear about your novel writing adventure. Stay tuned for an update on lit events in the Twin Cities!