Finishing the first draft of anything, whether it be a novel, poem, or short story, is heavy going. There’s a reason so many writers fail to finish a first draft when it comes to new ideas; sure, it can be because the idea turned out to be poor, but usually it’s down to fear and life just getting in the way.
Trust me, I’ve let life get in the way of more short stories and novels than I can really remember. This is why you should trust my advice in this case; I’ve now ghost written six novels for clients, and two of my own. I know how to finish a first draft these days, and I’m here to help you do the same.
There’s no point in me throwing methods and work plans at you if you have no motivation, and certainly no-one can just give it to you… but there are somethings you can do to motivate yourself. Some of them might even be mildly helpful to your WIP;
- Create a pinterest board for your WIP. What’s the mood, the aesthetic, and the colour palette?
- Create a playlist that gives you the right feeling/that you can see in the movie of your book.
- Write first! When you wake up, roll to your laptop, tablet, or notepad and even just write two or three lines of your WIP. If you have no time to do more, fine, if you can’t think of how to do more, fine. At least you did something, and that’s one less worry. Sometimes it even gets the juices flowing before the bulk of the day saps your energy.
- Exercise. If you roll out of bed and into a jog you can be sure your whole day will be more energised! This goes for writing too.
- Write down three things you love about the story and characters.
- Remind yourself why it’s important to you.
- Talk to someone you trust about the idea; their excitement will spur you on!
Here’s a Tumblr post with more hints (and more colourful language!)
If you work part time and have a few extra days a week off you can pursue these in a serious way to get your first draft done lickity-split, but they’re just as effective if you only have an hour a day, or every other day, to devote to writing;
- Adopt “working days” and stick to them; allocate one or more of your non-working days as a writing “work day” and put in a full 6 – 8 hours. This isn’t for everyone, and it can be really hard work, but it does pay off. Remember to actually utilise the time for writing, not reading, not editing, and certainly not Candy Crush Saga! Pro Tip; treat it exactly like a regular working day. Get up and washed, have breakfast and start for 8 or 9am, ensure you DO have breaks and take lunch, and when you finish for the day put it away. Draw a line between work and free time, or you could lose yourself to it entirely. In a day like this, i’d aim for anywhere between 2,000 and 5,000 words, but that’s my rate of work. See how you go, and set a reasonable target for yourself, but don’t be too harsh if you miss it once or twice.
- Fast-Draft; fast drafting, as laid out by Kristen Kieffer, is the process of pouring your story onto the page as fast as you are able to do so. It means writing in the majority of your free time each day, and it means abandoning the idea of a “good” first draft. You’re essentially pushing all the real work back to the editing stage and letting your mind gush. At this point you’re writing for yourself. Now, Kieffer states that this is not the best approach for a “pantser”, but if you’re willing to put in serious work in the editing stage you shouldn’t be deterred. It does work much better if you put in some pre-writing, however (that being detail plotting and planning).
- Weekly checkpoint system; whether it be word count, plot point, or page based you can set yourself a reasonable goal to stay motivated. Have a partner in writing to hand over your completed sections to if you want some extra incentive. Be honest with your self about what you can achieve, however, as missed checkpoints can demotivate.
- Reward motivation; this one speaks for itself, and only really works if you’re a disciplined individual, but it can he very, very effective. Reward yourself for good work and meeting goals. Remember that writing is HARD.
Small Great Things (not quite like the book)
The little things can be key in making sure that your writing is consistent, but also that you yourself are healthier and happier. Here’s my self-care shortlist;
- Keep expect to drink roughly 2 litres or half a gallon of water if you’re writing all day. This will ensure that your eyes don’t get too dry and itchy.
- Speaking of dry eyes; take a ten or fifteen minute break for every three or four hours you work. Stretch, do a squat or two, and look away from the screen. Even just tilt your head back and rest your eyes.
- Eat well; don’t gorge on crap. Complex carbs, meat, healthy fats. These are as essential to the writer as the athlete. Have fruit at your desk, even.
- Sit in a proper chair where possible.
- Maintain good posture. Proper writing posture looks like this;
- Try standing while you write for a while; set your laptop/tablet/notepad on the kitchen counter if you can.
- Actually take down time; you should write as much as possible, but all day every day is no good for everyone. even 9 – 5 workers get a day or two off per week.
Arm Yourself With Understanding
Make sure that you have all the resources you need to get you through; do your research, develop your idea, create strong characters, develop and make use of your characters effectively, and know what mistakes you should avoid – there are quite a few.
Above and beyond all that, however, go easy on yourself; don’t fall into despair if you miss a day or two. Get back on the horse and keep your eyes on the prize!