That Illusive First Draft

Some days, when I’m staring at my computer screen and the words are stuck behind a very large and annoying mental barrier, I think – ‘there’s no way I’m ever going to finish this bloody story’. I’ll admit it – the air may even go a little blue at times! In the past when this has happened, I’ve left that story and gone on to start something else. There’s always another idea germinating – why not go and start that and see if that comes more easily?

The bottom line is – this is a total cop out. I know it, even while I’m doing it. I have come to realise that the most important thing I need to do is FINISH THE FIRST DRAFT!!!

Yes, capitals and exclamation marks are necessary because, ultimately, if I don’t finish the first draft there won’t be a story. I can’t edit and redraft and FINISH a story if I haven’t got the skeleton of a first draft.

first draft quote

This all sounds really easy in theory, but let me outline the obstacles to finishing the first draft:

  1. I can get bogged down in editing as I write. Some writers fire through their first draft and don’t worry about spelling mistakes, holes in their plot, or other general problems. It’s all about finishing it. After that, you can address those problems in the following drafts. I can’t do this. I’ve tried, but no, I can’t do it. So I’m constantly trying to restrain myself from editing as I write. I’m getting better at it but it’s a struggle. Maybe it’s an OCD tendency, or maybe I should be an editor instead of a writer? Either way, it’s a barrier to finishing that precious first draft.
  2. My planning or lack of it. I am naturally a panster (for more on pansters v plotters see here). This means I find planning hard and often plan as I’m writing, rather than beforehand, but this can also mean that my writing can grind to a halt if I don’t know where the story is going.
  3. I’m over complicating things. For example, I can get all twisted up in the thought process of my characters, or what’s driving them, their back-story, or how I’m building the tension between the characters. In short – the minute details. I’m trying to suspend the need for every single detail until the later drafts when I can layer in emotion and add more of everything. If I get stuck now, I’m trying to move on to the next bit instead of feeling despondent and giving up.
  4. Having more than one project on the go. Admittedly, sometimes this works well for me. I can write two projects concurrently when my productivity is high, but sometimes one project overrides the other and I end up dropping one. More often than not, I don’t pick it up again. I have decided to focus on one project at a time from now on.


first draft Hemingway quote

Clearly, every writer has different methods and goals. I think a really important aspect of writing is finding good habits and routines that work for you. I have read so many blogs and articles about the writing habits of famous authors – most with gentler advice than Hemingway! Some facets strike a chord, but, ultimately, it’s all about finding your own path and part of that is picking out the information that grabs your attention and piecing it all together to create a plan that works for you.

If, like me, you are finding your path through trial and error then good luck and please feel free to share how you manage to finish your first drafts!

Happy writing!