Getting Started – Tips for Writing the First Draft of Your Novel and Accepting that You Suck

6455128119_91ce755411_oEverything you write is going to be terrible. You will feel like a failure, and you will never want to pick up a pen again. Every page you write will be worse than the page before, and at the end of the writing day you will look down at your pages and pages of scribbles and ask yourself, what pile of demon diarrhea have I just created? But listen, at least you have something.

No one writes anything good in their first draft. If anyone tells you that they do they’re probably not a very good writer or else they’re lying to you – probably just to get into your pants. Don’t fall for it. Even Jack Kerouac, who claimed he wrote On the Road in three weeks in a drug-fueled frenzy, typing non-stop on a 120 foot scroll, actually did as many as six drafts of his book before it was picked up by publishers, and then it was edited some more!

I find the best way to approach the first draft of a novel is to assume that it’s going to be terrible, and it’s going to stay terrible for a very long time. If you try to write something good right away, you’ll be stuck on chapter three deciding if the golden retriever’s fur should glisten in the sun or else should be blown around by a gentle breeze. Chances are, on draft six of the novel you’re going to decide that that golden retriever should actually be an asthmatic turtle and you didn’t need to worry about its fur was glistening or blowing anyway.

The important thing is to WRITE SOMETHING.

It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that if you don’t get the first chapter perfect, the second chapter will go in the wrong direction. The third will be off-kilter from the second, and when the book is done you’ll end up having to rewrite half of it because the characters keep changing personalities and the plot doesn’t flow together as well as you want it to.

The thing is, YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO REWRITE HALF OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT REGARDLESS.

6422677131_d5ec279d94_oNovels tend to have minds of their own. Characters you’ve created will surprise you, and plots will go in directions you never expected. Until you’ve got a first draft down, you won’t know if the fight scene in chapter two is relevant or if your protagonist’s habit of eating marshmallows in secret is a little too on-the-nose. Even if you spend fourteen years painstakingly crafting each sentence of your first draft, it’s still going to suck and you won’t know until you have the full picture before you.

Writing a first draft is kind of like ripping off a Band-Aid. Regardless of how you do it, it’s going to hurt and all you’ll be left with is a gaping bloody thing that you don’t really want anyone to see.

So save yourself the years of agony. Right now, take a long hard look in the mirror and say, I suck and I’m going to do it anyway, and then GET TO WORK!

Exercise:

Set a timer for thirty minutes and write with an old-fashioned pen and paper until the timer goes off. No crossing anything out, just world-vomit your draft onto the page.

I find writing in a notebook takes away some of the pressure to get a piece right the first time. I know I’m going to be typing it up anyway, so it doesn’t matter if it’s perfect. Plus, writing away from a computer makes it harder to accidentally watch videos of old men getting puppies as presents when you should be working.

Do your 30 minutes of writing now, and you can watch this video afterward as a reward.

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