Too many ideas. A writer’s best friend or worst enemy? We can ask the same thing of a first draft.
Our hearts start racing and our minds start whirring after the first few sentences. We know we’ve got this. When does that feeling end? How many of these first drafts do we have? How many are finished as opposed to the number that are set aside and forgotten?
Why? Why do so many projects remain unfinished? Most of the time the only thing holding us back is the person we see in the mirror. We need to get out of our own way.
What are the fallacies we tell ourselves that keep us from finishing the first draft? How can we overcome them?
Fallacy 1: I don’t have enough time to write, let alone finish, a draft.
No time. It seems we face this problem no matter what our chosen task. We feel the clock ticking and think there are other, possibly more important, things that we could be doing with our time.
I am part of The Mutual Admiration Society, for Writers (thanks to you awesome writers for your input), a group of mostly #TurtleWriters on Facebook. Turtle Writers (hashtag started by Rosetta Yorke, Meka James, and M L Moos on Twitter) are writers who write slower than “normal,” but we still write. And we still struggle.
Victoria Shelley said that her biggest struggle with writing a first draft is “sitting down and finishing” it. There it is again: time.
Why is this a fallacy when everyone seems to wrestle with it? Easy. Who set the rules for when you have to finish? Why are you following someone else’s rules? Here are a few ways that you can start setting your own and finding your own way:
- Set aside a specific amount of time to write
- K. Grubb says it can be done in just 10 minutes a day!
- Set a timer if you want to push yourself through it.
- Set weekly goals
- You don’t have to write every day – build up to that habit.
- Start with a small weekly goal – you have to work your way up to difficult goals.
- If you don’t reach your goal, it’s not the end of the world. Reflect on it, and make a new, more attainable one.
- Remove the distractions
- Make a list of everything that distracts you from your writing – then work toward removing yourself from them for a little while.
- Go to the park or library to write. Find your zone.
- Maybe waking up early or staying up a little later will work for you.
Find what works for you to finish that first draft. Don’t allow anyone to make you feel guilty for writing, especially when it’s only for a short period of time each day.
Fallacy 2: I ran out of ideas, this plot isn’t working anymore, or I’m not reaching my goals.
We have been alive for years. We have read countless books. We have had a variety of experiences. We have an unlimited bank of ideas bouncing around in our noggin at any given moment.
We truly are our own worst enemies here. Maybe we’re planners, but our characters are no longer working with the plot we created. Maybe we’re pantsers, so we never really knew the direction we would take anyway.
Writing the first draft of my current WIP was a long process, mostly because I’m a planner. The first thing I did was write down my idea – as much of it as I had in my brain. Then, I started planning.
When I started the first draft, I had one major question: Who is the antagonist? I had no idea. The further I dove into the draft, the more confused I got. How was he doing this?
So, I stopped. I was stuck in this fallacy. I thought I was out of ideas. I couldn’t see how my plot was going to progress. I definitely wasn’t reaching any of my arbitrary goals. What now? How will I ever finish this draft?
- I ran out of ideas.
- Look around you – the world you live in is an idea bank. Make a withdrawal.
- Make lists: places, people, actions, decisions, crises, etc.
- “Character development” may be holding you back as it does for Michelle Winkler, so give them some more options – use the lists to help them tell the story. If you still need more, worry about it in revisions.
- You don’t need to focus on the details right now. Worry about that after you finish this draft. If you want your character to be somewhere, then write it – fix the how and the why in revisions.
- I even brainstormed possible storylines for my antagonist. If I could figure out who he was, then I could write again. It doesn’t hurt to plan a little more.
- This plot isn’t working anymore.
- Then fix it. The writing process is recursive. If you’re a planner, go back to the plan and adjust it. If you’re a pantser, then this is what you’ve been training for!
- Make a notation on the draft where things changed, and keep going. The notation will let you know where revising should probably start when the first draft is finished.
- Maybe you’re having trouble “coming up with an ending,” a problem Willie Handler has had. It’s okay- sometimes the ending hides itself until you write the rest of the story (sneaky endings).
- Do a freewrite to work through your thoughts. Sometimes spending a little time in your brain can help you fix things.
- Discuss your plot problems with a sounding board. Working it out alone doesn’t always work, but bouncing ideas off of someone else offers valuable support.
- Write from a different point of view for a bit. It’s the first draft – who cares if that’s not the POV you’re going to settle with?
- This ultimately helped me. I wrote from my antagonist’s POV, starting at the climax (which I was nowhere near). He wanted to start there, so I let him.
- He opened up and told me his story after that.
- Write out of order – yes, you read that right. As you can see, sometimes you need to jump around in the plot to figure out where it’s going.
- I’m not reaching my goals.
- KristaLyn A Vetovich says she’s often “worrying about word counts… but I love the idea that the first draft is you telling yourself the story so you can revise it to tell others.”
- If you’re participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this month, then you know all about these worries. However, adjusting your goal is one of the great things about camp. If it’s not working for you, reflect and adjust.
- Reflection. If you are setting goals for yourself to finish this draft and not meeting them, have you figured out why? There is no use in setting the same goals over and over and not achieving them. All that will do is set you up for failure.
- My biggest success was making sure my goals were attainable. If you can’t reach them, then they need rewritten.
Whatever our case, we can overcome this, too. We have the skills to finish writing our first draft, and we have the support if we need it.
Fallacy 3: I’m terrible at this, so there’s no way anyone will ever want to read it.
Another writer, BillyOwensJr, said the biggest struggle with writing the first draft is “being comfortable with yourself” enough to finish writing it. Self-doubt makes this the worst fallacy out there. We let ourselves down by telling that lovely reflection our writing is terrible or that no one in the world will ever read it.
Guess what? It’s a first draft. No one in the world ever should read it!
The number one way we stumble into this fallacy is by editing or revising as we write. We go back and tell ourselves how awful it is. We try to reason with ourselves, but we only end up explaining that if it’s not perfect, we’ll only make more work in the end. To which we tell ourselves that more work means even less of a chance for someone to read it in the future.
“I hate writing words I know I’m going to delete later because it feels like creating more work. But I have to remind myself that writing anything is creating more work, no matter how pretty the words are.” – M L Moos
You can do this. You can write this first draft. You can write this first draft even if it’s the worst thing you’ve ever written because that’s okay. It is allowed to be the worst thing you’ve ever written. No one ever has to read it.
No one ever read my first draft. I wouldn’t even let my husband read it. It was nowhere near perfect when it was done. But it was done. That’s all a first draft has to be. You’ve got this.
Which fallacies do you struggle with? What holds you back from writing your first draft? Which fallacies have you overcome? Feel free to share with me in the comments!
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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing: Everything You Need to Know to Create & Sell Your Work, 3rd Edition from the editors of Writer’s Digest