Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines! When this post goes live, we will be four days deep into NaNoWriMo – a.k.a., National Novel Writing Month. I thought this would be an appropriate time to talk about embracing the muck that is first draft.
How the heck are you supposed to write an entire novel in just 30 days, anyway? It’s so easy to obsess over every little detail while writing first draft – particularly if this is your first book.
Maybe it takes you two hours to fill out one page because you keep going back to research something or edit the preceding paragraph. Or maybe you get in the zone and dash out 20 pages in one sitting – only to re-read it the next day and conclude that your masterpiece doesn’t deserve to live under a rock in the desert.
Either one of these problems can really put a wet blanket on your momentum, grinding your NaNoWriMo challenge to a halt. How do you overcome?
Flawed Is Beautiful
Keep in mind – first draft is not about perfect. It’s about getting the story out of your head. Subsequent drafts are about making it perfect.
I vividly recall the light-bulb moment one of my college classmates had in English composition – when he realized he didn’t have to write everything perfectly the first time; that writing could be broken down into pre-planning, a wretched first draft, not-so-horrible subsequent drafts, and the beautiful final draft – and that he wasn’t such a bad writer as he thought!
If first draft is good for one thing, it’s for being as intensely imaginative as you can possibly be. So what if you flung your hero’s car off a cliff in one scene and have it up and running again in the next? Be a child again. Anything is possible. Just keep writing. First draft is for you, final draft is for your readers.
But how do you turn off the inner critic and get that challenging first draft out?
Sign Up for NaNoWriMo
Keep the Pen Moving
Or pencil. Or cursor. Set a timer, start writing, and don’t quit or go back until the timer rings. You can also use a page goal – don’t stop until you’ve filled one page. Or two or three – whatever you set as your goal. Or you can use a book-oriented goal. Don’t stop until you’ve finished one scene. Or one chapter.
I find this exercise works great for me – particularly since I’m also guilty of a wandering mind! I write by hand, and instead of concentrating on the actual words I’m writing, I strictly focus on whether or not words are flowing out of my pencil. If I notice that words are no longer “magically” appearing on my page, I just get that pencil moving again with whatever is next word in my head. I let my subconscious handle the rest – and when I look at it again later, it usually isn’t half so bad as I feared!
Love the Ugly Ducklings
Sometimes, when you’re having a really bad day and can’t find the zone and every word you write is truly a piece of trash, you have to simply love your ugly ducklings, in all their horrific gangliness.
Again, instead of making it your goal to write something good, make your goal so many words, so many pages, so much time, or so many scenes. It doesn’t matter one bit of nasty gray down if those words are disgusting.
They exist, therefore they are beautiful. Embrace them because they are written, make a note of how you plan to make them much better in second draft, and move on.
Those are my top three tips for embracing the horror that is first draft, whether you’re in the middle of NaNoWriMo, or just chipping away at your WIP. What are yours?