Writing your first draft is a challenge, but it’s also an exciting opportunity to develop your writing skills. In this blog post, we’ll look at ten tips for writing a book. This post is aimed at fiction, but the skills can be applied to non-fiction.
Tip One: Compliment Your Writing With Education
As writers, we must never stop learning. With the internet giving us plenty of educational resources, our excuses for not engaging with science, history, literature, and the world around us remain thin.
But what should writers learn whilst writing their first draft? And how can they apply it to their writing?
By picking relevant subject matter, of course! Here is what I suggest learning about:
- The Craft Of Writing
- For Historical Fiction, The Location And Time Period
- Psychology And Philosophy
- Skills In Rhetoric
Honestly, there is no such thing as a ‘bad’ subject area. Keep being curious and engage with ideas, as your writing will benefit from it.
Tip Two: Keep A Journal About Your Writing
Once I started to document my writing process, whether on Twitter or with a private diary, my writing goals went from impossible to achievable. The ability to reflect on your art is absolutely valuable, and can transform mediocrity to greatness.
A journal is an opportunity for you to develop your writing even further, and to keep record of all your thoughts during the first draft. You may like to consider sharing parts of your journal, as that can help with feedback on any stumbling blocks you run into.
There are other good reasons to keep a journal. As first drafts can take months, you will forget aspects of writing that you may need in the future. Human beings think thousands of thoughts every day, and the ones we forget may be the ones we need.
Journal writing also boosts creativity, organises your thoughts and relieves stress. This is certainly valuable when your writing deals with difficult themes, as keeping a diary forces you to develop your ideas and principles.
How personal you want your journal to be is up to you.
Tip Three: Stuck? Keep Writing
You will reach parts in your first draft that make no sense. Maybe your research before was insufficent, or character motivations aren’t working. But keep writing, because no one will write your first draft for you. Honestly, the first draft is about persistence and will power as opposed to elegance and clarity.
It’s okay that you don’t know everything about your story. If you continue to feel stuck, I suggest taking some writing exercises that can help develop your storytelling elements. Plenty are available online, and they can help you look at your characters, setting and plot in a new light.
There is no need to give up on your manuscript when you feel stuck. But keep note of what areas of writing you struggle with, as that may indicate greater problems as a writer. For example, I struggle with giving enough information in my writing.
It’s a problem that still continues to this day. But instead of ignoring it, or giving into it, I just make a note under relevant scenes to add more description in future drafts.
A vast majority of writing problems have simple solutions. Sometimes, it is just a matter of believing that its possible for you to use them.
Tip Four: Consider Using An Outline
You may be a ‘pantser’ and that’s okay. Some people require a blank page for complete creativity. But for a majority of writers who embark on their first draft: they don’t know if they are a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser.’ Truth is, most writers are a bit of both. And outlining can help them.
Outlines can be as detailed as you wish- mine are usually 3,000 words long. A great outline may contain the following:
- Key Characters: Who Is Who?
- Key Scenes: What, Who, Where, How Of Every Scene
- Key Themes And Ideas: What is the point of this story?
- All Plot Points: What happens next?
- A Structure For The Novel: Is your story told in three parts? Or is it five?
Outlines make writing so much easier, and can help you save time. Whether you use an Excel spreadsheet, a Word Document or a hand-drawn graph, consider outlining. If you think it may strain your creativity, remember that it is okay to ‘break’ parts of your outline while writing.
Your first draft is a fantastic opportunity for experimentation and creativity, so don’t feel bogged down by your outline.
Tip Five: Be Strategic About Word Count
Word count. Is there a more controversial topic in publishing? The word count can determine how successful your book is (but not always). And as a result, many writers are concerned about how long or short their first draft is.
But understand that alot of advice about word counts regarding first drafts are only relevant to certain writing processes. If you are a chronic underwriter (like me!) then your problem is adding content, not removing it.
Because of that, advice about long drafts being vomit-like don’t really apply. Some writers build up their stories, whilst others cut down.
However, you don’t really know what your first draft will look like until it is finished. And that includes word count. It’s fine to have a word count in mind, especially in future drafts (it’s probably necessary). But it’s unreasonable to be harsh on yourself for not meeting it.
Right now, your priority is putting words to paper, and to give shape to your characters, story and ideas. Word count requires a strategy, and you only get the hang of it after a few drafts.
Tip Six: Be Realistic About ‘Binge Writing’
Unless you are a professional writer who is used to writing large amounts of content within a short time period, chances are, having binge writing as a goal won’t work.
Why? Because you are simply not used to it. The ability to write alot under pressure takes years to develop, and it is not done overnight. It’s understandable to want to write 5,000 words a day, but unless you understand the risks of burnout, you will never reach that target.
Consider how much time you have each day. You may have family and professional responsibilities, and devoting endless hours writing may not be possible. While it is certainly true that you’ll have to make time to write, it is not worth neglecting your job, family or friends in order to binge write.
I also think there is value to taking your time to write.
If writing lots of content interests you, build up to it. Set tangible goals every day, and slowly move them up.
Tip Seven: Plan Out Scenes In Advance
Here’s how you can transform your blank page to full of words. Think about what scenes you want your novel to have, and include them in your outline. Not only will it save time, but you can see from a bird’s eye angle what your story is missing, and fix crucial problems before the first draft.
Not only that, but planning scenes in advance helps with structure. But be flexible, as while you write your first draft, you may want to add more scenes in. As an underwriter, I struggle with context and detail. Because of that, my outline is easy to edit and adjust.
It may also help to have a seperate file for each scene.
If you find this tip doesn’t fit well with your creative process, that’s also okay. But having a vague idea of scenes does help, no matter if you a pantser or a plotter.
Tip Eight: Accept The Limitations Of Your First Draft
I don’t think first drafts ‘suck’ or anything, but they have problems. And that’s okay! First drafts are like clay, and the final work is a sculpture. When you write your first draft, you simply don’t have a clear idea of what the story will look like at the end. No amount of outlining or plotting can avoid that.
You must accept that first drafts are unpredictable beasts. Learn to love them, and don’t be hard on yourself when they don’t end up as you please.
By allowing unpredictability in your writing progress, you are opening yourself up to further ideas and inspiration. That’s great, and will assist you in future drafts and edits.
Tip Nine: Beware The Sagging Middle
The middle part of the novel is the hardest to write. Although it’s usually jam-packed with scenes, it’s not defined by any ‘big’ moments, and alot of it can feel like jumping from point B to point C.
The middle-point is where alot of authors quit, even if they have planned out adequate scenes and enough tension.
What I like to do is create a visual board for the novel that helps me motivate writing it. Remind yourself: What made you want to write this novel in the first place? Do you want to change the world, debate an idea, or to challenge a genre? By thinking of the benefits of your story, you will find motivation to get you through the sagging middle.
It’s also okay to write the middle section last or first. But don’t skip it. The middle section is what gives the first and last section context and meaning, and deserves your time and attention.
Tip Ten: Divide Your Work Into Sections (Not Chapters)
By breaking your work into smaller parts, that will help reduce stress, and make your goals seem more achievable. Instead of aiming to write 80,000 words in 2 months, aim to write 20,000 words every fortnight for 2 months. That way you get a sense of accomplishment before you have even finished.
You may like to set rewards when you reach a milestone in your first draft. This can make approaching your work more exciting.
Dividing your work into sections can also help with structuring your novel into chapters or parts. By being time smart, you become more mindful about how storytelling is structured, and how it can benefit you and your writerly goals.
I hope these ten tips for writing a book help. What are your ideas? How do you write your first draft? Comment below.