The First Draft: The First Steps

Once you have your big idea, you need to know that you can execute it, but how? You’ve never written a novel before.

So, back to pathways, it’s time to take your first tentatives steps.

  1. Download Scrivener

    Here’s why. Don’t waste time faffing about with Word like I did, just do it! Give yourself a day to learn about it and trick around with it, after that, you should have the hang of it. Doing that now will save you time and heartache in the future.

  2. Set a deadline for the completion of your first draft and final draft.

    This is important because if you don’t set deadlines things can start to drift a bit.  You absolutely have to keep the momentum going with the first draft. If not, you’re at risk of abandoning the project, and that’s not going to happen this time. If you find your novel stalling, or that you’re avoiding it, it indicates that something’s seriously wrong. It’s possible that the idea isn’t ‘the big one’. Subconsciously you’re not passionate enough about it, or that you’re afraid of it. Drifting a little is quite natural on draft two, or three or the final draft, but it shouldn’t happen with the first draft.

  3.  Keep reading

Never stop reading at any stage in the process.

4. and Definitely Read these two books…

The first draft doesn’t require perfect punctuation,  sensational syntax, or wonderful words. So learning about the technical stuff can wait until the editing stage. What you need to get off the blocks are a bit of motivaton, some momentum and a lot of magic.

So read:

A book on the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen

Firstly, I’ll deal with the least obvious of the two books. Every new year I would make a list of things I was going to change.

  • Give up smoking
  • Find a man
  • Get out of my shitty job
  • Get the body of my dreams.

Yes, the list was always about a foot long, and these changes required massive self-control and dedication, but the prospect of a shiny, sparkly new year meant it all felt possible. New year, new me. Right?

By the 7th January I’m sitting on my sofa, still alone, with a full ashtray in front of me. I feel so grateful for my terrible job that I’ve just accepted a demotion and a pay-cut and the only solution is to sit in my dressing-gown, hair unwashed, and eat the shame away, one stuffed crust pizza at a time.

When I used to fail at things like this, I never asked myself why I hadn’t succeeded, because I knew. I told myself I was just flaky. Every time I planned to make a change or do something new and I abandoned it, my confidence in my ability to change was shaken. This can be really damaging to one’s self-esteem. Believe me, I’ve been there.

Kaizen teaches you not to be so hard on yourself. In the past, you’d set yourself up to fail. You’d set the bar impossibly high to begin with. You swamped yourself, overwhelmed yourself and expected too much too soon. You can’t expect to achieve all of your goals at once, and the ones you do achieve are best achieved slowly but surely. Anything else just isn’t realisic. The Kaizen philosophy is a simple but lifechanging one:

Take small steps every day towards your goal and you will get there.

Stephen King’s, On Writing

There are many good things about Stephen King’s On Writing. Many of them have been said before and will be said over and over in other books on writing: advice on grammar, punctuation, the use of adverbs, the importance of using the active voice. What those other books don’t tackle, however, is the more abstract stuff. King tackles stuff that, coming from anyone else, would sound woolly, or airy fairy, or a bit mad. Stephen King has a knack for capturing the intangible. The best advice that King offers in this book is the stuff about magic, and this is really important when it comes to the first draft.

Firstly, he gives you permission to write badly. That’s pretty liberating. Before I launched into my novel, I thought my first draft would only need a little bit of an edit and a polish. That if I didn’t write something close to perfect first time round, it meant I was a bad writer. King made it clear that getting the story down and keeping the momentum going are the most important things with the first draft. Keeping the momentum going also means you don’t have the space for self-doubt, which is crippling in seasoned writers, let alone debut authors.

The next most important thing that I took from his book was, to set a word count and stick to it. every day. So that is what I’ve been doing, and it’s working. I sit at my desk and don’t leave until I’ve written 2000 words. Sometimes it takes three or four hours, sometimes it takes the day. But I don’t leave until they are done. And now, every day when I leave my desk, I’ve achieved something measurable. Something tangible. And it feels magical.