For those of you who don’t know, July is Camp NaNoWriMo month! Do you have a writing project you need to tackle? Do you have a novel that needs finishing, or editing, or revising? This is the month to do it.
And because of that, I figured I’d write about First Drafts. There’s a few stages you go through when writing your first draft, of any story and there’s plenty of ways to set yourself up for success. Here are my tips to help you navigate writing your first draft and what I wished I’d known along the way.
When you’re staring at the blank page, at the beginning of your first draft, the end can seem so very far away. The odds don’t seem to be in your favor and your doubt and anxiety are starting to creep in.
I’m sure you’ve heard people say this and it’s so true: starting is the hardest part. And it truly is.
When I started my NaNo novel last November, sitting down on Nov. 1 to write my 1700 words was a struggle! I think I came up with three TV shows, two new DIY projects, and a dozen chores that all needed to be done before I sat down to write. However, I’d been clever with myself and woken up at 6am, when I couldn’t do most of the things on that insane list because I either didn’t have the supplies or I would end up with noise complaints at my front door.
So I made a cup of tea, curled up with my blanket and sat down at my computer. I opened my writing program and before I could even let myself think too much, I started writing. I wrote whatever came to my head and if I was stumped the ONLY website I allowed myself to look at was NaNoWriMo’s Writing Sprints Twitter page.
To clarify, I knew the main plot of my story, but I hadn’t outlined much of anything and I was literally meeting and knowing my characters as they walked on and off the page. I let my fingers just write whatever showed up. It made for some weird scenes and some dialogue that will never see the light of day. But it got the bare bones of my book out there in the world. And that’s what counts!
That’s the key at the beginning: just write. Sit down, and don’t think, don’t blink, don’t even hesitate, just start writing. Let your fingers be swept up by your mind and heart as they propel your story out of you.
In a phrase: get out of your own damn way!
Ah yes…the middle of your story. You’ve made so much progress! And have so much farther to go…
This is where it’s most important to just show up every single day. Be clever and outsmart yourself. At the beginning, plan for the middle, to keep your momentum and your inspiration.
For me, this meant creating a plan from day 1 for the rest of the month. On Nov. 1 before I even sat down to write, I did a bit of math. Instead of calculating how many words a day I needed to finish on the 30th, I pushed it back to how many words a day I would need to finish the week earlier, by Thanksgiving. It only added an additional 200 words to my count each day, but would help my novel by leaps and bounds.
Basically, I front loaded myself with the heavy lifting. I printed out a calendar and wrote down how many words I wanted to write each day. For the first two weeks, I aimed to write 1800 words a day. The final two weeks, I aimed to write 1700 words.
Not only was I putting a lot of the heavier work at the beginning when I could have more momentum, but I also gave myself a relief halfway through the month, when I’d be feeling burnt out and ready to be done. That little dip in words, would keep my momentum up and fool my brain into thinking the task at hand was simpler because I’d already done so much work.
As well, if I wrote over my word count (which often happened when I was writing a really good scene), I wouldn’t allow it to roll over to the next day. For instance, my goal was 1800 words a day, but one day I wrote 3200 words. That didn’t mean that I was off the hook of writing the next two days. No way! The next day I still sat down and wrote another 1800 words. And the next day. And the next.
However, it pushed me ever more ahead, getting closer and closer to my word goal. I believe that it’s because of this technique that I actually finished my novel.
As well, every weekday I woke up at 6am before getting ready for work to write. That half hour each morning allowed me to crank out most of, if not all of my writing for the day. On the weekends, I had my husband keep me accountable, which made for some funny situations…I ended up writing in the car on our way to a friend’s house one night!
Setting aside a consistent time to write most days of the week was one of the best things I could have done. That routine made writing every day a habit and I felt off all day if I didn’t do it each morning.
Finishing is the best feeling in the world. Finishing, and then months later realizing you could have done more, is not the best feeling.
When I finished my novel, Joe opened a bottle of champagne, we both posted on social media that I had FINISHED MY NOVEL and spent the rest of the evening celebrating with leftover Thanksgiving pie.
And then I put my novel away, saying I would take a month off and reassess after Christmas.
Which turned into after my birthday in February.
Which turned into “when I’ll have more time in the summer”…really? Who has extra time in the summer??
And here I sit, with little progress to show for the novel that I so diligently worked through last November. And it scares me to write it, but guys…that was eight months ago.
While I had a great plan for myself during NaNoWriMo, I didn’t have any plan whatsoever for life after NaNoWriMo.
What I wished I’d done was prepare stretch goals for myself. Stretch goals and a plan for revising that went a bit more in-depth than “I’ll have a second draft done in a year”. I got to 50,000 words on Thanksgiving Day, right at my goal. I had a whole extra week to keep writing and planning for the future!
But I didn’t. And I so wish I had.
Plan for your big goal of NaNo or Camp. Set yourself up for success with a daily plan to get those words out! And then anticipate your stretch goals. Figure out what you want to do if you have spare time. And when you do reach your main goal and have started on your stretch goals, figure out what happens after you finish your stretch goals.
For me, that would have been spending three days rereading the book, making notes about things I wanted to change. I would have tacked on a day to spend an hour outlining the necessary parts to my plot that I hadn’t included yet. I then would have designed a month-by-month plan to get my book revised and ready to send to beta readers in October, so I could be fired up to write the sequel this November.
Not only would I have been more prepared, but I wouldn’t have just dropped my book like a hot potato the minute I was done. I would have had a momentum to carry me, and I would have leeway if I got distracted by birthdays, or vacations, or anything else. Ultimately, my book would have been better, I’d feel better about my writing, and I’d be much farther along my timeline than I am now.
It pays to plan ahead a bit and to really, truly think why you’re wanting to accomplish your NaNo goal.
The Beginning: Get out of your own Damn Way. Don’t hesitate, just write. It doesn’t have to make sense. Just start every day, and don’t look back until you’re done.
The Middle: Plan for your own success. Create a calendar with your daily word count. List your stretch goals where you can see them.
The End: Create a What-Happens-After-NaNo/Writing Challenge plan. Give yourself leeway with life’s surprises and block out time for you and your newly finished, shiny book.
What are your best practices for writing a first draft? What are your plans for Camp NaNo? I’d love to hear them in the comments!