What you need to write your first draft

If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance you have an interest in writing (or maybe you just think I’m nice – in which case thank you!). Anyway, whether you’re just thinking about writing, vigorously planning your book, or even amidst the throes of writing or editing – I can guarantee it hasn’t all been easy.

I’ve known plenty of people who’ve wanted to write books, but very few have actually completed a full draft. So! I thought I’d share a bit of an overview of what I think it takes to get that first draft on the page.

1. A Love of Reading

Look, it might sound obvious, but if you’re going to write a book, you’re going to need to have some interest in reading. Especially for fiction, if you’re going to tell a story you need to know why we love the art of telling a tale, and how they ought to be structured. One of the first ways we see that is through being a reader. Besides, writing a book is a huge commitment – mentally, physically, and emotionally. If you’re unable to emotionally connect with writing, something is missing.

Maybe you do want to tell a story but don’t want to write a book – maybe short stories, or writing plays, or screenwriting, or poetry, is more your style. Each of these are unique and different to a novel.

2. An Idea

Again, it may sound obvious, but sometimes we know we want to write something, but we’re just not quite sure what. And that’s ok! I don’t know of any author who had a full and complete story spring into their mind in an instant. But what you do need is a spark, an idea, which you can craft your story around.

I’m reminded of the classic tale of C.S. Lewis just having the image of a faun at a lamppost in his head. From that one image sprung one of the most beloved children’s stories of all time. Maybe it’s the same for you, or maybe it’s a bit different. Perhaps you hold a theme close to you heart – the value of friendship, the honour of sacrifice, the struggle of addiction. Maybe there’s a setting you’ve visited that absolutely captured your heart and you felt it was worth weaving into a tale. Use these things, people, places, ideas, images, art… all these things you love as sparks to enlighten your brainstorming. Perhaps you have a love of the beach, and want to tell a tale about a struggling friendship as two people grow apart. Perhaps they can live at the coast, and the waves crashing against the rocks are almost a metaphor for their rocky relationship.

3. A commitment to learning

Writing a book is not easy. No matter how prolific a reader you are, you will still need to learn the craft. Be willing to adopt the attitude of a student and soak up all you can. Structure, pacing, character arcs, inner and outer conflict, themes… there’s so much to know and learn and interweave to create a satisfying story. Hunt down resources – whether writing books, workshops, even other writers or a writing buddy with whom you can hone your craft. You’ll never learn everything.

I recommend C.S. Lakin’s blog and Jenna Moreci’s YouTube videos as a great place to start.

4. Planning (for me at least)

This ties in with the previous point. You see, I’d tried writing stories my whole life, but it was only after I’d successfully planned out an entire tale and knew exactly where it was going that I managed to finish one.

I wholeheartedly believe that was because I knew the tale from start to finish. For the first time as I wrote I knew exactly where my characters were, and exactly where they were going. I was excited – eager to write the scenes that thrilled me most – and I knew they were coming – I just had to keep going! I didn’t have to stop and think about what to do next, because I already knew.

Now, I’m a firm believer that there’s no one right way to write a novel, but for me, planning it out first was the key to success. I had a book full of notes planning out character arcs, locations, distances. I had palm cards with scenes written down stuck to my wardrobe door to go scene by scene. It was all there in front of me. That doesn’t mean it didn’t grow and change along the way, but it made it so much easier to get the story down on paper.

My wardrobe door – this isn’t even when it was complete – the red sticky notes were places I needed to add scenes as my tertiary plot great in the telling.

5. Commitment – and a willingness to not be perfect

If you’re writing a whole novel, you’ve got to be committed to it. It’s an entire story, and to achieve it will, inevitably, take TIME. I’m not talking a few hours, I’m talking weeks and months (potentially) of consistent brainstorming, planning, writing, editing. It’s a mammoth task. But as Vincent Van Gogh (supposedly) said “great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together”. You CAN ABSOLUTELY do it, you just have to be persistent, persevere in you craft. And this, by the way, is where I think planning really helps – because you can see the path in front of you!

Also, don’t be afraid for your first draft to be bad. Because it almost certainly will be. But that’s ok! That’s what editing is for! You’ll get there. The first step is just to Get. Those. Words. On. The. Page.

So what do you think? Would you agree? Disagree? Is there anything you’d add?

I’d love to hear from you!

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