Six steps that will help you complete your first draft
I did it!
The first draft of my novel is complete. I have printed it and I am currently carrying it around with me like it's the most precious thing in the world. When I said the words, “I finished my book,” to my husband yesterday, I cried. I felt happy, sad, elated and proud all at the same time, and it was overwhelming (God knows what I'll be like when it's actually ready to publish!) And I did it in six months - bang on schedule to meet my self-imposed deadline at the end of June.
Over the next few weeks, while I am resisting the urge to get stuck in and begin the editing process, I'm going to try to gather my thoughts together and produce a blueprint that, hopefully, will guide anyone else who wants to go from idea to first draft in six months. But, for now, I'll just share a few of the things that kept me going and pushed me through to the finishing line.
I'm not going to lie – reaching this point was far from easy. There were times when I felt very tired, and grumpy, and hard-done-by because I couldn't manage to win the lottery and just write full-time, all day, every day. There were also times when life got in the way – for good reasons, and bad - and writing was pushed to the bottom of the priority pile.
So, the first thing I had to do was just keep reminding myself why I wanted to write this story. The answer – personal fulfilment. Nothing to do with making money, or showing off. I just didn't want to be one of those people who spends their life saying, 'one day i'll write my book,' and never actually does it. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. And, even if it turns out to be not that great, that's okay. To actually have an idea, plot it from beginning to end, and write it, is bloody hard work!
I set myself a deadline of finishing my first draft by the end of June 2016 because this is the month I turned 30. It's also exactly six months since I started writing in earnest, so it seemed ideal. I am 100% convinced that setting this goal and being determined to stick to it was what made the difference. At one point, Mr T told me I was being too hard on myself and that I should relax. But I knew that if I did that, the process would drag on and on and I would never finish it. Now, this doesn't mean that you should work yourself into the ground in order to meet the goal you set. If I hadn't managed it, I would have given myself a pat on the back, said well done for trying, and been content with running a few days or weeks over. But having that goal in place, having something to aim for, was the driving force that made me keep going even when life got busy.
3. Take yourself seriously
Now, this probably depends on where you see yourself in terms of your writing career. If you are just writing for pleasure and don't intend to publish, then you can probably relax a bit more. But if, like me, you would like to make a business out of your authoring, you need to start treating it like one.
Obviously, I am aware that very few writers manage to make a full-time living from just their writing alone. However, if you were to ask me my biggest life goal, that would be it. If it never happens, that's fine too – I'll happily chug along writing in my spare time. But if you don't try, you don't know, right? So, when I'm not writing I immerse myself in podcasts, books, and blogs that talk about the business side of writing. A common theme of all of these is that, at some stage, you have to start thinking of being an author as a job. Yes, it's a brilliant job, but it's also hard work and if you are truly serious about succeeding you need to suck it up and treat it like one.
4. Just keep swimmin'
If you're stuck on a section, move to the next one. If you can't think of a word, write a not very good one and highlight it for later or use brackets instead. If you don't know how you're going to get your characters out of a situation, write something because something is better than nothing and it will give you something to work on. And never stop believing you can do it – don't get disheartened when you read another author's work and find yourself thinking “I'll never be as good as whats-her-face.”
5. Accept that your first draft will, most likely, be not-very-good
The whole point of a first draft is that it's just that – a draft. This is not the copy you show to your friends, and it's nowhere near finished yet. Everyone edits a little as they go along, but the editing you will do in the next phase will shape and tone your story.
6. When you're finished – lock it in a drawer!
I'm finding it very hard to stick to this but I know I absolutely have to. I need to distance myself from my work. For the last few weeks especially, I've thought of little else. So I need some time to reflect and get my editing hat ready. I'm going to try and leave it alone for two weeks, at least. Preferably, a month. I'll use that time to make some notes about book two in the series, write down questions that I'm worried I haven't answered, and fine-tune some of the more nitty gritty details that I need to ensure are believable – like the distance between locations and the time it takes to travel between them.
Well, that's it for now, but I've already started working on the From Idea to First-Draft in Six Months blueprint, so keep your eyes peeled and I'll let you all know when it's ready. And remember, if I can do it, so can you!