by Signe Pike
“I’m working on a book.”
If you’ve uttered this sentence, you’re most likely acquainted with the particular horrors of trying to complete a first draft. Many unforeseen issues rear up to challenge a writer in this fragile but entirely crucial stage. Without a solid first draft, there’s nothing to revise, submit, and publish.
As a former book editor turned author, I’ve witnessed war stories from both sides of the desk. But when it came time to write my first historical novel, The Lost Queen, I found myself up against the beastly first-draft problem in a new and very personal way.
Here’s what worked for me, with hopes it may also work for you.
1. Create a room of your own
Whether it’s a coffee shop, a designated office, a cleared-out closet or even a simple privacy screen that separates your own space, just as you eat at your kitchen table or workout at the gym, having a designated writing space is hugely important to the creation of a habit. You need to establish a routine.
As you regularly sit and settle into your space, you’ll find it’s easier to “plug in,” picking up where you left off in your project time and time again.
2. Schedule your time
Make a commitment to touch the keys or put your pen to paper every day. This helps keep your mind trained on your book and of course also helps you hit your word count (more on that below).
Schedule and protect your writing time like a dragon guards its treasure.
You may have to wake up early or stay up late, but when you’re committed to completing a book, you must protect your time. This part can be truly challenging. Depending on the demands of your life, it might even seem darn near impossible. But if you don’t do this, you run the danger of languishing forever in a state of first draft purgatory. The only remedy for this malady is (grudgingly) referred to by authors as “Butt in Chair.”
3. Commit to a word count
In Stephen King’s book On Writing, he recommends writers try to type 2,000 words a day. I make that my goal. I track my progress in a word document detailing the date, the word count I’m beginning with, and the word count I finish with. At the end of the writing session, I do the math and also record how many pages I have in total. Some days I only manage 100 words. But when I write daily and track my progress, I see that I am indeed progressing. I see I’m building a book.
4. Silence your inner critic
For most writers, there is a particularly useless voice that rises up from the depths of their inner gloom, pain or insecurities. Nothing this evil voice has to say is going to help complete a first draft. In fact, the inner critic would be quite happy if you never finished the manuscript at all, because then you wouldn’t run the risk of failure.
After all, So-and-So is a far better writer. Besides, you don’t even know where your story is going. Writing isn’t going to pay your bills. Especially not if you use those stupid words–you call that a sentence?
STOP. Recognize the voice of your inner critic as it surfaces. Your job in constructing a first draft is to let the writing flow. If a sentence comes to mind, listen and write it down. There will be time later to improve your sentence quality.
This is the time for freedom and flow.
Reassure yourself that there is a time to write and a time to revise. You will have plenty of time to amend, improve, and polish. In the meantime, use these four steps to get the blasted thing on paper.
What held you (or is holding you) back at the first-draft stage? On Facebook, share your challenges and the strategies that work best for you.
Signe Pike was an acquisitions editor at Random House and Penguin before publishing the travel memoir Faery Tale. Her newest book, The Lost Queen, was optioned for television and is a Barnes & Noble “Discover New Writers Pick” for Fall 2018. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.