I get it. Words are deceptively hard. There’s so much that no one tells you about getting that first draft written, and trying to learn the craft while writing a novel is soul-crushing. I’ve been writing for over ten years, and during that time, I’ve come across a lot of different people who are ultimately failing themselves and their stories for different reasons.
I want to address some of the more common writer-types that I’ve come across, because getting the first draft out of you is the hardest part. Keep in mind that none of these people are making their first draft happen. If you think you might be one of these, I wanted to also give you some encouragement and tips to help get you back on track.
“I’d like to write a novel someday.”
This person is the kind of person who maybe liked reading, liked the idea of writing, or had a really great story to tell, but for whatever reason, has never put pen to paper. Sometimes, they’ll even try to explain the great idea they had for a story once, and try to convince you that you should write that story for them. As enthusiastic as these people are, they don’t realize that you have your own novels to write that you are passionate about.
If you have always thought you’d write a novel someday, and never have, you must face the fact here and now that no one is going to come along and just write that novel for you. No one is as passionate or knowledgeable about that story as you, and you’d be doing your story is disservice to assume you’ll get around to it one day, or even worse, pawn it off to someone else to write with their vision. If you don’t write your story, no one will. You’re the only one who can, so I will always encourage you to give it a try.
“I have so many ideas for stories that I don’t even know where to start.”
This person has a problem with a lack of focus. Usually this means they’ve started something and gotten sidetracked by another story, or another ten stories, all of which they have eaten the brains out of and then run off to another juicier meal, leaving dead bodies, (erm, you know I mean manuscripts, right?), in their wake. Don’t be a zombie. All they want to do is eat your brains.
Instead, try to focus on just one major project or task at a time. This could be the one you’re the most excited to tell, it could be one that you’ve already got most of the outline done for, or one that you have come back to time and again. If you have other story ideas during this time, it’s okay. Brain dump everything you’ve got into a file and look at it later, then get back to focusing on the major task at hand.
“I can’t even begin to write anything until I have it all planned out.”
The person that says this typically plots a novel to death. This may include their worlds, characters, and backstories. You probably shouldn’t spend 20 years plotting your novel out just to write one book. Even if it is a series of books set in the same world, you will likely find even more ideas and more depth from just writing the first draft than you will by trying to plot without one.
If this is your scenario, remember that your time on this planet is limited, and you may only write 3-5 books in your lifetime at this pace. If you’re okay with that, then keeo doing what you love. If you’re not satisfied with that, don’t be discouraged that you don’t know everything, yet. Get your big moments figured out, and trust that the rest will come to you when you start to write it and think about it more seriously.
“I had this cool idea, and I sort of know where it’s going to go, but I have no idea how to get there.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum are those people who have no idea how to get their novel from point A to point B. This was me the very first time I tried to write a draft. Even upon getting my most dubious of first drafts finished, my characters were incredibly flat. Very few people can write a complete novel from start to finish without having some sort of outline going. Those people essentially live in their basements and have been writing for 30 years. You are not one of those people. I wasn’t one of them either.
When you first have an idea for something, plot or characters or any of it, you will usually be excited and want to jump right in. Sometimes a scene comes to me in part or in whole. Sometimes, its a facet of the world that may or may not be totally relevant. Whether I can use it or not, I have some puzzle pieces that I’ve randomly picked out of the box that is my story. This is where my outline comes in, because they aren’t always useful things like straight edges or corners, so I have to dig through the box to find some of those pieces before I can start to put everything together. You don’t have to have every piece lined out and ready to put into the right part of your puzzle, but you need to at least have a starting place.
“You don’t have to be an English Major to know how to read and write. I grew up doing it my whole life.”
This type of person thinks they know the language just because they’ve grown up with it. They are also the type to think they know how to write a book since they’ve read so many of them. Yes, and no. So much no. If you’re this type of person, you’ll be trudging along, writing to your hearts content, only to find that the language is more nuanced and complicated than you really thought about or assumed. I don’t seem to ever remember that you aren’t supposed to start a sentence with a preposition. Nope. Don’t care. I seem to totally ignore that rule whenever possible. Sending your chapters through critiques will call into question: did you ever learn the language at all?
If this is you, consider taking some classes, watching some videos, or reading articles from your favorite authors online about the actual craft of writing. We don’t actually write dialogue the way we speak. No one actually thinks about it when they reach up and scratch their nose. At least not in real life, but in writing, you do. How often do you actually use someone’s name? Probably about never. But if you’re reading a conversation where there are multiple characters of the same gender involved, you might use it more than you’d think. Learning the craft as much as possible, writing as much as possible, and getting feedback on your work is going to call out all these little quirks that you have built up and never noticed before will get you where you need to be.
I want you to thrive in the coming months, and even further down the road. If you have any tips for getting your first draft written, let me know in the comments below!