Writing a First Draft

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

National Novel Writing Month starts this Friday! For those who don’t know what this is, you can go to the NaNoWriMo site here and learn all about it. The point is to write 50,000 words of a novel in November. I think it’s great for discipline and for getting that first draft out. A terrific way to stop procrastinating and just do it!

Are you working on a novel, or planning to start one? This Friday would be a good time to get started with a goal of 50k-in-30-days.

And to make your writing process even more fun and productive, RescueTime is offering a membership along with their premium productivity tools free to writers during November. Click here to learn more and sign up. Starting line

So let’s talk about writing that first draft. Keep in mind we’re all different and we have unique strategies that work for us; these are general tips meant to be helpful. If they don’t work for you, throw them out.

1. Now is NOT the time to self-edit or worry about all those writing tips you’ve been taught. Just write. Let the words flow. If you’ve been studying the craft, you’ll naturally be inclined to show more than tell, write snappy dialogue, and be aware of how much backstory you’re allowing in. That’s great. But don’t let yourself get caught up in those details. Keep the forward momentum going. Your best writing will happen in the revision process.

2. Provide yourself uninterrupted time to write. This is a tough one, with jobs and families. But honestly, I think your biggest challenge is going to be staying off the Internet when you’re writing. I was recently re-reading Stephen King’s On Writing and he talks about having a quiet space to write, turning off the telephone, even closing the window shades to avoid distractions. How EASY it would be, if that’s all we had to worry about! King wrote it before the era of online social networking. The difficult truth is this: If you’re going to be a writer, you must set aside writing time and hold it as sacred.

This is where RescueTime can come in handy. If you sign up, it can track your computer time, block distracting websites, and send you alerts and reminders. Check it out.

3. Get your family involved. If you live with other people who depend on you for things like bringing home the bacon and/or frying it up in the pan, you’re not going to be able to accomplish this alone. I’ve said this all before so forgive me if it sounds familiar, but I think it’s important, when writing a first draft or writing on a deadline, to consider various ways to call in the reinforcements. Get more help with cooking, grocery shopping, housecleaning or lawn-mowing if possible. Delegate!

4. Remember this is a first draft. Lately I’ve seen a lot of ranting online from agents reminding writers: Do not submit in December whatever you wrote in November. Anyone who writes a first draft in a month is going to need several months to revise and polish. Revisions are when the real crafting happens. So don’t proudly start querying on December 1st with your NaNoWriMo project. (Unless it was last’s year’s NaNoWriMo project.)

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? What’s your goal—an entire novel, or half of one? Have you ever done this before? How’d it work for you? If you’re not going to do it—why not? Leave a comment!

? Click here to read today’s post at rachellegardner.com for more info about RescueTime and a fun infographic showing the 5 Habits of Highly Motivated Novelists.

? Click here to learn more about NaNoWriMo.

? Click here to sign up for your free productivity tools from RescueTime.



4 tips for writing a first draft from @RachelleGardner. Click to Tweet.

“Now is NOT the time to self-edit.” via @RachelleGardner. #NaNoWriMo #firstdraft. Click to Tweet.

“Get your family involved,” says @RachelleGardner. #NaNoWriMo #firstdraft. Click to Tweet.


52 Responses

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  1. Parker Meador says:

    These tips are wonderful. I was so apprehensive leading up to today. These tips really set my mind at ease and I am so ready. I have been waiting for 20 years for this moment(I’m 41) My first real attempt at writing. Thanks Rachelle 🙂

  2. Sharon says:

    I haven’t had the guts to do NaNoWriMo yet. Thinking about it again this year, but damn, Nov.1st is coming up fast!

    I’ve been stuck on revisions for a first draft I finished a long while ago so I don’t know if it’s the right time yet?

  3. Rano Daoud says:

    As an Agent, would you recommend not querying at all in December (for a non NaNo project)? I can only imagine that agents are being so inundated with NaNo queries, they may be a little bit more reserved about asking for partials.

  4. Jaime Wright says:

    I’m all in for Nano! Got my general outline fleshed out, character profiles built, basic research ready … Here we go! Just need to get the coffee brewing 🙂

  5. Have never participated in NaNoWriMo, and don’t plan on it this year as I am deep in revisions for my WIP.

  6. Terrance Leon Austin says:

    Thanks Mrs. Gardner. This is my first Nano and I am very excited. Delegating in my home will be a plus considering I work night hours. My only problem is procrastination. But, I have taken the necessary steps to avoid television and other distractions around me. 50k in one month? Hmmm, I love the challenge. It’s my determination vs. my procrastination. Who will prevail? Thank you, and bless you. 🙂

  7. Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? >>> No.

    Have you ever done this before? >>> No.

    If you’re not going to do it—why not? >>> Because November is a ridiculous month to do it in, with Thanksgiving in the month. About Nov 24 family will begin making their way in, which means house prep must begin well before that, including some amount of toddler-proofing. Actually we’ve already begun some house prep already. I lose fully half the potential writing days in November due to simple holiday busyness.

    If it were in October, or January, February, March, or just about any month except November and December I might give it a try.

    • Erin Danzer says:

      There are other NaNo type projects throughout the year; I believe April and June have Camp NaNo, where you can pick your word count and find the same kind of support and prep that NaNo requires. Just a thought if you ever want to give it a shot!

    • Pia Thompson says:

      I agree, November is one of the busiest times of the year. I tred to do it last year, but gave up after two weeks. I wish they had an option for an alternate month.

    • David, I’ve always thought it was kind of weird to have it in November. But I learned it was started by a small group of writers in San Francisco, and they wanted to do it in November because of the dismal weather. Makes sense to me! I always work better when it’s dreary outside.

    • Roxanne Sherwood Gray says:

      Besides hosting in a National holiday, November is also missing an additional 24 hours. If I were in charge of the world, I’d have chosen one of the fat months like January. Then, all those folks making New Year’s resolutions could write that novel they’ve been talking about and get it over with.

      Since I’m not in charge, I’ll join the NaNo crowd, even if I don’t hit my quota around Thanksgiving.

    • April says:

      As others have mentioned, they now have other months to do it in. But I think November is a great time (even though I’m always extra busy, too) because of that Leonard Bernstein quote: “To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.” Keeps my priorities in focus.

      Besides, it’s only Americans who have to worry about Thanksgiving in November. The rest of the world doesn’t have that problem.

  8. A suggestion I would make is that prior to starting a first draft, one should establish a working area and working habits. It’s a bit like getting into an exercise routine.

    Take a few weeks to do this, journaling or writing blog posts or whatever, and when it comes time to start the first draft you won’t be fighting your surroundings and the clock, along with wrestling your muse to the mat.

    Having ‘quiet time’ to write is great for most people, but there are some – like me – for whom quiet can be distracting. I find a hectic and noisy environment much more conducive to writing, because I have to concentrate. Stillness is the metaphorical leaky faucet – a part of me is straining to hear sounds that aren’t there.

  9. Jan Cline says:

    I’m doing NNWM for the first time this year. I’ve been researching a new project and working hard on my writing skills. I plan to get the fast draft of the entire book done in November. My issue is that since it’s historical fiction, I tend to get caught up in the historical facts as I go. I have done a lot of research this time and have a notebook of real facts I want to include, so I hope this will help. I’m really excited about his story and hope I can keep up!

  10. Erin Danzer says:

    I am planning to do NaNo yet again this year (this is my 11th year). I’m a veteran. 🙂 Unfortunately, where in the past I have felt confident in what I plan to write, my story took a turn towards the paranormal two days ago so I’m scrambling to fit it into my already-laid-out plot. Good luck to all the first timers! It’s a fun, crazy adventure but having those 50k words in and most or all of a book in your hands at the end of the month is really worth it!

  11. Jeanne T says:

    I’m not doing NaNo this year because I’m working revisions on my current story. I don’t want to stop to start a new story right now.

    When I did NaNo a couple years ago, I loved it! I was amazed at how much I could write in such a short period of time. I got in over 60K words in November. But I think the reason I got so much done is because I did some prep work beforehand. I also established the habit of getting up well before sunrise in October that year. I discovered that I write well early in the morning. I said no to other activities before hand, letting friends and family know what I was doing. They really jumped in to help me be successful.

    I’m hoping to do NaNo again. It just seems like my personal “schedule” for writing doesn’t usually line up with beginning a new story in November. 🙂

    Going to check out Rescue Time now. Thanks for sharing this resource, Rachelle!

  12. Nicola Smith says:

    I did it last year as a way to make myself keep working on a project I’d neglected for way too long. This year that’s with my Beta readers and I’m working on the rewrites for the next one. While I won’t be participating this year, it definitely served its purpose 🙂

  13. R. James Turley says:

    I’m going to try nano for the first time. To finish a draft would be great, but my main goal is just to write consistently and to get my word count up.

  14. Joanne Wiklund says:

    R: Such good motivation. All writers need that. This will be my tenth NANOWRIMO. I turned one of them into an ebook. Never know what will be the topic. Just sit down and listen to my characters tell me what they’re doing. One thing that helps me most is to make a daily word count, subtracting the daily words each day from the 50,000. Then I divide the remaining word count needed by the number of days I have left. As the required number of words a day drops, I pick up speed. Onward!

  15. Sara says:

    I’m sorry I didn’t know where to put this. There is a link error on http://www.booksandsuch.com/choosing-an-agent/

    The link to “take a look at my e-report” leads to a 404 error.

  16. Denise Hisey says:

    This will be my 4th year for NaNo! I’m so excited!

  17. I’m planning to participate this year. I’ve had a story brewing in my mind for over a year, and am excited to start writing it. Since I write novels that are 80-90K, I’ll only get half of it written, but hey, that’s a good start! I have spent time doing a chapter-by-chapter outline so I have some direction on what to write each day.

  18. K.L. Parry says:

    Thanks, Rachelle!
    Excited to be joining NaNoWriMo this year. I’ll give Rescue Time a shot 🙂

  19. Karley Kiker says:

    I’ve tried NaNo…etc. etc. before, and it’s pretty darn difficult (go figure, right?). So this month I’m sticking to the ACFW writing loop and going for a more manageable 10K. Have to leave some time for serious turkey eating, pecan pie, and all that. Love the concept, though!

  20. Kelly Goshorn says:

    Never heard of NaNoWriMo before but I love the idea. My goal more than a word count is to finish the rough draft in November. My hubby has given me through January to get a manuscript together than its back to full time work for me! So this challenge is a real blessing!

  21. I will not be participating yet. I don’t feel that I could do it. I am working on my first novel now, but I am still working on the plotting and don’t feel that I am experienced enough to be successful with the challenge. Maybe next year. I wish all participants the best of luck! 🙂

  22. Becky Wade says:

    I loved when you said, “Your best writing will happen in the revision process.” I’ve found this to be so true for me. I’m more of a rewriter than a writer. But in order for me to rewrite I need *something* to work with. 🙂

    I always skip NaNo because I’m more of a tortoise than a hare. I’m sending my wishes, though, to all the authors who will be participating!

  23. Rita says:

    I’m so glad you said an entire novel or half of one. Such a feeling of relief came over me because it seems like the entire medical world has it as a life goal to keep me in a doctors office for the entire month of November and I really wanted this month to be very focused on NaNoWriMo. I’m banging my pens on the desk, “I want progress. I want progress…

  24. Rachelle, I am so new to this. Is this a competition with a winner? Is this something that can help one get a book published? (besides the obvious that you have completed task). I looked at the site, but all my questions weren’t quite answered. Or is this just encouragement to write? My 13 yr old daughter and I have started a tween/teen book series … she is my illustrator. We have 13K words so far toward our first book. Can we still jump in?

    • April says:

      You can get all your questions answered here: https://nanowrimo.uservoice.com/knowledgebase/topics/27085-national-novel-writing-month

      But as a summary: You write 50k words of a brand new novel (no WIP; no non-fiction) between Nov 1 and 30. The point is to teach you to get your first draft out and on paper—to turn off your doubt, fear, inner-editor/critic, etc.

      There have been people who have published their NaNo works, but that is not what the program is for. They just encourage you to write.

      You “win” by reaching the goal. It’s a pat on the back, essentially. The reason why you want to log in and do it there instead of on your own though is that it’s much more fun (and easier!) to do it in community with people encouraging you along the way than trying to do it alone through sheer will power. Because there will be days you believe you can’t do it, even though you can. Happens to the best of us.

  25. Jason says:

    I’m going to do it this year after a four year hiatus. I went to a writer’s conference years ago and it completely destroyed my confidence to write and how I look at writing. Now every time I start to write something my brain screams “is this something a publisher wants? Is this something they can market? Why write something that has no chance of publication because it’s not Amish Paranormal Romance?”

    I’m hoping to be able to just write and not worry about it.

  26. I’ve participated in Nanowrimo for the last three years and use it to dedicate time to change tack, change the way I write. It’s a wonderful way to reconnect with pure thought, to indulge those weird ideas that pop up when I’m engaged in serious writing. For one month I can write freely and by that I mean I deliberately turn off my inner editor because she nags, she’s picky, she wants me to get it right and to revise and edit as I go. Nanowrimo gives me permission to write what I want to write. December is for editing.

    I wrote about it last year, if you’re interested in my non rules for nano –

    • I greatly enjoyed reading your non-rules for nano! Especially the part where you said not to read anyone read it. The only person that has read my recent work is my daughter … and she loves it … so I’m encouraged as it is for her age. Thank you, Janette!

  27. Preslaysa says:

    Great recommendation for Rescue Time. I won’t be participating in Nano this year, but I will be editing in November. Hopefully, I can get some of my best writing as I revise in November.

  28. Paul Mudgett says:

    Great tips! Last year I struggled through 50k writing by the seat of my pants. This year, I have a pretty solid outline (subject to change), character sketches, setting sketches, and a research folder with a bunch of goodies. I’m hoping the time spent in preparation will pay off during November’s heavy lifting.

  29. Ted says:

    I’m using November to write the second draft of my novel. This means I can’t ‘win’ NaNo but I can still put 50k words in.