Writing the First Draft of Your Novel

This week we’re talking about the first draft of your novel!

Yes, your novel. Not the planning or the plotting or the character design or the cover art, or even how to build out your website pages. No, we’re talking about your novel and the tools you’ll need to finally start – and finish – the whole thing.

The first draft of your novel can often prove the most difficult, but it’s also the first step towards publication. Finding it difficult to stay motivated?

If you find yourself hitting a wall, try reworking the outline, imposing deadlines, creating daily actionable goals, and constantly reminding yourself of your dreams so you never forget what your goal is.

*Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Stay updated on all the latest freebies, tools, and resources by joining the Writerly Things Newsletter.

Writing The First Draft

We’ve gone over the basics of outlining and the quick-start guide, so you might have an idea of where this topic will go. I’ll assume you’ve gotten through some outlining, but the biggest problem I’ve heard arise is that people just can’t seem to start the actual writing.

They spend oodles of their hard-earned time on outlining, detailing every facet, and creating each characters from scratch that they forget to actually write their novel – and ideas are just ideas until they become a story.

This blog post will go over several different approaches to both starting and finishing your novel, but we’ll start first with how to actually start the first page.

How to Write Your Novel

Tip #1 Start with action, literally, physically, and metaphorically.

If you’re bored on your first page, chances are your readers are too. Hook them with a gripping opener and start with something other than the usual dream sequence, wake up scene, or thought dump.

Tip #2 Don’t get carried away with descriptions – yet!

This works in several ways: it helps you move through the first draft of your novel, after which you can always add descriptions; stops you from adding tons of backstory and stops you from dumping the entire plot and backstory; and allows you to focus on showing rather than telling in later drafts.

Tip #3 Indulge the blank page, and then fill it.

Sometimes, starting is all we need to do – it’s just a mental barrier between now and your finished manuscript. If I feel I’m staring too long at the first blank page of a manuscript, I’ll simply fill it. I’ll just purge my ideas out there, and while this doesn’t always end in a great beginning, it does allow me to break through my mental block and move forward.

Tip #4 Start with a free write (or idea dump).

You may consider starting your sessions with ten minutes of free writing to get your gears going. This will help you get other ideas out of your brain, so you can focus on the novel at hand.

Tip #5 Create the best environment.

I can’t write with distractions. I can outline with distractions, but I can’t write with them and that’s something that took me a long while to figure out. Turn off the television, the cellphone ringer, and your ear-splitting music, and start your novel already!

Okay, that’s great and all, but I’ve already started my novel…

Losing motivation partway through is an all-too-common problem, and one I’ve suffered from during almost every novel at one point or another. Sometimes it doesn’t happen during the actual writing phase, but during the editing phase, which is often a lot longer and more stressful than the physical writing.

Anyway, sometimes we start our projects full-speed ahead and fizzle out somewhere along the line. Though causes of the fizzle may vary, it’s bound to happen at some point or another and there are several remedies I’d like to share to make it through these particularly tough times.

And, no, I won’t tell you to “just get motivated,” because that never works for me…

Ideas are just ideas until they become a story.

How to Stay Motivated & Productive While You’re Writing

Tip #1 Go back and rework the outline.

When I pants-ed my first novel I was constantly getting stuck, and thus often decided to outline the upcoming five or so chapters. Then I’d write those chapters and get stuck again. It took me three novels of that to realize that maybe I should outline ahead of time to relieve some of that stress and wasted effort.

Tip #2 Create a sense of urgency with self-imposed deadlines.

I usually goal for editing one chapter per day, and that includes plot-hole clogging, scene renovations, and line edits. These things alone might take a few hours, so don’t stress about not completing an entire chapter, or multiple chapters, in one day.

Tip #3 Commit to a certain number of words, and don’t stop until you’ve hit the threshold.

Some people suggest scenes or chapters, but when I’m writing I typically make word count goals. I make scene or chapters goals during the editing phase. This is something you’ll have to decide for yourself, because if you can’t just pick up where you left off, you might want to goal for scenes or chapters, instead of words.

Tip #4 Create action and accountability with an “accountabili-buddy.”

Or just find someone you’re comfortable sharing your experiences with. I find this works best if you’re acting as the accountability partner for each other, instead of it being a one-way street. This is a great job for a critique partner, especially if you’re both working on projects.

And Tip #5 Don’t give up.

Sometimes, you’ll write 20-thousand words in one week, and sometimes it’ll take a month… or three. There are several factors involved, so don’t feel bad if you sometimes don’t hit every, single mark.

And if you think that after you’ve finished the writing phase it’s all smooth sailing, think again.

I often find the editing phase even more grueling and time-intensive. But I’ve gathered a few tips that will hopefully help you weave through the intricacies of the editing phase and move passed it and onto actually publishing your novel.

Tips for Sticking To Your Writing Goals

Tip #1 Make smaller goals.

Sometimes (always) self-editing your entire manuscript in one day is a lofty goal, especially when time and availability is a factor. So why not start with one or two chapters per day?

Tip #2 Take some time for yourself.

When I draft my novel, I usually do so pretty quickly and sometimes feel the burnout in the aftermath. What I do to alleviate myself is take a few additional days or weeks away from my novel and work on other passion-projects and self-care.

Tip #3 Get other people’s opinion.

If you’re at a part that you know needs to be changed, but you don’t know how to change it, try one of your fellow writing buddies. Don’t have one because you’re an introvert like me? Start reaching out to fellow authors and writers and see who’s willing to partner up!

Tip #4 Change your environment.

Do you always work in a Starbucks or bookstore? Or maybe you always work sitting in bed listening to your favorite television show. Try mixing it up. Move into a different room or go outside. You might find this simple change can re-motivate you and reignite your project-love.

Tip #5 Work through it.

Sometimes, we don’t have a choice. Do you have a hard deadline coming up, or even a self-imposed one? Simply working through each facet will help you reach your end goal and, although it might be boring and draining, at the end you’ll feel a ton better about the progress you’ve made.

For some, that journey may take two weeks, a year, or a decade.

Whichever category you fall under, don’t be deterred. Great stories are thoroughly thought out and well-edited – they aren’t built in a matter of minutes. For me, the pre-writing and writing phases generally take about two months. But, again, mileage may vary.

The thing you need to remember, is to never give up. If writing is your passion, then write. Finishing your first book will feel like a weight has been lifted from your shoulders, and when you go to write a second novel, you’ll know you can do it – because you already have!

ACTION STEP: Choose at least one of the tips above and make the appropriate changes.