Tag Archives: rewriting

5 Tips to Writing a Successful First Draft (Even if it Sucks)

To date, I’ve completed 4.5 first drafts. I say 4.5 because I have 4 manuscripts of novels that are at various points of editing and publishing, but I also have a fifth manuscript, a contemporary YA that’s on vacation. I say vacation because it’s nicer than saying on hiatus or abandoned or acknowledging that I *may* not be ready to complete it yet.

In any case, writing a first draft is a complicated and emotional process. It’s complicated because you don’t know what you’ll end up with once you start. It’s emotional because of how invested you become: in the story, in the characters, in the frustration that the “art” you’re creating may be nothing more than a carefully-crafted piece of crap.

But worry not: all great literature had to start off as crud. In fact, all those bestsellers you admire yet secretly envy on your bookshelf were probably rejected multiple times.

So check out these 5 tips for completing your heap of crap!

Plan — Or Don’t!

Some writers are planners. Some writers are not. I am a hybrid of the two: I start off by letting things just happen, and then I start to outline, flesh out characters, and plan scenes. I’m a like a liger, if you will. Magic and all.


It’s up to each writer to determine what works best for them. Planning can help focus a story, but it can also sap it dry of all its intrigue and leave the writer uninspired to get it finished. I find that when I plan too intensely or too early, this happens to me. Remember that vacation my .5 was on? Yeah… I planned too early. It’s like all the magic is gone, and writing it feels like homework. When that happens, it’s best I back away for some time.

But some writers are the opposite. If they have no plan, they have nothing to hold them to their goal of writing a novel. There are a number of methods out there including chapter-by-chapter breakdowns, pre-completion synopsis writing, and the Snowflake MethodChuck Wendig has a great list of methods to plan your novel.

Don’t Edit

Seriously. DON’T. Put down your red pen. Editing is the kryptonite of writing a first draft. I never do it unless I want to end up in the oblivion of perfection-seeking and aimless toiling. The number one way to self-sabotage your work is by primping and probing too soon. It’s like taking a baby out of their crib, plopping them in the driver seat of a car, and expecting them to win the Indy 500. It will be disastrous simply because they’re not ready.

The same is true for your novel. Your first draft is the infancy of your novel, and should you helicopter-parent too soon, you will experience an adolescence of bad attitude, screaming matches, and underage drinking. You need to give your first draft some space to breathe. Allow yourself to be creative and get your ideas down before you start picking and pulling it apart.

Just Keep Swimming

When it comes to writing a first draft, perseverance is key. It’s easy to entertain an idea, to write the first ten pages of a piece, to daydream about characters and betrayals and plot twists. Heck, it’s fun even! But when the novelty wears off, the only thing that will see you through the middle-manuscript blahs will be your determination to get that sucker finished.

For me, weekly writing goals work. Do I always stick to them? Haha… no. This last week alone I had a writing goal of 2500, and I only made 1600. But, you see, even though I didn’t make my writing goal, I still wrote. I still persevered. I am still determined to complete my manuscript. In fact, my writing goals are more like guidelines. 1600 words is better than none at all, and if I make even half my goal of 2500 words this week, that is 3000 words closer to a completed first draft.

Allow Yourself to Suck

You suck. I suck. Everyone sucks.

Seriously, the first draft sucks. There’s no getting around it. There’s no way to sacrifice a lamb to the demi-gods of the Sahara and write a perfect first draft (but if there is, hook a brother up!). So come to terms with it. Digest it, and make it part of your writing routine. Allow yourself to suck, and writing your first draft will go smoother, I promise.

In fact, once you liberate yourself, you may find that you don’t suck as much as you feared after all.

Expect to Rewrite

If you haven’t realized this by now, I’m sorry to break this to you: your first draft is NEVER the one you show the world. Wallow in self-pity now, aspiring writer, because if you want this, you’re in for the long haul. Even if you manage to nab an agent or an editor off of your first draft alone, they will insist you edit. In fact, my first novel has gone through 12 edits, and it hasn’t even been released yet.

But this isn’t a terrible thing. Your first draft is crap, remember? The only way to make it into gold is by editing. Essentially, the first draft is only half of the task of writing. Editing is where you get to show the reader your storytelling prowess and wow them with your spit-shined, immaculately-constructed prose.

How do you get through a first draft?

The 7 (Agonizing) Stages of Self-Editing Your Fiction

A look at common struggles a writer encounters while perfecting their masterpiece. Or trying to, at least.

DISCLAIMER: This is not a how-to. This blog cannot be responsible for work that gets lost in editing oblivion. For a how-to, run a Google search. Or join a writer’s forum. I like this one.

Stage 1: The Post-Drafting High

You’ve just finished your piece. The characters are realistic and complex. The descriptions are captivating. The twist at the end: no one will see it coming. NO ONE. Congratulations! Good job, you. This is what you live for. Now, go out and get a beer. Hell, get two! Dance. Make some questionable life choices.

Enjoy it now, young grasshopper.

Stage 2: The Pre-Edit Low (aka. What the Hell Have I Done?)

So, you’re ready to work. You’ve recovered from that hang-over and you’ve corrected all those questionable life choices, though there may still be some photo evidence on Instagram. Go check.

In any case, the document’s open, your title page looks spectacular, and you’ve spent the last hour and a half deleting extraneous tabs and trailing paragraphs.

Now: let’s do a quick read-through. Let’s look out for continuity errors, major plots holes, and breaks in character building. Maybe you should consider reworking that second paragraph. And the next chapter. And the whole middle part. Hell, this looks worse than you remember, doesn’t it? Who wrote this? Clearly, you didn’t. Your IQ is higher than a chimp’s, yet it seems like the chimp could poop out a better manuscript while sleep deprived, post-spicy burrito.

What have you done? All that planning (or lack thereof) has gotten you nothing. The voice is off, your main character is annoying, and that plot twist? Predictable.

Well, fine. I guess you’re rewriting the whole damn thing.

Stage 3: The Rewrite

After recovering from the emotional damage of discovering the story you’ve been working on for the past millennium is terrible, it’s time to do a rewrite. This can consist of just specific parts of your manuscript or the entire thing, but it largely consists of crying, outbursts to family and friends, and reconsidering your choice to become a writer (whose idea was that?).

But hey, maybe this isn’t so bad. You could take that stock character and give them an epic side story. And that twist? Tweak it a bit, and BAM! One hundred times more unpredictable than before. This is actually kind of fun. This is the reason you became a writer in the first place: to WRITE! But don’t get too ecstatic. Most of the good stuff comes from editing after all, remember? That’s why you’re here.

Stage 4: The Break.

You’ve worked hard, right? Why not take a break? Go for a run. Go read a newspaper. Go clean out those drawers in your bedroom that have been overflowing since spring (read: since two springs ago).

But who am I kidding? You don’t wanna do any of that. You’d rather obsessively refresh your Facebook feed then binge-watch Game of Thrones on Netflix while drowning your sorrows into a litre of cookie dough ice cream and a bottle of coke.

Now, that’s a break. Am I right?

Stage 5: The Deadly Cycle of Procrastination

It’s been a couple days. Your Game of Thrones marathon quickly led to Catching Up with the Kardashians and then cat videos on YouTube. However, you’re experiencing a revival of determination. Or maybe it’s that gnawing feeling of idleness.

Either way, the line-by-line is next and that’s going to take the longest. But maybe you should do some laundry before you get started. And feed the cat. Oh, don’t forget to call Mom. She misses you. Your whole family misses you. How about a barbeque? The weather is warm and your social interaction has been subpar lately. Maybe an evening with a bottle of wine. That would be nice.

Do you see? It won’t end.

Seriously. Editing. Go.

Stage 6: The Copyedit

This is the most tedious part – however, also the quickest. This is the part where you drive yourself crazy about your grammar and cut down on the wordiness. No passive sentences, you say? And saidisms? You mean, you can’t use he articulated and I phonated? And heaven forbid you make up your own character or location names. Your word processing program is going to love pointing those out.

(Psst. Add them to your dictionary. Save yourself the agony.)

Stage 7: The Post-Edit High

You did it! You’ve survived your self-edit with your fingers intact and perhaps a shard of your sanity. Never fear though, what comes next is quite possibly the thing you’re looking forward to the most: MORE EDITING!

“What?” You ask. “I thought I was done.”

Well, think again. If you’ve got an editor or a trusted beta-reader, they’re going to have some useful thoughts. Besides, let’s be real, this is what you live for. There’s nothing that compares to a nice and polished manuscript that’s ready to take on the world. Well, maybe a published manuscript could compare, but you’re on your way there anyway!

Happy editing!

POST-SCRIPT: No chimps were hurt during this editing cycle. Or force-fed burritos.