Congratulations to all those who took part in NaNoWriMo last month. I hope you are all basking in the delight of having the bones of your next first draft safely stored away!
Ah, first drafts—the writing equivalent of love at first sight, a whirlwind romance, a lovers’ tiff and break-up, followed by a hot, sexy weekend together in Paris all rolled into one! In other words: ecstatic, chaotic, wonderful, infuriating, heart-breaking and inspirational.
So to ease the process along, here are a few first draft ground rules:
- Firstly, there are no rules! And even if there were rules, they were made to be broken. It’s your first draft, for goodness’ sake! All yours, just for you, for your eyes only! Enjoy it! Just get it down on paper or computer screen—you can sort it out later!
- Accept and rejoice in the fact that it is in the nature of first drafts to contain some or all of the following:
- POV shifts
- Unbelievable leaps out of character and back in again.
- Extraneous characters you didn’t even know existed until you started writing.
- Lots of other good and bad stuff.
- Don’t be afraid to play around with your novel. Write scenes you know from the outset will never make it—write five versions of the same scene—even if you know all five are ‘wrong’. Ask yourself a lot of questions about the book: ‘what if’, ‘why’, then write down all the answers regardless of what they are. There is no right and wrong in writing—only what works and what doesn’t—but deciding which is which comes at a much later stage in process – that’s what editing is for.
- Take active steps to shut off the editor in your head: if typing on the computer is encouraging you to edit, try writing with a pen and notebook for while. Try free writing – jotting down the first thing that comes into your head – just to get the creative juices flowing. Experiment a little, and find out what works best for you.
- Remember that you are unique: what works for someone else will not necessarily work for you—find your own process and inspiration. Equally, each book you write is unique: the process you used for your first book, may not work for your second. Don’t forget, you’ve progressed as a writer, and learned from the experience of book 1; book 2 will be different, so don’t give yourself a hard time when it is.
- ‘How to’ books, blogs and other people’s advice are not ‘rules’ you have to follow: they are possible ways which might work for you when you need to troubleshoot a particular issue that’s causing you problems when you come to review or edit your work. You’re not at that stage yet, so forget them for the moment.
- Don’t show your work too early; make sure you and your first draft are strong enough together before you start showing it off.
- And remember, it’s a first draft, so ignore all of the above and just write!