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10 Tips on Finishing the First Draft
by Grady Jane Woodfin
Howdy, y’all. So, November is kind of a huge month to some of us. And, no, it’s not because Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner. It’s not because the weather is getting colder and more people are lighting their fireplaces. It’s not because Black Ops 3, Fallout 4, AND Battlefront come out this month. But good guesses.
It is because some people are participating in National Novel Writing Month aka NaNoWriMo. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the event, basically every November, writers from all over the world spend the entire month trying to construct a 50,000 word novel. They write a little bit every day, hoping to have a completed manuscript by the end of the month.
For me, I’ve participated two years now (this year will be my third), and each year I get about 15,000 words into my story, and then I either lose motivation, fall behind, or hate my concept. And, usually, it’s a combination of the three.
But this year will be different. I swear.
First of all, instead of writing a novel, I am writing a feature screenplay for the month of November. So, I’m actually participating in the Zero Draft Thirty challenge. But, never fear, my list applies for both screenwriters and novelists.
Secondly, I am determined to complete my first draft this month. I have never been more motivated. It’s going to happen.
But the whole point of this article isn’t to rant about me. It’s to give you some pointers on how to stay writing against all odds. You ready for a good list? Here we go.
1. Don’t bog yourself down in the outline. Sure, the outline is important. To some, it’s everything. To others, it is insignificant. But one of my biggest problems the last two years is that I try to outline too much. I do too much groundwork for the story. I’ve found that over-outlining is one of the fastest ways to kill creativity.
2. Forget the rulebook. Okay, so I’m not talking about the grammar rulebook. I’m talking about the structure rulebook. Since I decided to purse writing as my profession, I’ve heard millions and millions of theories on how to construct the perfect plot. If I had told you the number of times I’d outlined a story to Blake Snyder’s beat sheet, you’d be dazed. And, sure, following a structure isn’t bad. But sometimes it forces us to write within the lines, and sometimes I just want to write whatever the hell I wanna write.
3. Roll with the punches. If halfway through your story you realize that your main character needed to be a centaur, you better say they are now a centaur and keep writing. If you start off writing a contemporary romance, and then 50 pages in you realize it’s really a fantastical comedy, write it that way. You are a writer. Your imagination is your best friend. Trust your gut. Don’t be scared of change (no matter how big). Embrace it.
4. Have a support system. I don’t really care who or what your system is. It could be your fellow writing buddies. Your mom. Your gramps. Your goldfish. Your next door neighbor. The pizza delivery lady. It doesn’t matter to me. But have someone that you can talk to daily, and do check-ins with. Support is a necessity.
5. Don’t use writer’s block as an excuse. I actually wrote a whole article about murdering writer’s block. But I know that writing large pieces of work in short periods of time can be intimidating. The key is taking lots of breaks. Don’t ever panic. Get up, stretch your legs, brew some tea. Then come back and continue.
6. Leave room in your schedule for fun. Above all else, your health is priority during a stressful month. Always take care of yourself first. Make sure you get plenty to eat. Stay hydrated. Make time to sleep. But also, don’t forget to give yourself playtime in there. Sometimes we just need a break. So, don’t be ashamed to play a video game or read a book or run a marathon. Take care of yourself, and you’ll be better prepared to handle your writing. Don’t set yourself up for failure.
7. Don’t ever get discouraged. Say it comes December 1st, and you only wrote one word. The way to look at it is, you have written one more word than you had originally. Dust yourself off, and keep at it.
8. Reward yourself. I cannot stress how important it is to treat yo self. Set mini goals. “Okay, after this chapter, I’m going to take bubble bath.” Do whatever you can to instill in yourself that you are the right path. And at the end of the month, praise yourself for what you have, and then continue on to the second draft.
9. Your words matter. Trust me, I know how discouraging it can be to be a writer. Sometimes we feel like we’re endlessly screaming into the void. And we’re all thinking, “Well, who cares about my work anyway? No one is ever gonna read it. Why should I even finish it. It doesn’t matter.” That is self-destructive thinking, and I will not allow it. Don’t use your insecurities as an easy way to not get to the finish line.
10. Don’t be worried about what other people will think. Don’t be scared to create whatever you feel inside you. Who cares if anyone else gets it? Do you think people always got Ernest Hemingway? Or Alfred Hitchcock? Or Mozart? Or Van Gogh? Literally no one else in the world can write the story that you can. No one. Sometimes you just have to be brave, and write something brilliant. Even if no one can see how brilliant it is.
Okay. Those are the main tips I have for you guys for the month. I wish all of you the best of luck. I am excited to see how well we all do.
If you ever want to chat about your story, or check in with your word count, feel free to hit up our Facebook page. We’re all in this together.