#Blogtober2019, #WriterLife

Conquering the Blank Page: Advice for Finishing a First Draft

I’ll be the first to admit that I have trouble finishing a first draft. I’ll be so honest as to admit I have NEVER finished a full first draft of a novel.

But boy howdy, have I tried.

And failed.

And tried again. And again. And again.

Until I ran from the idea of ever finishing a novel, convinced I was fundamentally broken and flawed and doomed to never publish anything. I dreaded sitting down to write. Instead of enjoying writing–the very thing I’ve dreamed of making a career since I was a little girl–it only made me feel inadequate.

Because let me tell you, my first drafts are laaaame.

But I knew this was OK. First drafts are allowed to suck, right? Even Earnest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is sh*t.” But it was still hard for me to shake the inner editor and give myself permission to write something truly terrible.

I had seen many helpful quotes, such as:

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” – Shannon Hale

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts.” – Anne Lemott

“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” – Jodi Picoult

“The first draft is just telling yourself the story.” – Terry Prachett

“Nobody cares about your first draft. And that’s the thing that you may be agonizing over, but honestly, whatever you’re doing can be fixed… For now, just get the words out. Get the story down however you can get it down, then fix it.” -Neil Gaiman

But it wasn’t until I saw a tweet from MG author Jessica Khoury that it all “clicked” for me.

I’M WRITING WHAT I WANT THE AUDIENCE TO READ.

I was stuck trying to write a bad final draft, rather than a perfectly adequate first draft. I don’t know if it was a kick back from my creative writing classes, where deadlines only gave me time for one or two edits, so the first draft had to be pretty darn close to where it needed to be.

I wanted my first drafts to be messy, but coherent. A few spelling errors were OK, but I better have all the subplots worked out. For every single sentence I agonized over “how would this sound to the reader.”

There are still different considerations as you approach a first draft. Are you a discovery writer or a meticulous planner? Do you want to ‘word vomit’ on the page or have your sentences as grammatically correct and clean as possible? Neither is wrong, but it will change how the actually drafting process looks.

There is no wrong way to set about writing a first draft; except maybe expecting a final draft. Even the-best-writers-of-all-time need revisions.

So here and now, I, Jessica Mondy, am here to remind you: NO ONE BUT YOU NEEDS TO SEE THE FIRST DRAFT. Make it as messy or as clean as you want Future-you to deal with. Some people will even call it a “Zero draft” and consider they’re second write-through the “First draft.”

Whether you call it a First or Zero draft, I give you permission to:

  • Not have all the answers
  • Write two different outcomes for a single problem to test them out (or three or four or five)
  • Insert comments such as [figure this out later] and [put name of cool mountain here]
  • Skip entire chapters until you’re farther in the draft
  • Write sentences 5 lines long
  • Write comments to yourself like [haha she’s so sassy. add more]
  • Do whatever the heck it is you need to do to keep writing

Of course, if the idea of going out of chronological order gives you hives or the idea of a comma splice makes your heart stop, you do you. Just because I give you permission to do something doesn’t mean you have to.

Now I want to hear from YOU.

Have you finished a rough draft? Got so far as publishing a finished product? What advice do you have for us “Unfinished?”

If you are like me and still striving for “The End,” what do you think is still holding you back? Has this post helped? (I sure hope so!) If not, what other concerns do you have?

Feel free to add more inspirational quotes to the comments as well!

6 thoughts on “Conquering the Blank Page: Advice for Finishing a First Draft”

  1. This is so TRUE. I’m a screenwriter and I definitely had to learn this the right way. I just always have to remind myself that my first draft WILL suck. I just try and word vomit until the end and then I go all the way back to the start and only send it to people when I’m on my third or fourth draft.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s smart. I haven’t had anything to send out yet, but waiting until a later draft for betas should definitely quell the inner editor for the first round, or at least I hope so… We’ll see!

      Like

  2. Great post!

    I have finished a few first drafts. I’ve always felt like the first reader of my stories, so I push through to the end the same way I turn the page in a book to see how it ends. I think that’s what helped me.

    Also, middles can sag, and the part before the climax can be absolutely brutal. With no end written, that part of the story can be a real slog, even with permission to suck. It’s hard to finish when the story feels so bad at the time, but everyone feels that way at that point in the story.

    Liked by 1 person

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