How to Finish Your First Draft [A Guide for the Poorly Disciplined, Fragile Creative]

Considering the fact that I just finished the first draft of my first novel, I am in no way purporting to be some kind of expert. What I am is an often times undisciplined individual that is probably not fun to be around when I fall into a creative rut. So if you're anything like me I just might be uniquely qualified to help you get from page one to a completed first draft. Here's a list of the things I did, learned and remembered to get it done:

  • "The First Draft Of Anything Is Shit".

Please excuse the expletive, but I didn't say it, Hemingway did. Yep, Ernest Hemingway.

I hung this quote by my desk as a reminder on the not so good days that it was okay. I learned to take pride in the fact that I had written anything at all. And to remember that even Ernest Hemingway wasn't always thrilled about the words on the page, but he pushed through because he knew it would all get fixed in editing.

Trying to be a perfectionist when writing, especially the first draft, is a losing battle.

  • Advice is just advice.

My favorite form of procrastination is doing research. I mean, at least I'm being productive. Right?

When I started to research writing a book there was one piece of advice that popped up in almost every article.

That advice? Write every day.


You know how sometimes you're just not in the mood to do something and no matter how hard you try to push yourself it just isn't happening? Well, I guarantee you that you will have plenty of those days on your journey toward finishing your book. You know what else? It's okay. I didn't write every day and I still have 379 pages of double spaced goodness waiting to be edited.

Don't get me wrong I loved the advice. They were all right, you should strive to write everyday. What I had to learn was not to feel like a complete failure on days when the words just weren't there.

So embrace the advice that you are given, but keep in mind that the world won't end if you deviate from it, it's just advice.

  • Change Your Scenery.

Writing at home is great, especially if you have a dedicated space and a cozy environment. The problem for me is that home is also where I have other things to do.

I want to start the next scene, but I should wash the dishes. I know I should write one more chapter, but why not take an hour to eat lunch while searching the internet. I need to make a new playlist because it'll make my writing better. What's on the DVR?

After doing some research*, I came across this list of places in NYC that were writer friendly. I ventured out with my laptop and a renewed determination. Being surrounded by so many people allowed me to feed off of their energy. My daily word count grew and I was flooded with some truly inspired ideas.

I settled into a great balance between writing at home and going out into the world. I even had a weekly date with a friend in the midst of her own writing projects.

When you're staring at the screen, but you're thinking about doing laundry...get out of the house!

*Sometimes research is research. Although, I'm sure I was procrastinating this time, too.

  • Use A Timer.

Now this is advice that I wish I would have followed sooner.                  

I will admit that, initially, I didn't use a timer because I was scared. I didn't know if I had the discipline to succeed and I was afraid of failing.

What if at the end of the hour I had nothing? I felt that if I failed on such a small step in the process, I would most likely fail at the project altogether.

Then one day I decided to finally put on my big girl pants. I was over halfway through the book so I figured, what do I have to lose?

I chose to write in 3 one hour sessions with 15 minute breaks in between. During the hour there would be no phones, no internet, no interruptions. If I actually had to research something I would do so during the following break.

I could not believe how focused I became during those hours. I found myself pushing against the clock and I loved it.  I went from a daily word count of 500-1800 words a day to 3000-4500! Even better, ideas were coming at me from every direction.

I will definitely use the timer method from word one of my next novel.

  • Suck It Up.

Let's say you've gone two days [or more] without writing. At this point, if you are like me, you feel like a failure and now doubt that you'll ever finish your book.

Instead of stewing in 'whoa is me' land try this: SUCK IT UP.

You're going to waste your time brooding and do you know what's going to inevitably happen? You'll come out of your writer's block or rut or whatever you want to call it and then you're going to write.

So how about we start cutting out the middle man? During the in between times instead of moping around, be productive. Maybe, you know, do some research.

  • Believe You Can Do It.

If you only remember one thing on the list, make it this one.

From the moment you decide to write a book until you type the last word, believe that you can do it.

As much of a hippie dippy, power of positive thinker as I am, when you are pursuing a creative endeavor, especially one you've dreamed about for so long, self doubt loves to rear its ugly little head. This is why I like to intersperse my blog posts with inspirational quotes. Simply searching for ones to use has proven to lift my spirits and get me back on track.

Whether you search out quotes, develop a personal mantra or create your own cheerleading squad of family and friends, do what you need to do to keep believing. After all, as Henry Ford said:

“Whether you think you can or think you can't - you are right..”

Do you have any more suggestions to add to the list? Will you use any of these suggestions outside of writing? Let me know in the comments below!