Finishing the first draft of your story is HARD stuff!
My friend @the_writers_journey and I started a challenge on Instagram called #finishthatdraft to encourage each other as we finish our drafts by the end of this month! Here are some tips that are helping me so far:
1. Set a Deadline & Smaller Goals.If you don't have a deadline to finish your draft, it will drag on FOR-EV-ER! (The Sandlot? Anyone??) One of the best things I ever did for my manuscript is pick a date to to have it finished by so, if you haven't done it already, set that date!
Once you have it set, look at that span of time and make a daily or weekly word count goal to be able to finish on time. I usually also set aside one day a week or the whole weekend to rest, play catch up, or re-read what I've wrote and then I make a plan of action for the week ahead. Remember, if you fail to plan, you'll plan to fail!
2. Start with The End in Mind.
If you don't have at least a general idea of where you want your story to end, you'll quickly write yourself into a corner and end up scrapping most, if not all, of your first draft. Who wants that!?
Now, I'm a Plotter, so I'll usually make a pretty extensive outline of my story even before I start writing anything, which helps SO much! If you're having trouble with finishing your outline, I'll be sharing my ultimate Story Structure Worksheet in a future YouTube video and Blog Post so be sure to subscribe to both of those!
But even if you're a Pantser, I'd strongly encourage figuring out at least one way your story can end and start writing towards that ending. Even if you don't want every detail figured out yet, I've found it most helpful to at least focus on where you want your protagonist to end up in the end. What kind of internal transformation will your main character go through? What do you want them to learn? This way you have some sort of character-driven-direction and you're less likely to give up on your draft halfway through.
3. Get Some Friends.
I've found that having community with other writers and accountability for your writing goals is VITAL! Again, my friends and I having started using the hashtag #finishthatdraft to help us do this on Instagram and it is a game changer! So many people are getting involved and seeing everyone share their struggles and victories helps me feel less alone and more encouraged to keep pressing on!
If you haven't found writing community yet, check out my "Writing Community Tag" video to learn how I got involved and how you can too! That being said, social media can be a black hole if we're not careful, so make sure you're not spending more time on social media talking to your writing friends than you do actually writing.
4. Make it a Habit.
You can train your brain and your body to get in the writing frame of mind by choosing a time of day and a length of time that you will write every day or at least each day during the week.
Feel like you don't have any time? You might need to wake up earlier or stay up later! I know my author-friend Bethany Atazadeh tends to be the night owl, sometimes writing until 1 AM, while my other friend Anna Vera uses the hashtag #5amwritersclub on Instagram and created a Facebook Group for those that want to support each other waking up early to write!
I have yet to nail down a consistent time I write every day but I haven also found it helpful to at least write in the same place and have the same music playing! It's like magic. Once I turn on that playlist, I'm in the zone!
5. Tell Yourself the Story.
One of the best pieces of advice I've received about writing your draft is to use the first draft to tell yourself the story. Don't worry about showing it to anyone else. You might do that with draft 2 or 3, but this one is for you. This is the draft that will help you get to know your characters and your world the best! Even if you have an outline, this is the place you'll figure out if all your ideas work and if your characters decide to do something completely different than what you thought. Experiment and explore and most importantly, have fun!!
6. Don't Stop to Edit.
This is probably the HARDEST piece of advice for me to follow. I LOVE the revising and editing process so I can often get stuck and slow down because I want to get into the nitty gritty. What I have found helpful is to read back over what I wrote previously, before heading into writing the next section. This way I have a clearer picture of where I've just come from and where I'm headed next. But honestly, I fight to not spend hours honing a manuscript that will probably change a lot once this draft is done. Jenna Moreci has a similar process of re-reading before writing again and sort of minor-editing-as-you-go, which you can hear about in her video HERE!
7. Use Placeholders.
Speaking of not stopping to edit, this tip has been GOLD! If I come to a point in my draft where I don't know what to call a person, place or object I insert something like [PLACE NAME] in brackets and I keep writing! Or if I don't know how to describe something I'll insert [DESCRIBE/ADD MORE LATER].
Sometimes I highlight this in a different color so I can find it easily but I've also heard that some people use codes like "TK" so that they can use the search bar to easily skip to the places they need to go back to.
Sometimes I also use this for whole scenes! When I'm stuck, I will describe the scene I know I need to insert (sometimes even whole chapters!) and then move on until I feel ready to come back to it.
8. Keep a Series Bible.
As you write, you'll figure out things about your plot and your characters that you're going to want to remember. I've found it really helpful to keep a Series Bible as I write so that I don't forget details about my characters or things I want to revisit in the second draft. If you don't know what a Series Bible is or want to learn how to create your own (with free templates!) check out my Series Bible Video.
9. Be Kind to Yourself.
Remember as your trudging through your first draft, this is supposed to be FUN! Don't run yourself into the ground or beat yourself up for not writing everything perfect the first time - because no one does! Schedule in "rest days" into your plan. Set fun "rewards" for certain milestones during the process. And I repeat: BE KIND TO YOURSELF.
10. Did You Reach THE END? Celebrate & Take a Break.
Way to go! You did it! You finished your draft! Now, put that wonderful accomplishment down and don't look at it for a least a week... Seriously!
You've been consumed by this draft for such a long time, you're going to need some space from it before you jump into rewrites or revisions. Go celebrate. Do something else creative. Rest. Go spend time with family and friends. Treat yourself. And then you can start again. Your draft isn't going anywhere and I think you'll realize that you'll have much better perspective after you take this much deserved break!