Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The 1st Draft Of Your 1st Novel

As you embark on the first draft of your novel, please watch out for that hole up ahead, the deep dark hole many aspiring authors have fallen into.  Go ahead.  Peer over the edge.  Do you see them all down there, piled on top of each other in the dark? 

Sadly enough, many writers plunge into this abyss before ever completing a single chapter.  The hole is called ‘PLACING TOO MUCH PRESSURE ON YOURSELF’.  Pressure, pressure.  What if my novel isn’t good enough?  What if my main character is boring?  What if the plot meanders?  What if I can’t find a plot?  What if my husband hates my writing?  What if I spend all that time working on it and it never gets published? 

These questions are the instruments of paralysis. 

When you begin a first draft, it is imperative that you place no pressure on yourself.  Lofty expectations do not belong here, not at this stage in the process.  All you should be concerned about with a first draft is getting black on white, ink on paper.  When you lower your expectations and reduce the pressure, you will soon realize what a beautiful place the world is, and how fun it is to write, how intoxicating it is to play with language.  Freed from all those ridiculous gnawing fears, you will be more open to discovery, which is the true blessing of a first draft.  Maybe your main character should be a woman, not a man.  Maybe your book should take place in Canada, not Argentina.  These are the discoveries, the golden doors that can only be opened by an imagination unencumbered by lofty expectations.

Writing Exercise
Set aside a two week period during which you will not judge your writing whatsoever.  Not one bit.  Not one line of writing gets evaluated.  All you’re concerned about is getting black on white, ink on paper.  Let it rip.  Let it gush out of you.  Write a billion words in fourteen days.  If you find that it’s hard not to judge, then imagine that there’s a portal in your kitchen, in between the microwave and the toaster oven.  When you step through it, you enter a parallel universe where judging of any kind is against the law.  Give this world a name.  Your imaginary passport allows you to stay there for two weeks.  You will find it to be one of the loveliest and most productive places you’ve ever been!


  1. Thankfully, I knew nothing about publishing when I started my first manuscript, and I tore right through it!

  2. Heh, heh, heh ... After writing 8 manuscripts in the last 6 years, I STILL haven't managed to stop putting pressure on myself in the first draft, even though I KNOW how many times I will revise it.

  3. I've just started a new picture book, and it's eating me alive!!! It never gets easier, at least for me, and it's important I remember this is okay. Otherwise...whew!

  4. "Under Pressure", remember that song? That's how I feel, speaking of writers putting too much pressure on themselves! I just turned in copy edits of a project today and I have a deadline for the last novel in my trilogy one month from now. I cannot wait to be free of the deadlines and be able to write for the sake of writing! No worrying, just writing.

    My advice to newbie writers: Don't submit your book before it's ready. I'm an impatient person and I have to force myself to hold back from the "send" button! It's hard, but pays off in the end! :)

    Great post, James!

  5. It's so important to lower the stakes on that first draft. If something does work it's not the end of the world.

  6. I heard a great quote. The real writing is in the revisions. I agree with Hilary. Don't send it out until it's ready. But none of this pertains to the first draft. You'll never get to that final polished draft unless you give yourself the freedom to make mistakes early on!


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!