Writing THE END: 7 Tips for Completing your Manuscript’s First Draft
Good day! If you are reading this, perhaps you are an aspiring author, writer, or just naturally curious. Maybe you are one among many who struggles with finishing that elusive and perhaps, never ending, first draft. Have no fear. I was once there myself. In fact, it took me a grand total of 15 years to finally finish the first draft! How insane, right!? I can relate 100%. Now while my journey is fun, you’re not here for that information. Nope, you want to know about these tips. Listed below are the currently seven tips for completing your manuscript’s first draft. I have compiled these over the past year or so as I continue writing book 2 of my series (3rd book overall). I hope you find this useful in your writing adventures. Enjoy!
Write every day:
It seems simple. Write every day and eventually you will finish your very first draft. And it is. It's SUPER simple. I mean, you just read it in two seconds. Pfft! That’s so easy to do. Not to mention obvious. So why are you telling this to me, you ask? Well, I am mentioning this because of how vital it is to develop this habit. I could bore you with numbers, which I will for a second. The shortest novels (not novellas) are around 40,000 words. Divide that by let’s say 100 words/day and you have 400. 400 days, and you will have a novel. Not bad, huh? Just over a year. Like 15 or so months.
While the numbers look nice, that's not the only reason. Think of that random class discussing career skills. In that class, the instructor said “10,000 hours of learning and practicing a skill will make a person an expert in that skill.” We can hope at least. So with that said, writing every day will begin your journey to proficiency as a writer. Yes it will be hard, but as you become more fluent with your writing style, the story, and possibly even grammar (YUCK), you will find yourself writing well above your word quota for the day.
That reminds me. Set a word quota for yourself. Not a time limit, a word quota. The minimum amount of words per day that you MUST write during the drafting process. If you’re one of those who sets a time limit and it works for you, cool! I am not one of those people. I set myself a word quota minimum of 100 words because depending on the day and the energy, or the blatant lack of give-a-damn for the day, it will take me anywhere from one minute to one hour to write the same amount of words. If I gave myself a 30 minute limit, then there would be days I would write literally nothing, get irritated at myself, and pout quietly. It's a thing. It's not pretty, but it is how I operate.
Finally, to tackle the beauty of writing every day, I would say that if you indeed write every single day, those 400 long days I mentioned earlier will be much shorter. On average I think I hit around 450 words per day. Much better right? And what if you feel burnt out? Grow weary over writing the same story day in and day out. Well, write anyway, but do it in a way that is healthiest for you. Like a journal entry where all you do is vent to it. You may not have progressed your story per se. But you have taken care of any angst sitting inside of you. And to me at least that is still progressing the story. Take care of yourself and the story will unfold right before your fingertips.
2. Read every day:
Yup! Another easy one. Same concept. Read and read anything that strikes your fancy. Even read your own stuff. If anything it will reassure you that what you are writing is interesting. Because let’s face it, if you, the writer, are not enjoying the creative process, then you probably aren’t writing anything worth reading. I could be wrong. Just saying.
To the same effect of writing every day, I say read every day with a quote. This time, a time quote is just fine. For obvious reasons. Where some of us would love to read all day every day, we just simply do not have the time. Most of us are busy with life. So I generally give myself a 20 minute quota. And feel free to go over that too. Because who doesn’t love a good story to pass the time?
Finally, reading everyday gives us a glimpse into the works of other professional writers. Who more than likely have written for that insane 10,000 hours? Look at it this way, new doctors and teachers learn from master doctors and teachers. We all have people we learn from, why not authors? Authors should be learning from other authors. Perhaps the author uses a word that intrigues you. Or explains a concept that eluded you years ago. Who knows? If anything, their work inspires you to keep writing your tales. Whatever the reason, read those books, and do it every day.
3. Read a variety:
Reading every day is great. However, a great tip is to read EVERYTHING. Fiction, non-fiction, all genres! Why? Because, at least to me, writing is like life. It is not all categorized neatly into a set of different black and white types. Life has its ups, its downs, its emotional tragedies, and incredible highs. During a normal day in the life of anyone, we experience a myriad of emotions, topics, and environments. Why not do the same in your reading? Doing this will round out your stories. Making the characters more relatable. Or perhaps give your insight to a topic you had no clue about. Could it make a great talking point? Or could a book truly help you in your personal life. Either way, it's all for the good of you and your story.
4. Personal dictionaries.
This one is right out of the old elementary school handbook. I remember going to school and keeping a notebook full of vocabulary words. We would write one to two a day, usually in the morning. At the time, it was only morning work. A simple activity to get us in the rhythm of working for the day. But over time, I found myself using those words in daily conversation and even in my writing. Adding more ways to communicate your point or convey a message is the whole reason we learn to speak in the first place, why not spice it up a bit. Make it sound more interesting with different words.
For me, this is mostly a reactionary tool. Where I will use it for inspiration as I write. If I am struggling to describe a scene I will refer to it. Now how does one go about filling in this helpful tool? Well by reading of course! While I read I have my primary notebook next to my writing station, and while I read, if I come across a word that entices me I write the word down. Usually on my phone, or on scrap pieces of paper. There are many of those lying around my house. Being married to a teacher and having two young children has its advantages.
To add to that, once I have compiled my list of words during my reading session, I meander to my work station and go about exploiting the wonderful world of new words. Ever expanding my mind, and with it my stories. To me learning is as important a task as reciting what I already know in my works. And let’s face it, it will help keep our writing from getting stale.
5. Keep a Notebook Handy:
I don’t know about you, but as I get older my memory gets worse. Not in a way that makes me worry about Alzheimer’s or Dementia, but just one that really makes me wish I had jotted down that item I needed to pick up from the store. Or that really good idea I had as I was driving to work. Maybe I heard something interesting said to me by a colleague or friend. Regardless, having the ability to jot a note down or two at a moment's notice will greatly increase your chance of developing some incredible stories.
Everything I have published was at one time or another written as a note somewhere. Whether that was on a literal notebook (Yes I carry those small ones around. I’m weird. Judge me not!), or using the notes app on your phone(I do this too by the way), it will let you not only save that little awesome nugget, but you can ruminate on whether that idea should be given the time of day in your writings. That's the best thing about writing, there are multiple drafts, and editing means you can go back to fix any issues you have with the work. But having a means to gather ideas when you are not conveniently sitting at your desk will be an immense help to your story's success!
6. Stop worrying about Perfection
“Practice makes perfect,” said SO many. I have even said this a time or two. And I am here to tell you, which no matter how much practice you perform there will always be an error. Or a sentence that doesn’t flow the best. Or something that you, the writing, will want to have improved upon. And I am telling you, that there is time for that. In fact, they have people for that. Those people are called beta readers, and editors. Mostly editors. They are the true word wizards in our world. I’m all for learning grammar, but I don’t let a simple comma come between me and good creative writing flow! This is especially for the first draft. No matter how small or large the issue is with your manuscript, get the words down on paper. Because you can always edit garbage, but you can’t edit a blank page! So save the perfectionism for later, closer to publication. Get as close to perfect as you can. But in the end, do yourself and the world a favor, and release your works! Release them and amazing things will happen!
7. Put the Phone Down!
That’s right. When the writing urge calls, don’t bring your real phone with you! Phones have become a pretty BIG role in today’s society. Not to mention, common. Also, when used properly, phones can be valuable tools for hundreds if not thousands of reasons. However, when it comes to the almighty focus, one must sever that tie between man and machine. I have been guilty of this all too many times. I bring my phone to the office. It’s easy to do. Most of us have them on our person all day, every day. I get ready to work on the next installment of my manuscript and I think about something I need to check. So what do I do? I grab my phone. Yes, even with my computer right in front of me. It's a habit. Next thing you know, I’ve been scrolling through social media, screening emails that I’ve already screened, browsing shops, and looking up nothing in relation to my book.
It wasn’t until I had left my phone in another room, by accident which I realized I was WAY more productive without the extra screen filling up my attention. I was able to focus. I had nothing to instinctively, out of boredom, grab to fill those few moments where I didn’t know what to write. Absent my phone, I found myself using the computer already at my disposal. Still with the story on my mind with every deviation. In fact, if clicked away to a different tab it was in pursuit of making the scene better. Usually looking up a detail for a topic I was touching on. Or perhaps a synonym for a word I had used recently. All that said. Our technology is a wonderful tool, but when it comes to dedicated writing time, just do yourself a favor and put the phone down! And respectively in the other room.
These seven tips to finishing the first draft to your manuscript are not the end all be all. Not even close. In fact, this list will probably grow with time. Who knows how many more tips will trickle in my brain over time. I just hope that using this list will help any fellow writer, no matter where you are on your author journey. It is always a joy to help those in pursuit of their goals. If ever, anyone reading this would like to chat, message me on my website or through Facebook. I’d love to chat more about the writing process. It is not a one size fits all process. Chatting with multiple people with different perspectives will only help to strengthen other’s abilities, mine as well. That’s it for now. Take care. And good luck with that manuscript!