5 Tips for writing a first draft
I recently saw a meme on Facebook that went something like “I write whole books in my head when I’m in the shower. Then I sit down at the computer, and wat r werds?” If you climb a ladder and look straight down, you know intellectually that you’re only 5 or 10 or 15 feet off the ground, which is not very far, but it sure looks like a lot bigger drop than that. Starting a book that you plan to be 50,000 or 80,000 or 100,000 words can feel the same way, only it’s a cliff you need to climb.
Enough with the ladder and cliff metaphors. You need to get your book written. Here are a few tips for getting started and keeping going.
1. Have an outline. For nonfiction books, an outline of what each chapter will cover is essential. This should be at least a table of contents with major chapter section headings indicated. One benefit is that it keeps you from repeating yourself. When you have a chapter outline, the ideas related to X go in chapter 2, and the ideas related to Y go in chapter 5. You won’t find yourself in chapter 5 telling the reader what you’ve already told them about X. The outline doesn’t need to be perfect or even particularly good because after you get a first draft written, you can move material around all you want.
Another benefit is that an outline breaks up the book into manageable pieces. Writing a whole book can be daunting. Writing a chapter, or writing one section of a chapter, is much more manageable. This brings us to…
2. Write out of order. You can write the pieces of your book in any order you want. Stuck on chapter 3 but know what you want to say in chapter 6? Go write chapter 6. This applies to fiction as well as nonfiction. Maybe your characters are at point A and you need to get them to point B and you’re not sure how to do that, but you know what they’re going to do at point B. Go ahead and write that scene at point B. You can figure out how to get them there later. By picking the proverbial low-hanging fruit, you can get a large portion of your book done. Then filling in the tougher spots won’t feel as intimidating.
3. Write every day. You can write 50 words (seriously—it’s OK to write just 50 words) but write something. When you do something every day, it becomes routine and not scary. You also get better at it.
Plus, do some math: If you write a 50,000-word book at a rate of 100 words a day (because some days you can push out more than 50 words), you’ll finish in about 16 months. You’d probably prefer to get the book done sooner than that, but having a book written sometime next year is a lot better than not having your book written sometime next year.
To make sure you write every day…
4. Make appointments to write. If you wait until you have some free time, you’ll hardly ever have it. Life is busy! Writing is hard! You’re tired! However, if you have an employer who expects you to be at work at a certain time, I bet you’re there more often than not. Same thing with dentist appointments—you probably don’t like them at all, but I bet you show up when scheduled. Put your writing appointments on your calendar and keep them as though they were appointments with someone else.
5. Turn off your inner editor. You’ll edit later. Right now you need to write, so just do that. You have permission to be an awful writer. It will be a lot better to have a book written in x months and then be able to start improving it than to not have a book written in x months because you’re stuck somewhere in the middle.