I was recently in a discussion with other authors about the actual process of writing down that first draft. This isn’t the one where you’ve made any edits, it’s the raw, unfiltered story. It’s a little like drawing at this stage. There are circles, squares, lines, and none of it makes a lot of sense if you don’t know what you’re seeing.
Now, I know many writers who take their time in creating a story. I do not, for the record, think it’s necessarily better or worse to be able to kick out 5,000 words in an hour or two. But regardless of how fast you write, you have to tell the story!
Yes, there are tricks to increase speed. That’s not what this post is about. This is about telling the story.
Rules for writers that shouldn’t exist when you’re working on a first draft:
- Punctuation in general. You can fix it later. Don’t cripple yourself by worrying about whether you need a comma or a semi-colon. Put in a comma and review the rules when you’re ready to edit. I promise you made mistakes you didn’t recognize anyway.
- Word choice should be flawless and powerful. No, do not deliberately use “said” at the end of every line of dialogue when writing your draft. No, do not use “perfect” on every fourth line. You’ll hate yourself. (If you don’t believe me, ask me about hands and collarbones someday.) DO avoid locking up because you can’t remember the exact word you wanted. You can leave a note and figure out the word later. When your brain is telling you “magenta” and you want the word “fuschia” but can’t remember the word you want, it’s frustrating as hell. Make a note right in the manuscript that says “not magenta, the other word” and then move along!
- Plot holes should be closed. They’re going to happen. You can fix them later. I got to work with some film students for a time, and even there, they would be working on a scene and not be certain about something they’d just shot. Eventually the director would say “We’ll fix it in post.” It’s not just writers, but every creator out there who has to edit and revise after the initial creation.
- Write every day or you’re not a writer. Says who? Do you think that famous authors don’t take vacations? Stephen King got hurt and went months without writing. George RR Martin just up and abandoned Westeros. They’re both still writers. Life happens. If you only write once a week, you’re still a writer as long as you’re dedicated to getting that story out. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you’re not.
There are other things, but these came up as huge stumbling blocks for people who had been trying to write their first story. These are the things that people are told by teachers who think they know what it’s like to write but who’ve never written. These are things told by people who run “writing groups” and who take the money of people who want to tell a story but who couldn’t write one if they were given all the opportunities in the world.
Writing is a process. You write, you edit, you write, you revise, you edit again, and eventually you have a story. Whatever you do, don’t let anyone else tell you what the rules are for getting that first draft out. Just don’t quit. Don’t judge it until after you’ve finished and done some edits. Tell the story!