Writing a First Draft Part 1

Bird by BirdEvery writer I’ve ever known, and every writer I’ve ever read about, says the same thing: the art of writing is in the rewriting. Writing the first draft is a chore, but we can’t proceed to our final draft without it.

Three books that have helped me through all stages of writing are Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and How to Write and Sell Your First Novel by Oscar Collier. I’ve read those books so many times that the information contained within has intertwined into my DNA (like hair coiling in Avatar).  Many of the tips I have shared with writers over the years come from these books. If you’re a writer, I recommend you read them.

Tip 1: Make sure you love what you’re writing. If you don’t, you probably won’t write it.

I often encounter people who’ve had this great idea for a book for years but they haven’t gotten around to writing it. I tell them that if the idea isn’t pressing them to the point of distraction, then it might not be right for them. I tell them that if they have a nice life, a nice job, a nice family, and don’t feel a burning desire to write that story then they probably won’t. Thinking you want to be a writer and writing are two different things. Writing is hard enough when you feel compelled by Fate to do it. It’s even harder, if not impossible, when you don’t have that burning desire. When is it time to write? When it’s more painful not to write something than it is to write it. If an idea is gnawing at you and won’t leave you alone to your nice life with your nice family, that’s when the writing process begins.

Writing Down the BonesFor all the projects I’ve completed, many more lay by the wayside. If I wasn’t compelled by what I was writing, then I dropped it. If I can’t convince myself that the project is worth writing, how can I convince a reader that it’s worth reading? When I began working on Her Dear & Loving Husband way back in the old-timey days of 2009, I was so compelled by James and Sarah’s story that I worked on it nearly every day for a bit more than one year—367 days to be exact. I may have taken a Sunday off here and there, but even on those days when I wasn’t at the computer it was always on my mind. In that case, I wrote the first draft in six weeks. It was, come to think of it, the easiest first draft I’ve ever written. Why? Because I had to write that story down. I had to get it out of my head and onto paper. I couldn’t live peacefully with myself if I didn’t.

Do you love what you’re writing? If the answer is yes, then you’re on the right track. If the answer is no, that’s okay. Not every idea is meant to be a long-term project. Keep searching until you find that idea that keeps you up at night, itching to get back to it.

4 thoughts on “Writing a First Draft Part 1

  1. You hit the nail right on the head, Carole–you have to focus your energy on the projects you feel passionate about. I understand exactly where you’re coming from because I used to feel the same way. I didn’t even like to stop reading books once I started them. Like you, I had to learn to give myself permission to follow my heart. Time is too short to spend on writing projects we’re not excited by.

    We have the same great taste in writers! I hope the Collier book is still in print. I’ve had my copy for so many years I can’t even tell you how long I’ve had it.

    Thank you for your comments. I’m so glad you found the post useful.

  2. I couldn’t agree more, Krystal. In fact, that is exactly what I tell students when I teach creative writing classes–not every idea is meant to become a project. For writers, any opportunity to engage in daydreaming is time well spent whether those daydreams become novels or not.

  3. It has to be the right project. This should be the very first thing people tell aspiring writers. Followed by, it’s okay if you picked the wrong project and have to drop it to work on something else. You have to really love every aspect of it. It’s not enough to love the story and not the characters or love the characters and not the story. We have to love it all.

  4. Meredith, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your comments. I’ve felt guilty when I didn’t complete certain projects. But when I lay aside a project that doesn’t grab me, it leaves me the energy I need for work about which I feel passionate. I’ve completed enough manuscripts by now to be able to trust myself to complete the important things. If some projects fall by the wayside, well so be it.
    The learning point: sometimes it takes guts to give ourselves permission to set a project to the side, even permanently. And your loves are my loves: Goldberg and LaMott are long-time favorites. I’m getting ready to read the Collier.

    Thanks for all your wonderful comments.

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