6 Tips to Help You Complete Your First Draft

by Lesley-Anne Longo

Published at 2020-05-12

Completing the first draft of your book can be the most daunting thing about writing a book — the revising and editing can be difficult, but first getting the whole draft on the page can be even trickier. How can writers ease this process? We’ve got some tips to help you check that task off your to-do list.



Commit to It


Finishing a first draft is a great accomplishment, but to get there, you have to decide to make writing a priority. If you don’t prioritize your writing, you'll find that any number of things will keep “getting in the way” of your writing time.


A good idea is to set a writing goal for yourself. This could be a certain amount of time spent writing each day, but I think a better option is writing a certain amount each day. Whether that’s 500 words, or 1,000 words, or even more; setting a goal like this means you’ll be creating new content at a steady pace, instead of maybe having a couple of days a week where you spend an hour “writing” but really only get 250 words down on the page.



Schedule It Out


In a continuation of the above tip, creating a schedule for your writing can be helpful in helping you meet your own benchmarks. If you prefer to work weekly, you can set a goal for yourself to write 2,000 words a week. That’s 8,000 words every month. In seven months, you’ll have 56,000 words — that’s 224 double-spaced pages, if you write using Word! Break your goal into smaller, more achievable chunks, and you might find it less overwhelming and easier to envision reaching your goal. Meeting each small goal will also help you keep your motivation up!



Remove All Distractions


Do whatever it takes to help you focus on your work! That may mean turning off the Wi-Fi or using an internet blocker (check out Cold Turkey or Freedom) and putting your phone on silent, but you can also try creating a space where you’re sure not to be disturbed. If you have a home office, that’s great, but really, any room with a door that shuts can become your writing room. Hang a “Do Not Disturb” note on the door and ask your family (or roommates) to please not bother you while you’re in the zone.



Don’t Think, Just Write


This may seem counterintuitive, but as writers, it can be all too easy to get caught up in phrasing things just so, or self-editing as you go. Try to keep the analysis to a minimum, and just throw whatever you have onto the page. There will be plenty of time to edit and tinker later — right now, focus on just the writing itself. If you struggle with unstructured writing, there are lots of examples of writing prompts available online to give you a little bit of a framework to help you get started.



...But Also Know When to Take a Break


If you’re feeling stuck, taking a break might be just what you need to get the creative juices flowing again. Try taking a walk or doing a bit of exercise and see if that method works for you. Some writers prefer to have music playing to get their writing going, other writers need complete silence to focus, so play around with different things to see what works for you. Lastly, try just getting up and getting a drink — tea, coffee, even hot cocoa! Grab a snack (pick something light that will give you energy, and stay away from heavy foods that can cause you to feel, well, less than great), pick up your drink, and get back to it!



Further Your Skills


Sometimes what you need to get your writing going again is learning some new techniques, or brushing up on ones you might have forgotten. A great way to do this is by taking online writing courses. There are lots of different options out there for writers of all kinds. One might be just what you need to feel inspired to finish that draft. Here are a few options, with one that has a mix of free and paid courses:


  1. The Non-Sexy Business of Writing Non-Fiction: In this 10-day course offered by Reedsy, you’ll get an email each day from publishing coach Azul Terronez walking you through some critical aspect of writing and publishing non-fiction, including how to do targeted market research, tips for outlining and structuring, and how to stay productive.

  2. Writing What You Know: This course is offered through The Open University, a leader in online learning. In it, you’ll learn how to translate your experience into something that can help others learn and grow. The eight-hour course discusses topics like using life experiences in your writing, constructing and pacing scenes, using memories to structure narrative, and creating vivid imagery.

  3. Coursera: Coursera is an online learning service that features courses on writing (in addition to many other subjects) that are offered by universities and schools around the world. Some courses are free, and some are not, so take a look around and see if anything catches your eye! I liked the look of a specialization called Memoir and Personal Essay: Write About Yourself, which contains four related courses to help you learn all you need to know.


As editors, we know that writing a first draft is one of the hardest steps in the publishing process. However, the first draft doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to get from your brain onto the page. So sit down and bang out your writing goal for the day. Tomorrow, do the same. If you stick to it, eventually you’ll find that you’ve finished your draft.


From us to you, good luck — we’re rooting for you!


And when your manuscript is ready for editing, be sure to give us a call!