First Draft Manifesto

Writing a novel isn’t as
simple as it seems. You should know what you’re getting yourself into when you
sit down to write a first draft, and so I give you . . .

Principle #1: Divorce Your
Art From Perfectionism
Just write what you’re thinking.
I know. Sounds too easy, right? Like I’m making up a fake truth to
fool you so that your writing will fail, and then I’ll swoop in with mine and
make millions (cue evil laughter). Nope. Nothing like that at all. Here’s the
deal . . . When you put too much effort into finding the right words, your
creativity gets bunched up, bogging you down. Sometimes even stopping you.
That’s bad, folks. Newsflash: you don’t have to have the most psychedelic words
strung out across the page like a hippie on acid. You only need to have words.
Period. They don’t have to be perfect. Not yet. That’s what editing is for.
Principle #2: Step Off the Cliff
There’s a certain amount of bravado involved in penning a first
draft. How much? Gobs. No, really. I measured. It takes guts to expose the
story in your head for all the world to see, but don’t hyperventilate. The
beauty of a first draft is that no one but yourself need see it. So go ahead.
Take a deep breath. Then expel every crazy word idea swirling around in your
Go rogue. Allow your characters to take risks with their actions.
Snark up the dialogue, letting it shoot off into conversations you never
dreamed possible. Give your plot permission to take a sharp left turn or even
mow down into the ditch for some off-roading.
Your writing will never change or grow if you don’t vary the way
you write. If you usually write in third person, do a scene in first, just for
the heck of it. You don’t have to keep it that way, but in the exercise, you
might find a new perspective in which to stage that scene. Flail around a bit
with structure, like writing only dialogue for an entire chapter. Quit rolling
your eyes. Of course you’ll go back later and add in setting and descriptions.
First drafts are the safest place to experiment and stretch the
boundaries of your usual writing norm. If you were waiting for permission, here
it is. Go for it.
Don’t tuck tail and run . . . persevere!
Principle #3: Endure to Infinity and Beyond
The idea of writing a novel is oh-so-much more romantic than
actually parking your heinie in a chair and pounding out words. After a day or
two of actual writing, the ninety-nine percent will tuck tail and run,
whimpering about writer’s cramp or block or something about a clogged artery in
the posterior region.
The only way to finish a first draft is to . . . umm . . .
**excessive throat clearing** FINISH THE DANG THING! Yes, I’m yelling. There’s
no easy way out except through, and that takes endurance.
So keep plugging away, word after word. Eventually you will give
birth to a pound-and-a-half baby manuscript, putting you in the ranks of those
with a complete novel to their credit instead of a loser talking smack about
writing one.
Principle #4: Think like a pirate.
There are lots of things to admire about
pirates, as long as you overlook their rank body odor and the fact that they
slit throats and rob people. The piratey trait with the most takeaway value for
a writer is that pirates aren’t married to rules and regulations. Sure, they’ve
got a code to follow, but in the words of Captain Barbossa . . .
When you set sail on the ocean of first draft,
you have a destination in mind. There’s a plan lurking about in your grey
matter, a map for you to follow from beginning to end. If you’re really a
planner, you’ve even got a synopsis written and know exactly how the story will
flow from chapter to chapter.
But if you come up with a better idea halfway
through, it’s okay to change directions. Sure, your story might not turn out how
you expected, but that’s okay. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to stay a
certain course that you’re not willing to explore a different direction
story-wise. Some of the best creativity happens when least expected.
Principle #5: Carpe Diem
Besides mindlessly zipping
from one blog to another or checking out updates on Facebook or Twitter or
whatever, how about you sieze today, right now, and type out a few words of
your story idea?
Creators create. Yeah, God
took a day off but guess what? That was AFTER he finished. Don’t let today slip
by without carving out time to splatter some words on a page. I’m not saying
they have to be stellar. They just have to be.
Don’t tell me you’re going to write a book. Do it. Do it now.
What? You’re still here?
Like what you read? There’s more. WRITER
is a kick in the pants for
anyone who wants to write but is stymied by fear, doubt, or simply doesn’t know
how to take their writing to the next level.
Michelle Griep’s been writing since she
first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. Follow her adventures and find
out about upcoming new releases at her blog,
Writer Off the Leash,
or stop by her
You can also find her at the usual haunts of