How To Write A First Draft: 8 Tips

Writing a first draft is never easy. Whether it’s a novel or a script, you’ll come face to face with numerous hurdles. You may get writer’s block or complete mental block, and your end goal may seem so far out of sight that you want to give up. But, as the old saying goes: ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail’. Preparation (and a whole lot of coffee) is key when it comes to writing a first draft. So, we’ve rounded up our top tips on writing a first draft so that you can stay cool, calm and collected throughout the process. (However, you’ll have to brew your coffee yourself).

How do I start?

It’s always best to just get your ideas out there. Put them on the page, manifest them and bring them into existence. Your ideas don’t have to make sense, they don’t have to be astounding and they don’t even have to make proper sentences but as long as they’re written down, they can eventually become something great. From there, you can add detail and form bigger ideas within your story. Creating storyboards, timelines and mood boards are also great stepping-stones to bringing your ideas to life. 

How long must a first draft be?

A typical fiction or non-fiction novel is between 50,000-70,000 words but it’s completely up to you how long you want your story to be. Your first draft should ideally be your story in full. However, you may find your scenes and chapters become longer or shorter than you’d originally planned and new ideas may form, giving your manuscript new shape. Have a rough idea of how long you want your novel to be and work towards that.

How long should I spend on a first draft?

This depends on a few things:
1. The length of your story.
2. How much you’re going to write per day.
3. Whether you’re going to write three days a week, five or seven.
Stephen King once said that ‘a first draft should take no longer than three months’ but that’s not always feasible for those who don’t have the luxury of writing every day. We say, spend as long as you need on a first draft. It doesn’t have to be perfect, no one is going to be reading it but you.

How to know when your draft is finished

When it comes to your first draft, you’ll be tempted to edit it along the way but by doing this you’ll only slow yourself down. Get your first draft finished – that’s your story fully written or thereabouts – and then go back to edit and make amends.

Set a realistic goal

Plan how much you want to write per day. Be reasonable, don’t overwork yourself or set your goals too high…you don’t want to overburden yourself. Setting an unrealistic target can make you feel deflated and uninspired if you don’t hit your goal. Be practical with your time and reasonable about what you want to achieve in your time frame.

Switch off

Remove distraction to gain inspiration. Most writers find it best to switch off from the world around them and get rid of any distraction in order to stay focused. Roald Dahl had a shed at the bottom of his garden that he’d use solely to write. Find your quiet place, a place where you feel most comfortable and confident – this is where your inspiration and ideas will grow and where your story will become something special.

You don’t necessarily have to start with page 1, chapter 1

Start wherever feels right – this could be halfway through a chapter or halfway through a sentence. Starting at the very beginning can be daunting but starting with an idea can make it that little bit easier. Try starting your sentence with ‘and then’ or ‘suddenly’ and see where the paragraph takes you.

Don’t overthink it

Spelling and grammar can wait…for now. Allow your draft to be messy, scribble on your words, switch things up. You’re probably going to have many more drafts after this one, so don’t get too attached to it looking or sounding perfect, there’s plenty of time for that.

And last but not least, good luck!