National Novel Writing Month has descended upon us, and I'm afraid that means there will be far too many authors quitting before they reach their word count goal. So many start out with hopeful, positive attitudes, only to find their wonderful book ideas come crashing down all around them at the first sign that their story could be terrible (or even just not what they pictured it to be).
This article is for all of you who are worried you might quit on your first draft. This is your pep talk. I want to relate some of the hard lessons I've learned about novel writing in my limited experience, and if my simple advice helps even one other person cross the finish line and feel the satisfaction of completing a first draft, then I can feel as though I've positively contributed to the world.
Your first draft of your novel is important. It's enormous. Once that is complete, you can say factually that you have written a novel. But the pressure of writing a novel during the first draft is what ultimately puts people off of the task entirely. Writing is awfully introspective, no matter what is being written, and being alone with your own thoughts and words can quite easily create doubt. It is this doubt that causes far too many people to critique and edit their first draft into submission before they finish it. It's easy to fall into the trap of reading what you've already written, reread it, edit it, polish it, make it sound as pretty as possible, and then have no energy left over to write new material.
If you are doubting your first draft, whether you are writing it for this year's NaNoWriMo, or if you've been kicking it around for years, please allow me to take some pressure off so you can go forth and complete your draft with your head held high.
This is a fact: if your first draft isn't a terrible version of your book, then you are doing it wrong.
Here are five ways your first draft will (and should be) a failure, and why you should embrace these failures:
1) There will be plot holes.
Even if you've outlined, planned, and scratched down as many preliminary details as possible, you will make mistakes in your plot. It is bound to happen. Accept this and move on, because if you scurry back and forth while writing your first draft trying to cover every hole in your story, you will only become frustrated and never finish. Plot holes are best found by other readers. So instead of wasting valuable writing time looking for problems with your plot, spend your off time finding people to commit to reading your first draft specifically to hunt down the holes in your story so you can correct them later on.
2) You will have grammatical errors.
I don't care if your grammar is pristine on a daily basis. It takes concentration to never make a grammatical mistake while creating people, conflict, and dialogue from your own imagination. If you are spending too much time worrying about your mixed modifiers or where your prepositions lie in your sentences, then you are losing track of what you are actually saying. Writing a first draft should be with the intention of editing later, so don't edit now.
3) Your characters will not be entirely believable.
You might mix up character tones, or fail to even give a character or two their own distinct voice. Your characters might be bland, or even impossible to relate to. But as long as you're writing your first draft, then your characters are at least doing something and advancing your plot, and that's not quitting. The first draft is the time to pencil in your characters. Save coloring them for the second and third passes of your story.
4) Your dialogue will be choppy.
I haven't met an author who doesn't want their characters to all sound a certain way with particular thoughts and feelings being conveyed both concisely and precisely. Dialogue is an art on its own, and you will not be flawless with it upon the completion of your first draft. Once the draft is finished, then you can go back and spend time with your dialogue, speaking it aloud, polishing, and making it all sound as profound and wonderful as possible. During your first draft, just make sure your characters are speaking to each other and getting the general points across. Move on, and complete.
5) Your first draft will be the worst your novel will ever be.
Embrace this. With all of the other four points considered, there are endless other little ways you can nitpick your work as you go up until you hit the point of giving up. Do not give up. You have a great idea for a book, and the only thing stopping you from releasing it upon the world is yourself. Embrace the fact that you are writing a bad book on your first pass. Your first draft will not and should not be publishable. In all of my time and thousands upon thousands of words I've written and tossed away, the hardest lesson I've had to learn is that a novel is truly written during the editing process. Your first draft is a detailed blueprint, the demo tapes for your multi-platinum album if you will. But the greatness of your book will not be achieved until it's thoroughly edited, so dedicate yourself to finishing your first draft, embrace its awfulness, and then turn around and edit it until it finally becomes the wonderful creation you originally had in mind.
This wonderful video adds some much-needed perspective on what a first draft should be:
Good luck to everyone participating in NaNoWriMo...the world needs your story, but we can't read it until you finish.
Here is the website for National Novel Writing Month, for those who might be interested: http://nanowrimo.org/