Many of us who want to be writers rarely get to the end of one story before we start another one. The initial excitement of new characters and unexplored worlds pulls us in but as soon as we run into that very first roadblock of not knowing where to take the story, we stop (because we don’t like blocks of any kind) and, instead of finding a way around it, we run away and leap onto a new tale, hoping that this time we will be able to finish what we started.
But the truth is many of us seldom do.
That happens mainly due to the fact that we don’t actually know how we want the story to end or whether we want it to end at all. I admit, I have a few stories that I don’t have the intention of ever finishing because I think they’re better off as these grand, bursting bits of magic in my mind rather than concrete stories tethered to rustling pages. But there are other ones that demand to be told from start to finish, the ones that don’t mind being described in words and stuck between paper, and those are the ones that help writers become authors.
1) So my first tip to finishing a first draft is to find a story within yourself that insists on being told. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with it, shaping it into a novel of your liking and therefore, you have to make sure that it’s your passion, that the world is one you want to unravel, and that the characters are the ones you want to meet. This is very,very crucial. You don’t want to be abandoning your story down the road just because the world you’ve concocted grates your brain or because you want to punch your protagonists into the time before their existence.
For example, I absolutely adore/love the manuscript I’m working on because I’ve taken the time to find a story I wanted to tell. It takes place in a fantasy, steampunk world filled with floating islands, hot air balloons, political issues, friendships, dirigibles, grand royal balls, underground caves, automatons, and romance. And that’s not even half of it. While the world and the characters may not have always been the ones I love and treasure now, they did have a solid start.
2) So once you have that elusive, or not so elusive, tale in your mind, start a new Word document for it. Or if you like to do it the old fashioned way, take a notebook and designate it as your first draft notebook. If you already have something like that than proceed to tip number three. If not, stop reading and go start that document/notebook/or what have you. I’ll be waiting.
Did you do it? I’m serious. Start it, title it, and make sure to remember that this is your first draft.
3) Now, the third tip will be different for everyone. If you haven’t started your story yet, then it’s important that you make an outline of what you want to happen in the beginning, middle and end. Please don’t make the same mistake I did and go into your story completely blind. I know you may think you’re a pantser (for those of you unfamiliar with the term, it means a writer who likes to discover the story as they go) but realize that there has to be a balance. After all there is no yin without yang. So find your plotter half and figure out what the heck it is that you want the story to be. For the first draft, it can even be a loose idea but make sure you know the ending you want to have.
If you have already started your story and don’t have an outline, then I’m sorry. It will be a little more difficult for you in the later drafts to reshape it into something that makes sense to people who are not you. But fret not, you may be a super rare talented individual whose story will come out perfectly even without an initial outline. However, since that’s highly unlikely, after all even J.K. Rowling had to plot out Harry Potter before committing it to book form, I will give you a useful tip. Finish the draft you’re working on, even if it is the worst thing you’ve read since your sixth grade essay on Amelia Earhart, and do it fast. You can even change the way characters behave and the road the plot takes midway through your draft. It doesn’t matter. Finish it the way you think you want to finish it and call it your zero draft.
That is exactly what I did, even though technically it was my first draft. I started my manuscript with this romantic notion that The Story will come to me and all the pieces will somehow fit together like clockwork, even though I haven’t done the necessary calculations beforehand. Then as I continued, I found that I kept getting stuck. The plot was meandering, the characters kept rambling, and my sister kept getting distracted while she read through the first chapter. But hey, at least, I was writing and not just imagining I was writing, while scrolling through my Facebook feed.
Now, you may think it would be easier to ditch that draft you have and start anew but please don’t do that under any circumstance. If you do it once, you’re bound to do it again and again and again. This means you will never finish anything and you will not learn the lessons that come with writing The End. So please, get to the end of it, taking wide strokes to paint the scenes and have fun.
And then you can start plotting.
4) Let me tell you one thing, plotting is difficult. And it may seem boring at times but if you do your job correctly, the plot outline will make the writing process that much easier and more enjoyable. And since it would take me ten Mondays to explain how plotting works, I will give you a link to a very detailed and super-duper helpful explanation of the process, that helped me in more ways than one: http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/how-to-outline-your-novel/
I promise, once you understand the way many stories come to life, it will make all the difference in the world. Writing may seem easier than drawing or constructing houses, but really, it’s an illusion. Writing is a craft just like any other and it has rules and techniques that need to be followed. The sooner you understand that, the better. And if you are rebel writer who doesn’t like conforming to any rules, kudos to you, but, understand, that in order to break the rules with a bad ass purpose (and avoid looking like a fool who skipped all the English lessons in high school), you must know the rules first.
5) And finally, the fifth tip is to stop making excuses. One of the only reasons I was able to finish my first draft was because I started it and pushed through it, roadblocks be
damned darned. Yes, I hated what I was writing while I was writing it (because it was not exactly the world and the characters I’ve been imagining). Yes, a lot of the time sometimes I thought it was all in vain. And yes, I still think it’s an abomination only my eyes can look upon, but the most important part is, I have a finished first draft, which makes me qualified to give advice on the matter.
I know starting can be daunting but believe me, it’s the most important thing you can do for yourself and your book. Stop leaving your dream to tomorrows because tomorrows never come. The only time you can do anything is today. So today it must be.
Write, write, write until you have a first draft. And no matter how ugly it is, remember, that you will always have a today to make it better.
For more fantastic writing, filming, or whatnot tips come back every Monday. Promise, everything’s based on my own experiences.