Writing (and finishing) a rough draft- this single challenge is probably what kills off the aspirations of most would-be writers. It is difficult, it is challenging, and even grueling. It’s also very time consuming and requires a lot of commitment. It’s no wonder so many people never get that first manuscript finished.

Of course, everyone wants to think that they’ll be different. Everyone likes to think that their story will be the Great (insert-your-country-here) Novel, and as such must be shared with the masses. It all sounds wonderful, but that means you actually have to finish a first draft. Cue the ominous choir accompanied with a creepy organ and an even creepier organist.

It’s not impossible, but, like I mentioned earlier, it is hard. So the first thing you want to do before embarking on a journey like this is to decide whether it’s worth putting in all this effort in the first place. If you don’t think your story is something special, something that deserves to be read and enjoyed, then you probably won’t ever need any of the information in this article, because you won’t be writing a rough draft. It’s is a long-term project. You need to stick with it, and if you don’t like your idea, then there’s no point in putting in all the work.

However, if you do want to go forward, good for you! Now that you’ve decided to proceed with your idea and write a rough draft, there is one rule that you should probably remember, if you know nothing else:

RULE #1 (The Golden Rule, the mother of all rules, the one rule you cannot afford to ignore): Your first draft is going to suck. It is going to be a suck-worthy suckfest full of suck. Accept it and move on.

Now that I’ve made that clear, I’ll just add that your story is not going to be wince-inducing forever. It’s the first draft, and for reasons I’ll elaborate on later, it’s better for your sanity to just let things be for the moment. (When you finally finish, you can go back to your manuscript to begin editing and really get to know your desk because your writing’s so horrible. For now, though, let’s respect the sanity, ok?)
As most everyone knows, there is no universal trick to guarantee success in your first-draft-writing endeavors. One thing I can do is to offer you a few more tips about writing rough drafts, to prevent you from pulling all of your hair out. (Although some premature balding does seem to be an occupational hazard here.)

TIP #1: Keep in mind where you’re going. If it helps you, write an outline of your plot, event by event, so you know what’s next and to keep you on track. (Especially if you’re one of those people who has the tendency to go off on a tangent.) Refer to your outline when you feel that you’ve reached a stagnation point and the plot’s not going anywhere.

TIP #2: Squash your inner critic. We’ve already established that your first draft is going to suck. You don’t need your inner critic telling you so incessantly as you type, because that’s just counterproductive and you’ll never get anything done. (However, don’t kill your inner critic, because you’ll have to come crawling back to it when it’s time to edit.)

TIP #3: If you’re a writer who has difficulty actually getting something on the page, find someone who shares an interest in writing as well. Exchange ideas and help each other. Another great idea is to try National Novel Writing Month, in which you attempt to write 50,000 words in a month. Even if you don’t reach quota, usually you end up with more text than you did when you started.

TIP #4: Spew word-vomit. Not a very polite thing to do in company, of course, but when it’s just you and your computer and you’re staring at a blank page, it’s ok to let loose a cascade of craptastic writing. You can fix it later and take it out if you need. Who knows, you might even hit on an idea you like by accident!

TIP #5: Take a break if you have to. Sometimes, we get a little sick of our own ideas and the thoughts we’ve been mulling over again and again. Step back and take a breath, especially if you’ve been coming to resent your story because of all the work it takes to get the words down. Think about something else for a week or two, and return rejuvenated, ready to write, and, if you’re lucky, with some new ideas.

TIP #6: Don’t give up. Cheesefest, I know, but some cheesy morals hold true, even if you have the urge to eat crackers along with them. Persistence is probably one of the qualities that marks the few who get published apart from the many who write. Even if you don’t top the New York Times’ Bestseller list, if you truly love what you’re writing, it will pay off, some way or other.

And on that note, be patient. Writing a novel takes time, and editing it will take even longer. But if you stick with it, eventually you’ll end up with something to be very proud of, regardless of its literary value. Finishing a novel is no small thing, even if it’s the rough shell of one. And when you finally reach the end of that story, when you have several trees’ worth of paper sitting in front of you, filled with horrible first draft writing, the sense of accomplishment must be immense.

So good luck and good writing!

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  1. swenson on 30 November 2009, 22:56 said:

    This is a great article for my state of mind right now, especially just coming off NaNoWriMo (which I won!! I really won it again this year!!). Thanks for writing it!

  2. Puppet on 30 November 2009, 23:24 said:

    What swenson said. :D

    Great article, SWQ.

    Another great idea is to try National Novel Writing Month, in which you attempt to write 50,000 words in a month.

    I second this.^^ NaNoWriMo really helped me put my story in text… by doing NaNoWriMo I finished the first draft of my story. Again, great article, SWQ. :D

  3. NeuroticPlatypus on 30 November 2009, 23:53 said:

    It is going to be a suck-worthy suckfest full of suck.

    I like your phrasing there.

    Great article. Word-vomit is definately good when you just can’t make the words flow.

  4. Snow White Queen on 1 December 2009, 00:00 said:

    Thanks for all the praise. I had meant to get this article out before NaNo, so people who hadn’t heard about it before could get on the wagon, but it’s good to know that it’s helpful all the same.

  5. RomanticVampireLover on 1 December 2009, 04:48 said:

    Wonderfully done, SWQ! Better late than never, I suppose, though it didn’t make a difference to me as I didn’t do NaNo. ;) Very well done indeed. :D

  6. Jeni on 1 December 2009, 05:03 said:

    Great article, SWQ. :)

  7. ProserpinaFC on 1 December 2009, 10:14 said:

    Oh God, writing is so hard. :(

    It feels like I’m pulling a long tendril of snot from out of my nasal cavities. The damn thing is clogging my mind. I want to pull it out quickly and be done with it, but I’m afraid of hurting my brain. So I tug it out slowly. I have to feel every part of it coming out of me and smell that sick-yellow virusy smell. The only relief is when it is done, and my mind is clear again.


  8. Danielle on 1 December 2009, 13:44 said:

    Lovely image, Prosperina, and first thing in the morning, too. :/

    Great article, SWQ. :)

  9. Steph (what is left) on 2 December 2009, 00:18 said:

    This is good, solid advice, and I love ya for it.

  10. Snow White Queen on 2 December 2009, 00:40 said:

    And I love being loved for it. :D

  11. ProserpinaFC on 2 December 2009, 09:53 said:

    Yeah, great tips, girl.

    I am at a dead end. You hit it right on the nose.

    TIP #4: Spew word-vomit.”

    I actually named my document “Writing Crap” and labeled the entries “Spewed Crap #4… Spewed Crap #5”.

    Horribly cynical, I know, but just writing a scene until it hits 300 words then calling it crap makes me feel kinda better.

  12. RikkiTikkiTavi on 2 December 2009, 21:54 said:

    Fantastic. Exactly what I’m needing right now as I stare at all the unfinished projects before my eyes. They breed when left alone in the dark corners of my mind.

  13. Anonymous45 on 4 December 2009, 00:59 said:

    lol mine breed too. Some stall and die, others get canceled because I realize how dumb/corny they are, yet others mutate into something barely recognizable, several merged together, a few are still sorta breathing, even less (1) are very actively developing, and I churn out like 5 new ones every year… But I did finish 1 short story =DDD I am so proud of it.

    ..i’m gonna go write my novel now, it is so hyperactivite its bouncing off walls…

  14. Steph (what is left) on 4 December 2009, 06:02 said:

    Word Spew just broke the writers’ block I had on a story since the eighth of October. I love you forever.

  15. Snow White Queen on 5 December 2009, 18:38 said:

    Yeah, I totally understand the ‘breeding’ technique, because it’s how I got the one semi-good idea that I’ve ever had.

  16. Tolly on 9 December 2009, 23:32 said:

    Ideas breeding like bunnies is what being a writer is all about! :D

    Love the article, it’s pretty much exactly what I would suggest to people, only it’s worded ever so much better than I usually manage.

  17. ProserpinaFC on 31 December 2009, 16:10 said:

    I’m back over here. It’s the end of the month and I wrote 17,000 words! I’ll set that as my pace instead of reaching for a higher number, I think.

  18. fffan on 20 April 2010, 07:20 said:

    Awesome article!