I once met a writer who was working on a novel. She never finished it.

This person when I talked to her was working on the first chapter of a book she planned to write. It had an interesting premise, and she already had the plot outlined. I was really happy to hear about it. I always love talking to people who have passion projects waiting for them at home.

The next time I saw her, she was still working on that first chapter. It had to be just right. Oh. No problem. Just as long as you’re writing, that’s what matters.

The next time I saw her, about six months later, she had decided to scrap her chapter. A whole new idea had come to her, and her chapter no longer had a place with the “improved” version of her novel. She had deleted the whole thing and started over. Back to page one.

A lot of people who start writing tend to overthink. It’s a big hurdle to jump. Thinking, I mean. When people write, they’ll inevitably stop, unsure of where to go next. The beginning suddenly looks like crap (it is a first draft, after all), so they focus on editing instead. A whole lot of trepidation dictates their actions, and they end up so scared of what’ll come next that they never get to find out what happens.

First drafts of any story are special, you see. They’re designed to be especially bad. Many published authors didn’t even know where their story was headed until the very end.

There’s also the outlining option. Outlining before writing can be great, but you can’t let an unfinished outline keep you from writing the thing. If it does, then you’ve missed the entire point of an outline, or of a first draft.

The point is for you to start thinking, after it’s done. That’s it.

Say we have a book. Point A is the beginning and Point Z is the end. Maybe when you start writing, Points A to C are figured out, and you have a fuzzy picture of what Points W-Z will be. Scenario 2 is also an option: You wrote an outline and have Points A, B, J, P, S, and Z figured out. The rest is blank space. It is guaranteed that as you write, you’ll eventually come to a place where you don’t know where to go next.

All you have to do is pick whatever idea is floating around in that brain of yours and see where it takes you.That’s all there is to it. Don’t spend any time sweating over the consequences. Why? Because your book is going to change.

When I wrote my first manuscript, I had Points A and X figured out. The opening scene and the climax. How I would get to the climax, I had no clue. That didn’t matter though. I just decided to write and to see where my spontaneous thoughts would take me. After over a year, every point in my story was mapped out. Those points did not coincide with the ones I had in my story. I had a complete, piece of crap first draft, but the story I really wanted to tell was floating around in my head, fully formed. Now it just needed to go on paper.

So I started to edit. Most of Points A-Z in the first draft weren’t very good, or they contradicted each other. It was time to change them. But most of the abstract creativity was over with. That wouldn’t have happened unless I had written the draft first.

I hope that you understand a first draft’s purpose now. All it’s designed to do is to get you to start thinking. It’s only meant to be a canvas, or a slab of rock. Once you’ve finished Draft One, that’s when you go back to paint, or to sculpt your masterpiece.

Don’t get in the way of yourself. Taking the first step is hard, but flying through those pages when you have no clue where you’re going is even harder. Do not think too much. That’s for Round 2.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you, Clay. I have been so stuck on my first chapter. Your ideas have helped. Now, on to the writing.

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