I received an email recently from a 12-year-old fiction writer. She was looking for advice on how to stay motivated throughout the writing of her whole story. Her question made me think about how I write a first draft.
The beginning of a story is usually fun to write — I feel inspired and enthusiastic. But after I write the first chapters, writing can slow down and it can be hard to keep going. A novel can take so long to write that it’s sometimes hard to imagine it will ever be done.
So when I’m writing a first draft, I like to set myself targets. When writing is tough, I aim for only 200 new words a day. On good days, I can get 500 to 1500 new words, although 200 words a day becomes 73,00 words in a year — enough for a novel! It may add up slowly but there’s usually time to write 200 words on most days. It’s also easier to keep my head in the story when I write a little bit every day, rather than a lot only once or twice a week.
I don’t have to write 200 “good” words. I let them be rough and polish them the next day because it helps me get into the next 200 words.
Here’s a good quote about getting through the first draft:
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something — anything — down on paper.”
— Anne Lamott (from Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life)
I also have an extremely supportive writing group. There are five of us who share our writing to get constructive feedback on it, and we encourage one other when writing is tough. I know authors who have writing partners to help motivate them (they meet to write together once a week ). I tend to write alone, although I find that a writing retreat with other writers brings a fresh burst of material — as well as fabulous conversation.
Basically, I do whatever works to get that first draft down. The rewriting and polishing stages will take care of the warts.