Are you a writer faced with a blank page? Check out these tips for writing a first draft from a buffet of published authors, editors, and writers. These writing tips can decrease your fear of writing, and increase your motivation to write your first draft quickly and easily.

Remember: “The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” ~ Agatha Christie.

Writers don’t have to be literally writing on a blank page to plan their first drafts. I daresay most writers are visited by the Muse when they’re in the shower, walking in the park, or driving their kids to soccer or ballet practice.  

“Listen to your intuition, write from there,” writes Judy Reeves in Wild Women, Wild Voices: Writing from Your Authentic Wildness. “Trust yourself. Trust your pen. Trust your ideas.”

She adds that to write an excellent first draft, we need to listen to our bodies when we write and when we read back what we’ve written. “Listen for the thrill of yes! the excitement of connection with your Truth, the depth of connection with your soul,” she says. “Notice the fear. The anxiety. The surprise. The satisfaction.”

How to Write an Excellent First Draft

Here’s another tip, for whether you’re writing a novel or your life story (or a mixture of both): “In the telling of stories something happens, your whole perception and memory of things begins to change,” said Amy Tan. “You can let go of what you have just told – you give it away.”

In letting go as a writer, you heal as a person.

1. Avoid editing yourself

“When you first put pen to paper, try not to edit yourself and let all your ideas loose, even if you believe they are stupid, cliched, or poorly written. Learn to embrace the process of revising and editing your writing. If you work hard on subsequent drafts, remain persistent, and learn how to be both gentle and honest with yourself, you will make great leaps from draft to draft.” – Laryssa Wirstiuk, founder and editor-in-chief of Too Shy to Stop.

2. Keep your writing plain and simple

“Write the first draft without adjectives and adverbs. You can always add text, but once you’ve added a word, it’s much harder to bring yourself to edit the flowery prose.” – Kate Lee.

3. Let your writing chill

“First: Start with a legal pad, outline it. Second: Write a first draft, close it and walk away till morning – you’ll have great ideas after you’ve left it alone for a while. Third: Pretend to tell the story, description, topic to a friend – then write down how it came out of your mouth.” – Angela Moore.

Her third tip, by the way, is a great way to find your writer’s voice.

4. Write for yourself first

how to write an excellent first draft“The best writing tip that I ever received was from my high school creative writing teacher, (the late) Ms. Daisy Aldan. She told us to write for ourselves first and worry about the corrections later. If you get so tangled up in spelling and grammatical etiquette, then you will interrupt the flow of thought. Your writing will be disjointed.” –  Chelle Cordero, author.

5. Write a bad first draft

“This writing tip doesn’t suggest abandoning your standards -just (temporarily) your internal editor.  For writers who have a strong superego calling the shots, getting anything onto paper can be a real challenge. Giving yourself the room for imperfection, at least while you’re writing the first draft, is an encouraging and necessary condition for creativity.” – Claire Bardos, screenplay writer.

Indeed – if you’re a writer who needs help overcoming perfectionism, you may be paralyzed by the thought of the blank page.

6. Use words you know…and that readers know

“The best writing tips I received came from a journalism professor who was a former editor at National Geographic. She taught students to write simplistically. Don’t use uncommon or “big” word to show off the fact that you know what a particular word means. Write in a simple manner that your readers will understand.

Your goal as a writer is to enlighten or educate the reader – not speak over him or her. Writers should also use strong verbs and avoid “was” and “is” when possible. For example, “the storm was clearing” is not as strong as “the storm cleared.” – Andrea Aker.

To learn the difference between right and left brain writing, read 7 Essential Tips for Writing the First Draft of Your Book.

What’s your best tip on how to write an excellent first draft? Tell me below…


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5 thoughts on “How to Write an Excellent First Draft”

  1. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your comments and tips! Detaching from your writing is crucial; detaching makes it easier to “kill your darlings” or edit your writing.

    I’ve only tried mind mapping once. It didn’t really resonate with me…I’m a list person.

  2. I am an ex-freelance writer, current copywriter and always creative writer at heart. When I was studying creative nonfiction as an undergrad at The Ohio State University, I had the privilege of learning from an outstanding professor. This individual is a Pulitzer price finalist. In addition to the well deserved accolades this individual has received for writing, this professor is a tremendous teacher and coach.

    This professor shared with me a piece of advice that has stuck with me to this day and resurfaces every time I begin to write a new piece: for work or for leisure, poetry or prose. This advice follows closely with celebrated poet and essayist Annie Dillard’s advice to tear up the runway. Dillard advises that it takes courage to write and the most courageous action that a writer can take is, upon finding the “runway” that gets your piece off the ground, gets your story moving in a direction, is to tear it up. As long as it took you to find that hook, that idea which got your creative gears going, you should erase it from your mind and the page. You no longer need it and it will take away from the real story; the “runway” merely served as a way for you to get there.

    This professor agrees with Dillard: to a point. I don’t remember exactly what he said verbatim, so I will paraphrase. While this individual also thinks that it takes courage to be a writer, they feel that tearing up the runway is just one courageous act out of many that a writer will have to make. A good runway which lifts you off to a great idea for a story or a piece is a darling. You will find, as you write, that you will have many darlings. These little parts of a piece that seem wonderful, intelligent and meaningful. You will hover over these darlings for days, admiring them, wondering how you were able to come up with something so clever. And then you will have to murder your darlings. Because these darlings don’t belong in your piece. You may want to save them, after they are dead, to bring them out some other day, for some other piece, but they usually don’t fit.

    This professor was a great influence on my development as a writer and I admire and respect them deeply. I agree so much with this notion. Whenever I write something that I think sounds a little wonderful, clever or unique, it usually is. The more I try to shape it to fit in with what I am writing, the more I realize that I am actually shifting the entire focus of what I am writing to fit this little darling. The sooner that it is dead and forgotten, the sooner I can get back to focusing on what I am really trying to say with a piece.

  3. Great tips!

    If you are not clear on who your audience is, then follow the tip I was given – write the marketing material before the book! If you are clear on the benefits your book will provide, then you will also know who it is for and the problems they face. This will clarify your direction and make the writing much easier.

    Then when you come to promote your book you will find you already have most of the material you need ready written. After all your book will only change the world if it sells.

    I referred to ‘The Shortest Distance Between You and a Published Book’ by Susan Page in writing my book ‘Their Cancer – Your Journey’, and this encourages you to use this process.

    Happy writing!

    Anne Orchard
    Author ‘Their Cancer – Your Journey’

  4. Great advice, especially about writing for yourself. The same advice I adhere to when I paint. The important thing is to bring you to your creative effort.

  5. My best writing advice is to always do a mind map before writing to make sure that you really know what it is that you want to say. I work best when I do one of these mind maps because I always come across something that I have forgotten in the story or even something I didn’t think of before. Mind maps are easy to do and they can only add to what ever it is that you plan to write. They work so much better than lists. The whole idea of a mind map lets your brain use both it right and left sides in thinking and combines the visual with the rational. It is very good for brainstorming and planning. I think all writers should use it!

    Once I have done my mind map then I can put a structure to the article, story, etc., and follow the structure when writing. It works very well. This method brings out the best, especially when you need creative and well rounded writing. It works for articles, reports, short stories, novels… You name it! If you don’t know about mind maps I suggest you buy a book or run down to your library and get one. The best known author of books about mind maps are Tony Buzan, the British thinker who actually came up with the concept.