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7 Essential Tips for Writing the First Draft of Your Book

These tips on how to write the first draft of your book range from left to right brain strategies, and will help you start and keep writing. The first tip comes from a reader’s comment on my wicked old post on writing first drafts:

how to write the first draft of your book“My favorite help (and salvation) for writing the first draft came from Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method,” says Delena Silverfox on 6 Tips For Writing First Drafts. “I was actually able to get through a first draft faster and more easily than ever before, rather than burn out half or three-quarters of the way through my book.”

What’s the Snowflake Method? Here’s what Ingermanson says about How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method: “Before you start writing, you need to get organized. You need to put all those wonderful ideas down on paper in a form you can use. Why? Because your memory is fallible, and your creativity has probably left a lot of holes in your story — holes you need to fill in before you start writing your novel. You need a design document. And you need to produce it using a process that doesn’t kill your desire to actually write the story.” Ingermanson uses the Snowflake Method to organize and write his first draft of his manuscript. I don’t describe how to write the first draft of your book with the Snowflake Method below. My tips aren’t as structured or process-oriented as his method of writing books. Here’s what I mean…

7 Tips for Writing the First Draft of Your Book

I love these tips because they’re so random – and yet essential! The Snowflake Method is a practical and left-brained tip for writing the first draft, while the first tip below is more intuitive and right-brained.

And that’s the key to being a successful writer: using both sides of your brain. But not at the same time.

1. Put your brain on ice

You need to learn how to trust your intuitive voice, especially when you’re learning how to write the first draft of your book. Your intuition – that still small voice – will help you write a book that is authentic and vibrant. When you trust your intuition, you don’t stop thinking (that’s not what I mean by putting your brain on ice!). Following your intuition is a higher level form of being creative and even productive. It will help you write a first draft that has potential to go farther than you dream.

“This is what I find with writers who begin to trust their intuitive voice – the scared aliveness that accompanies the first tentative forays,” writes Judy Reeves in Wild Women, Wild Voices: Writing from Your Authentic Wildness. “Writing from this place can cause your hand to shake and your heart to skitter….When we write from this place we’re no longer playing it safe; we may be breaking some rules, telling some secrets, but by damn! we’re writing from our most authentic wildness.”

How do you know when you’re writing an authentic first draft? You’re listening to yourself with deep hearing, an open mind, and willing hands.

2. Create a mind map for the first draft of your book

“My best writing advice is to always do a mind map before writing to make sure you really know what you want to say,” says Michelle on 51 Over-Used Adverbs, Nouns, and Clichés in Writing. “I work best when I do one of these mind maps because I always come across something that I have forgotten in the story. 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 its right and left sides in thinking. It combines the visual with the rational. It is very good for brainstorming and planning, especially if you aren’t sure how to write the first draft of your book.”

After you create a mind map, you can put a structure to your book and follow the structure when writing your first draft. This is a similar process to the Snowflake Method for writing a first draft – but the Snowflake Method is much more detailed and organized.

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.

To learn more about mind mapping the first draft of your book, read Mind Mapping for Writers – How to Mind Map a Story or Article.

3. Tear up the runway

“When I was studying creative nonfiction as an undergrad at The Ohio State University, I had the privilege of learning from an outstanding literary professor,” says says Thomas Redmond on How to Write an Excellent First Draft. “He shared with me a piece of writing advice for writing first drafts that has stuck with me to this day and resurfaces every time I begin to write a new piece. This advice follows closely with celebrated poet and essayist Annie Dillard’s advice to “tear up the runway.”

How to Write the First Draft of Your Book

How to Write the First Draft of Your Book

Dillard says it takes courage to write. The most courageous action a writer can take is to find the “runway” that gets your writing off the ground. The runway gets your story moving in a good direction and sets it soaring. Then – and this is the courageous part – you have to tear up the runway. The runway merely served as a way for you to get to the real meat of your story.

What does this have to do with learning how to write the first draft of your book? It encourages you to just write what you think should be in your book — and know that you are free to “tear up the runway” after your book really gets going. It’s similar to killing your darlings, which Stephen King talked about.

4. Stay emotionally healthy

These last four tips are from Sharon Dunn, who shared this advice in the comments section of 18 Tips for Writing Better From Authors and Freelancers:

I am convinced that succeeding as a writer long term is 70% learning how to manage the emotional ups and downs, and 30% skill, discipline, and timing.

There are three things you can do to win the emotional battle:

  1. Separate your identity from your successes and failures as a writer
  2. Find cheerleaders who believe in you and can speak encouragement into your life
  3. Seek out a healthy writing community, online or in person, where writers support each other a offers shoulders to cry on when needed

Staying emotionally healthy will help you learn how to write the first draft of your book. Your support system – and your spiritual health – will sustain you through the rough patches.

5. Interview experts

Sooner or later as part of doing research for your writing projects, you will have to track down and interview an expert. Does this thought give you chest pains and make it hard to breath? Take heart. Published or unpublished, writers are like duck billed platypuses; people are fascinated by them. This truth ought to make the thought of approaching an expert for an interview a little less intimidating.

Tell the expert that you’re a writer working on the first draft of your book. You’d be surprised at how eager most people are at sharing their knowledge and expertise with writers!

6. Use post-it notes to stay organized

Post-it Notes are an unorganized writer’s best friend. I use them to remind me about details of the character physical description and background. I tack the notes on my armoire desk, so when I have forgotten the color of a character’s eyes or how many years he or she spent in the army, all I have to do is look up and the information is right in front of me.

This tip will help you write the first draft because you won’t waste time looking up details. A mind map can also be helpful, if it’s updated as your novel progresses.

7. Treat writing your first draft like a real job

This is my favorite writing advice: “Clean yourself up, put on some nice clothes and sit down in front of the computer. Make an agreement to stay in that chair writing for however much time your schedule allows. Don’t cheat your ‘boss’ out of time by checking emails and making coffee.”

The most important tip on how to write the first draft of your book is to treat writing like the serious job  it is. Yes, it’s fun and yes you can be playful with it! But it’s work. It requires your time and energy, your dedication and loyalty.

Give your writing the time and attention it deserves.

A question for you about writing the first draft

What’s your biggest struggle with writing first drafts? Mine is that I tend to edit every sentence repeatedly. I don’t “free flow” as I write. I edit and revise. This is NOT a good tip on how to write the first draft of your book!

All the best writing advice encourages me to write in flow with my right brain (the creative side), then edit later with my left brain (the more analytical side). Is that how you write?

If you struggle with writing first, second, or 30th drafts, read How to Love Writing.

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