For the last two weeks I’ve been talking about how to survive a first draft and actually get it finished. There are far too many promising writers out there who start a novel but never finish that all-important first draft. Sometimes it’s because they don’t know how. I’ve managed to finish about ten first drafts and counting, so in an effort to help promising writers along, here are my suggestions of how to get the job done.
The Beginning is the easiest part. We talked about that, about how when you start you’re still full of excitement and ideas. The purpose of writing the story is still fresh in your mind and your optimism is at an all-time high. Yay for beginnings!
The Middle is so very much harder. It’s where you lose your steam, where you question yourself, your characters, and your story. It’s where you bash your head against the wall, throw your computer across the room, and question why you ever thought you could write a novel in the first place. It’s also the part of the novel that takes the most discipline and hard work. But you can do it! You can get through.
The end is a monster unto itself. Presumably, if you’ve come this far you can see the finish line in sight and you’re going to get there. That’s the good news. But you’re not there yet.
I generally know where I’m going to end before I begin. I highly recommend going into a novel with the action of the final scene, or at least the final climactic scene, already in mind. If you know what the end is before you start, writing the novel is more a matter of connecting the dots than figuring out what’s going on. Granted, you have to find all the dots in the middle, but if you know where the last few are, you’re going to make your job a whole lot easier.
I know that I’m approaching the end when suddenly the book reverses itself and I can plot it backwards. Huh? What I mean by that is that I know what the last scene will be and I know what the scene before that will be and the scene before that and before that until I can form a chain that leads me to where I am in the present.
Note: That chain of events can change. I might come up with an entirely different idea of how to connect the dots than what I started with. The important thing is that I know what the end will be. The antagonist has to be defeated and the hero and heroine have to end up together. Because I write Romance. In fact, the beauty of writing Romance is that I already know what the end is before I even come up with the story idea. The hero and heroine get together in the end and they live happily ever after. The same can be said of Mystery, for example (the mystery is solved) or Sci-Fi/Fantasy (the hero completes his quest) or just about any other genre.
For me, the biggest challenge of completing the ending is not getting hung up on everything that has come before. Remember, this is a first draft. There are most likely huge swaths of it that suck like a Hoover. I tend to change my mind about where I’m going three or four times during the novel. My characters usually evolve new and fascinating traits by the end of the book that they didn’t have at the beginning.
Don’t let any of those things stop you from writing the ending you want to write. Remember, you’ve known this part of the story from the beginning. Stick to your guns. Write that brilliant, breath-taking final scene and its lead-up as though you are writing for the first time. Did you write a few twists or tidbits in the middle that don’t make sense within the ending that you want to write? Ignore them. Did you find new ideas or did your characters tell you new things about themselves that you know will work but that you didn’t explore in the middle? Include them. Do things not make sense all the way because of all those times you changed your mind? Have you left certain plot threads hanging loose? Forget about it for now and write that ending!
If you’re anything like me, you’ll find that the last 10,000 – 15,000 words of your novel flow out as easily as the beginning did. They just might not fit as well with the rest of the book as you’d like. That’s okay. That’s what revisions are for. Your job while writing the first draft is to write the first draft. Write it. Get it out. Schedule extra time if you need to. Call your friends and family and tell them you’re not dead, you’re just finishing a first draft.
The first and only rule you need to know to finish a first draft is to write. If you’ve come this far you’re going to make it. Hold on to that idea and get all those words out. Yes, they’ll be wonky. They won’t be quite right. None of it will be quite right. But it will be done.
So what do you have when you finish a first draft? You have a couple of moments of brilliance strung together with too many adverbs, plot threads that go nowhere, characters that are drastically different in the last third of the book than they are in the first third (and not in the good way), and huge chunks of useless prose.
… … …
WOO HOO!!!! You did it! You wrote a crappy first draft! And it’s finished! You are now among the blessed few who have toughed it out to the end. You should be proud. Go buy yourself a sundae! And don’t worry about the mess you’ve written. You can revise it later.
Revisions are your friend. Revisions are when you take the tangle of words you’ve spit out and make sense of them. Revisions are so much easier than writing a first draft because you’re working with something you’ve already created instead of spinning magic out of thin air. Remember that good old adage, you can fix a first draft, but you can’t fix nothing.
But we’ll talk about revisions and the best way to sort through the carnage later. Right now it’s time to pat yourself on the back and feel proud of the very real goal you’ve accomplished. Huzzah!