Why Your First Draft Should be Equivalent to Shark Food

Hello there! 🙂

I have a wonderful piece of novel writing advice for you, and it is: write a rubbish first draft. No, seriously. Your first draft should be so bad, that even you wouldn’t think twice about tossing it to the sharks and watching them shred it to pieces. In the end, that is what is going to have to happen eventually anyway because we all know beta readers love tearing up your work. 

Thumbnail - first draft

I know what you’re thinking. It’s probably along the lines of “Olivia, why you are telling me this advice I’ve heard TEN THOUSAND times before?”

The answer is: because it’s good advice.

I had been working on writing a novel for two whole years, agonising over it and wondering when I would ever reach the end. It wasn’t until I had dinner with the author Joe Craig and he told me that the key to finishing a novel was writing a rubbish first draft that something clicked in my mind. Instead of hearing that information time and time again, you actually have to do it. And when I did, I finished my novel a month later. It was easy.perfectionist

I’m a perfectionist, so I know how hard it can be to really write a rubbish first draft and allow it to be left that way. But the truth is that if you never get any ground material to work with,you will never have anything to edit and mold into the novel you want it to be. So today I am here to give you some tips that will help you make that first draft completely, utterly, and wonderfully rubbish!

STEP ONE: Setting Ground Rules

1983

The first step is to set yourself some ground rules. Once you’re done with your writing session of the day, you probably want to look over your writing. Or, while writing you might realise that you have made a typo and want to correct it. But if you stop for small things that need correcting all the time, it is going to impose on your writing time, and it means you are not writing a rubbish first draft. You’re fixing too many things! What needs to happen is some ground rules have to be set. These can change depending on who you are, but the three that I always apply are:

  1. If it’s a typo, it can be corrected.
  2. If it’s underlined in green because there is an issue with a sentence, it is not allowed to be corrected.
  3. Forgot to mention something two paragraphs ago? Feeling like you need to edit a piece so that it is consistent with what you have just written? Not allowed to be changed! You’ll catch it out when you go back and edit.

STEP TWO: Whitening That Texttumblr_me81248iD21rwzsbso1_500

Now that you’ve established some ground rules (which you should put on a sticky note above your desk to remember) it’s time to get serious about sticking to them. Because like every strong, independent YA main character ever, we know rules are made to be broken. But these ones aren’t! It is something we might forget when we’ve closed down the laptop and have decided to open it again the next morning for some writing time. So what do you do to avoid that?

After your writing session, what you are going to do is highlight everything you have written and make the text white. Then, you write a three sentence summary of the last things that have happened in your novel just so that when you come back to writing next time you remember where you’ve left off and can continue without having to blacken that text and see what you have written before. If the text is white it means you can’t see the mistakes that need correcting, and you also can still see your word count to keep you motivated. Make sure you whiten that text and leave mini summaries for yourself!

If you are one of those superhuman writers who have decided to write by hand, make sure you give everything you have written to someone else who won’t give it back to you! If you hide it yourself, you’re likely to reach for it again. If you convince them to give it back to you, you have to give them some chocolate or something that they like and you have to supply it. Make sure you write a mini summary of the last thing that happened on a separate paper for next time as well.

STEP THREE: Setting Timers and Goalsold-timer-countdown-o

This next tip doesn’t work for everyone. But when writing, set a timer and a word count goal. Make sure it is feasible! That way, what you end up doing is writing in a time limit recklessly, without abandon, and it will probably be some glorious rubbish riddled with mistakes because you are speed-writing. But it is still contributing to that first draft and in the end will further you in your novel!

STEP FOUR: Rinse, Repeat and Conquer!

Just like the title of this step suggests, continue doing the three above steps again and again, and you will conquer that first draft! Can I tell you a secret though?

By the time you finish that first draft and blacken all the text, you are most likely to find that hidden in all that speed-written, mistake-filled writing you have a wonderful story that just needs a good scrub of editing to shine.

PGSzdbWKeep writing! Olivia-Savannah x

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11 thoughts on “Why Your First Draft Should be Equivalent to Shark Food

    • Yes, poetry does have quite a bit more freedom. But I sometimes do write more than one draft when it comes to poetry, and the first one is often just emptying emotions/theme on a page to be tidied up eventually!

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  1. I agree wholeheartedly. As I write my novels, the words just have to be ‘thrown down’ whilst the idea is in my mind; I could not possibly interrupt my train of thought to correct a typo. The major editing comes later. The same applies with blogging, the first read is for typos, second is the initial opinion from a friend, third is grammar, flow and typos together, fourth is reading together to see if we stall, still like the sound of it or find any more mistakes and we probably have a fifth for good luck!

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    • You certainly do a lot of revisions, but I am glad that you have found a way to make the writing of the first draft as easy as you can for you. Happy writing!

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  2. Hi Olivia,
    You are such an impressive young lady. I didn’t know you were writing a novel. I’ve worked as a writer and editor for several years and know all about the challenges writers face. The best thing I can say to any writer is to just start. Don’t try to aim for perfection. Just get something on paper. Believe me, revision, revision, revision, will become your best friend during the process.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry for not seeing this sooner! Thanks so much Mary ❤ And your words of wisdom are helpful too. I am going to be working on getting those words on the page!

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