How to Finish Your Draft
4 minutes read
Struggling to get to the end of your first draft? Here are some key pieces of advice to help you push through and reach the final line.
You’ve come up with the perfect idea for your story. You’ve started putting pen to paper, your characters have taken shape and are taking action of their own accord. You might have written the opening chapters, or even have reached the tricky middle. But now you’re floundering. You’ve lost momentum, and are questioning if your story is even all that good. Don’t worry – this happens to everyone! Even published novelists with more than a few manuscripts under their belt.
But how do you push through? Here are some key pieces of advice to help you keep going and reach the end of your first draft.
Give yourself permission to write a bad first draft
Not every sentence needs to be perfect. Generally, getting your first draft down quickly works for most writers, and self-editing as you go can hamper the creative flow. Give yourself permission to be sloppy, to be inconsistent, to have poor grammar. Allow things to happen – by which we mean, maybe your character does something that surprises you, that you didn’t have in mind for them when you started. Follow this thread. Allow action to follow character and don’t be too rigid in following what you want to happen. Be intuitive. Listen to your story.
Stick to a routine
In line with general writing advice, it can be helpful to have a set routine. You might sit at your desk in the morning with a cup of tea, you might go out to a café with a notebook in hand, or you might write on the train with headphones on to snuff out the sounds of your fellow commuters. Whatever you do – stick to it. Consistency of routine will signal to your brain that this is writing time. You’ll be amazed at how quickly and habitually you’ll find yourself switching on and focusing on the task at hand. What’s most important is that you’re giving your project the time it deserves. Even if sometimes you find you write nothing during the hour or so you’re dedicating to your writing each day, the essential thing is that you’re allowing yourself the time to think about your project. Embrace the good writing days and the bad. Progress isn’t only measured in word count.
Warm up your writing muscles
Sometimes sitting down and getting stuck into your draft straight away is too much of a daunting prospect. Warm up with some morning pages (derived from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way) or some freewriting (which is essentially the same thing, except maybe you’re writing at night!). Your warm-up exercises could relate directly to your novel – for example, you could write a scene involving one of your characters that you know won’t make it into your novel, but that allows you to understand them better. This could be an event from their childhood, or something that happens beyond the arc of your story.
Have an outline
The extent of this will be different for every writer – whether you’re a pantser or a planner. You might have every single scene planned out before writing, or you might have a rough synopsis that outlines the main story beats. Having at least some idea of the basic arc will help you to focus, but still be sure to pay attention and let the story take you where it takes you. Some people find the story by writing. Some people know the story already. Neither is better, and it can be different for every project.
Feel free to jump around
You don’t have to write your scenes in sequence if this isn’t suiting you. If you’re feeling enthusiastic or inspired by a prospective scene further along in your novel, then write it! This approach can help you to write what you know, and get the story out of your head and onto the page. Whether you write chronologically or not, it can be freeing to know that you don’t necessarily have to write what happens next straight away.
If you need help getting to the final line, then Finish Your Draft will help you to develop the tools, techniques and motivation to complete your novel within nine months.
This is a flexible but intensive course for the advanced writer, designed to help you hone your editorial eye and get to the end. Within a small, supportive community of fellow writers, you will be pushed to analyse the robustness and effectiveness of your structure, style and other narrative choices, and to stay on track with your word-count.
Find out more about the course here.