First Draft Writing Tips


Many of us have issues getting the first draft of our novels put into ink. There’s so many things to focus on: plot arch and pacing, character development, believable premise, appropriate tension, a satisfying ending…it’s no wonder a lot of people never get there.

But for the past month and a half I’ve been working on the first draft of Refining Sylver. Though I’m not finished yet, I’m halfway there, and I’ve picked up a couple of tips that have aided in increasing my word count–while alleviating distraction–during my writing-time.

So, the don’ts for writing a first draft:

  • Don’t worry about names. For Refining Sylver, all my character names revolve around wolves: their habitats, genus and species, colors, etc. It’s not been easy to come up with new and interesting names for 20+ characters, and I’ve realized that it’s just not that important when you’re in first draft mode. So when I’ve got a new character–unless something comes to me spontaneously–I signify them in the ms with an XX.
    • And this works for me because even though I’m not writing something in, my brain is working. While I’m washing dishes, or whatever, my brain keeps throwing out ideas, and usually I have a name within a few days.


  • Don’t worry about using good words. What I mean by this is just write. Don’t worry about making all your sentences beautiful and unique and alluring. Just get the sentences on the paper, then during the editing stage worry about sentence variance, word creativity, and stringing together a series of kickass ideas that blow the reader’s mind.
  • Don’t sweat the senses. In the first draft don’t worry about addressing all the senses. Leave the embellishment for drafts two, three, four, etc. Get into your writing flow-state and run with it. You’ll naturally include some sensory details, but don’t worry about all five senses. While editing you can focus on these things.
  • Don’t reread. You know what this means. None of us can help it, but strive not to look back. Your sentences will be funky. You’ll probably use the words “just, really, and very” way too much. Don’t sweat it. Slice ’em and dice ’em during editing. In fact, it’ll make you feel good to catch all that stuff and get rid of it second time around.

Now, for the Do’s:

  • Do write like crazy. Banish distraction from your life–it’s only 20 minutes for crying out loud; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, will all be there when you’re done. If you’ve got kids, give them something distracting–or wait for naptime. Drawing pads and movies are always a hit in my house; warm milk and snacks also help.
  • Stay positive. You’re getting your novel down. No one’s first draft is beautiful and the quicker you get it down the quicker you get to polish it.


  • Keep a schedule. For me, it’s writing 20 minutes a day. Do what works for you, but do it everyday. If you write everyday you have to spend less time rereading because you already remember what you were doing before. You remember what you wanted to write but didn’t have time to do yesterday. You’ve had a whole night to think about it and know exactly what needs to happen during today’s writing session. Make standards for yourself, then hold yourself to them.


So that wraps up my notes from my #write20minutes experiment. I’ve had many writing breakthroughs that I hope will continue to improve the quality of my writing and the pace at which the process goes.

What’s the single most important thing you’ve learned from writing that first draft? Please leave a comment or word of advice. We’re all in this writing thing together.



6 thoughts on “First Draft Writing Tips

  1. Where were you when I was writing the first draft of my first manuscript?! Although, I wonder how much of this I would have been able to take on board what with everything else we learn as we go.

    With one exception, I think I’ve learnt exactly the same things you have: I signify my missing character names with [ ]. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spent hours searching for the right word, or right character name, only to delete the scene entirely, or change the character multiple times anyway. And how destructive is the re-read? Talk about going backwards…

    So you know what? I think I’ll take on the one exception. I’m going to start writing 20 minutes per day. I never have before, because it ‘doesn’t work for me’ but really, I know it’s just an excuse to procrastinate even more thoroughly!

    So thanks. I feel better about my own conclusions seeing them verbalized and shared, and I feel invigorated for the ‘just write every day’ axiom I’ve ignored for so long.

    1. hey lou! i’m so glad my post was helpful to you. i think a lot of writers experience the same things–maybe at different paces–as they go through the throngs of writing something as longwinded as a novel.

      i’m still not through with the first draft, but i’ve added about 30,000 words over the course of the summer and fall and for me, that’s pretty fast.

      i hope the 20 minutes per day works for you. when life seems overwhelming and busy, it’s nice to know that if i can just sneak away for 20 minutes i’ll have accomplished something worth my while.

      how many novels have you written?

      thanks so much for stopping by and for linking back.

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