What does it take to complete a first draft?

What does it take to complete a first draft novel?  It’s a question I asked myself for years before I finally took the plunge and just did it.  And it’s a question you may want to know the answer to if you plan to complete NaNoWriMo this year.

You sit down to your laptop (or computer, or pen and paper) and open up your preferred word processor.  Your fingers are poised, ready to begin, itching to turn out the thousands of words it takes to make a novel, and you freeze up.  What if I’m doing this wrong?  What if I’m not good enough?  What if…What if…What if???

Your hands draw back and you slump in your chair, defeated before you’ve even begun.  Why?  You don’t have an outline ready.  You’ve never written so much on one topic.  You might not be able to finish.  You don’t have a writing degree, so you’ve never learned the correct approach.  I mean, do you need an outline?  What if you choose to sit down to a blank slate and just write?  Is that okay?  What if you get halfway through and decide the outline you made isn’t going to work?  Do you stick to the outline?  Do you start over?

I’ve tried writing a few ways now, and honestly, I preferred starting my first chapter with a blank slate and my imagination.  Once I got those first few pages typed I brought out my notebook and started brainstorming.  What is this character’s story?  Where is she headed?  Once I started writing again my outline changed, and it continues to change.  It will continue to change until I get to the last page of the last edit, because stories evolve.  If you can’t deviate from a cookie cutter mold, how will your characters grow?  How will they get themselves into more trouble and how will you find more creative ways to get them out?

The more I research, the more I’m on forums listening to other writers, the more I realize there is no one right way to write.  It’s about the creative process and being creative is about being an individual.  And we aren’t being individuals if we are all following the same exact model, because we aren’t all wired to think or create the same way.

So, forget about waiting around until you’re “good enough” or have the best story brewing in your mind.  Forget about having an outline or not having an outline.  Lift your head up and tell yourself you are going to do this.  Now’s the time to move your hands back to the starting position, forget about the rules you’ve told yourselves exist and just write.  You’ll never get better by thinking about the what ifs, you’ll only improve by acting on what is.  And right now it is time for you to write.


Here are a couple of links to articles on outlining that I read before starting 2014 NaNoWriMo (my first NaNo experience).  I thought they were good, but I decided in the end not to do much outlining.  Check them out too if you’re so inclined, maybe you’ll find something that works for you: