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:

HOW TO PREPARE FOR NANOWRIMO: TO OUTLINE OR NOT TO OUTLINE By: Kevin Kaiser
PREPARING FOR NANOWRIMO – ORGANIZING AND OUTLINING By: Jennifer Mattern
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Why Do You Write What You Write?

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I completed a twelve week writing course recently to help me clean up my manuscript’s plot and what-not.  The last session was on living a writer’s life: basically setting up a routine, making time to improve your craft, journaling, etc. Our assignment was to tell why we are writing the story we are and what makes us qualified to do so…Easy, right?  Wrong.

My major professional flaw is an inability–or at least a strong resistance–to claim to be, or think I am, innately qualified to do anything.  So I get the same gut twisting sensations saying I am qualified to write a particular novel–better yet to write at all–that I did when I first stepped into the rickety airplane I planned to throw myself out of a few moments later.  I had a parachute to soften my landing and I’d taken the required class, but was I really qualified to jump out of that airplane?  Probably not.  But I did it anyway, and although fear told me I shouldn’t complete this assignment I did it anyway.

No one will ever believe you are qualified to do something if you don’t believe it yourself.  

What I submitted to the instructor:

I hate to start with the cliché I had a dream, but I will anyway because that’s really how this book began—unless you count my Happy Potter induced childhood love affair with all things paranormal.

I’ve always loved writing.  It was my outlet during my parents’ divorce and subsequent custody battle.  It was a way to rationalize through difficult decisions.  It was how I persuaded my mom to buy me my first cell phone, my first computer, my first car, and my first trip overseas.  It helped me earn my 4.0 GPA in college.  It’s how I worked through questions of faith, a form of prayer and meditation.  Writing has always been a part of my life in some form or fashion, just not always with the intent of sharing with others.

My thoughts about writing began to change once I had a child.  I had always been afraid what people would think if they knew I wrote, what they would say.  I tell my son daily to pray, be himself, and always be brave.  It didn’t take me long to realize I wasn’t practicing what I preached.

The first book I started made it six chapters before I lost motivation; I let someone’s comments influence me.  I stopped writing for a while, but then I had this vivid dream about a girl watching her home engulfed in flames and no one could stop it but her.  Her tears were my tears and her pain was my pain.  Figuratively speaking, I had been that girl once upon a time.  I woke up and started writing what I remembered, and the story progressed from there.

A common theme in everything I write, every song I choose when choreographing for my dance students, and every piece of advice I give to my son: accept who you are and what gifts God gave you.  You have to love the person God made you to be and be brave, especially when you don’t want to be.  Fear overwhelms us, it paralyzes us, and sometimes we need some external force to push up toward facing and overcoming those fears.

I think that’s what makes me uniquely qualified to write this story.  I have been this character—minus the awesome paranormal abilities—feeling friendless, struggling with family secrets, and not fitting in.  I learned that most of that isolation was created from within myself.  I had to overcome me.  I love these characters, cried when they cried, laughed when they laughed, and my bravery grew just as theirs did.  Acceptance is something we all crave as humans and something we all fear won’t be given.  We spend so much time worrying about what others will think of us; we base our worth on their opinions.  This book is about realizing it’s okay to be odd, different, and unique.  It’s those things that make us special.  You should embrace that thing about yourself that makes you different, because it is what makes you you.