Side Hustle Author | Muscling Your Way through the First Draft
The word I'm using to search for the images I've attached to these blog posts is "journey." That's because, when you write a book, you are the protagonist of your own journey. There will be ups and downs, twists and turns, dark nights of the soul, and everything in between.
Each stage of the process will have challenges of its own—the first draft wrought with several unique ones. The hardest part for me in a first draft is that it's the first time I'm making the journey, from the beginning to the end of the novel. I'm charting the course, I'm finding my way, I'm not sure if I'm going in the right direction.
And yet, I keep going anyway.
That's the single most important morsel of advice I can offer: Just keep going. Just keep writing, just keep hitting the keys, just keep muscling your way forward.
To supplement that advice, here's a few other strategies that helped me muscle my way through the first draft.
First Draft Advice Nuggets
Write the Easy Parts First
There's no rule that you have to write your book from A to B. There will be chapters or sections of chapters that you get stuck on. Skip them and come back later. There will be sections that require a lot of detail and research and fiddling to make just right. Skip them and come back later.
Write the easy or fun chapters first to give yourself a sense of accomplishment, and to keep your momentum going. This will also help you get comfortable with the draft and story, and when you do come back to those tricky parts later, they'll feel less tricky.
It's Okay to Rewrite a Little as You Go
All the first draft advice says that you should just keep writing the first draft, without stopping to fix anything. Just keep writing, they say.
I agree with this 75%. Here's why: because you're only human, and sometimes these advice nuggets neglect to take that into account. So, if you want to stop on your journey and smell the flowers and maybe hang out with one of your chapters a bit before continuing along, then do it.
That being said, don't linger too long. You will have plenty of opportunity later on, once the draft is finished, to go back and sink your fingers into the little details of the chapters. The problem with rewriting as you go on your first draft is that sometimes we do it as a distraction—we settle into a place in our draft that feels familiar, rather than venturing back out into the unknown of the next chapter.
But you're a writer and self-aware enough to know the difference.
Do 1-Hour Writing Sprints
I mentioned this in a previous post, but it bears repeating: try the 1-hour writing sprint window. If you're doing this as a side hustle, you may not have long periods of time to dedicate to your writing.
As a remedy to that, set aside 1-hour windows in your schedule to just hammer out the words. You might call them writing sprints. The only downfall to this is that sometimes it takes maybe 15-minutes before you get into a writing groove. And there may be days when you get into a groove and want to write longer—in which case, go for it.
Ultimately what the 1-hour writing sprints do for me is lessen the enormity of the task at hand by breaking it up into little, manageable, easy sprints that I can get done without it affecting my life too, too much.
Ignore "The Voice"
I don't mean the show, I mean The Voice in your head—the one that will tell you your book is gonna suck, that you don't know what you're doing, that you should quit now and save yourself some grief.
Ignore those thoughts. Let them arise in your mind, observe them, then continue on your way. Sometimes The Voice will get the better of you and you'll have an off writing day. That's okay. Other times, The Voice will be silent and you'll hammer out a brilliant chapter in one hour. That's okay, too.
Ignore The Voice. Keep writing.
Write 75% of the First Draft with the Door Closed
A lot of writing advice is metaphorical, and even more of it is all-or-nothing. Take this advice from Stephen King, which I like and dislike:
"Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open."
What Steve is saying here is true: the first draft of your book is you telling the story to yourself. So write it with the door closed, both metaphorically and literally, if you have a writing room. During this stage of the process, you are finding the story out, learning it, getting comfortable with it.
Then, at the rewrite stages of your novel—when you know the story you're telling clearly—you can open the door and start writing it for others.
However, as with much of these snappy advice nuggets, I'm in agreement about 75%. Writing a first draft with the door closed can feel extremely lonely, so there'll be times when you share what you're writing with others, talk to people about it, etc. You're human, remember. Not a machine.
Hence my revised advice based off Steve's is to write 75% of the first draft with the door closed.
The First Draft Will Feel Messy
The good news is that if your first draft doesn't feel messy, you're probably doing something wrong. No matter how much planning and plotting and mapping you do, the first draft is ultimately a journey across an unknown landscape that you must make on your own.
I won't lie and tell you that it's going to be easy. But I also won't lie and tell you that you can't do it—because you can do it.
Writing a book is possible.