Writers in the Storm

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July 11, 2016

5 Tips to Finish Your First Draft

Amy E. Reichert

IllustrationsReichert0212-13Hi, my name is Amy and I’m a writer—a writer on a deadline. You can identify me by the slightly greasy hair piled on top of my head, coffee stains on my well-worn t-shirt, and yoga pants streaked with Cheetos dust. I keep irregular hours and have earned the circles under my eyes. My butt goes numb from so many hours of sitting and I can’t tell if my hands are stiff from so much typing or because arthritis is finally kicking in. My children are spending way too much of their summer break entertaining themselves with iPads and Just Dance 4, and right now all the neighborhood boys are in the basement making sounds like angry elephants. I should probably be concerned, but they’re leaving me alone and no one has shouted for an ambulance.

I don’t often know what day it is without looking at a calendar, but I do know my birthday is on Friday, a date that fills me with panic not because I’m aging (I’ll be 42 and proud of it), but because it means my deadline is almost here and I’m no where near done. This deadline is for my third novel, THE SIMPLICITY OF CIDER. I’m insanely excited about it and still haven’t reached the “I hate you” phase of drafting. I have a solid outline, thorough character sketches, and an enthusiastic editor cheering me on. It’s a dream scenario.

Even with the looming due date and clear path, I still have those days where I stare at the screen digging for the right phrase, clueless how to take a scene from point A to point B. I wander through the words—a babe lost in the woods. It sucks. But it’s not my first rodeo (truly, I’ve been to a real rodeo in Wyoming) and I’ve learned a few tricks of the trade.

Tip #1 - You are your own muse. Anyone waiting for some mystical inspiration will never finish a book. Inspiration is never going to strike if you aren’t already at the keyboard waiting for it. Okay, fine, sometimes it strikes while driving or in the shower (why is it always the shower? A place where no electronics or paper can go). Bottomline, if you aren’t already working one something, inspiration isn’t going to know where to find you. So get your butt in the chair and start typing.

Tip #2 - Revising is where the real writing happens. The first draft isn’t really writing, it’s word-vomiting ideas out of your brain and onto a plane where you can do something with them. If you can accept it will be horrible, drafting will go much more smoothly. Understand that you’ll then need to take that manuscript, smash it, and put it back together and this process might break you, but everything will be more beautiful in the end.

Tip #3 - Building on the idea that first drafts are always awful, now is the time to let your imagination go crazy and have a little fun. Try out the ideas you know your editor will make you cut later because you never know when you might discover pure gold. Want a unicorn assassin? Put it in. Want Chris Evans to propose to you? That’s chapter 11. Letting your brain explore different paths could uncover something exciting and different. It’s where all my rocking 80s flashbacks in LUCK, LOVE & LEMON PIE came from—I was brainstorming ridiculous ideas and a few of them stuck.

Tip #4 - Leave yourself notes—not encouragement “you can do it” notes, but jots about things you want to change. As I’m flushing out that first draft, I have ideas for what I want to change, and then I’m tempted to stop my forward momentum and go back to fix them. DO NOT DO THIS!! But, Amy, why not, you say? Well, dear reader, because your brain is popping like a bag of microwave popcorn, and if you open it too soon, you might not pop all the kernels. Forward momentum is everything, do not stop it. Instead, leave yourself a few notes about the ideas, maybe even a paragraph or two so when you go back to revise, that lovely idea is waiting for you.

Tip #5 - The only way out of the draft stage is through it. There is no short cut, there is no ladder to take you from square 28 to square 84, there is no special card that lets you pass Go and collect $200. So suck it up, buttercup and write.

What are your favorite tips and tricks for making to “The End?” Share them in the comments!

About Amy

Reichert luck love lemon pie coverAmy E. Reichert, author of THE COINCIDENCE OF COCONUT CAKE and LUCK, LOVE & LEMON PIE, loves to write stories that end well with characters you’d invite to dinner. A wife, mom, amateur chef, Fix-It Mistress, and cider enthusiast, she earned her MA in English Literature and serves on her local library’s board of directors. She’s a proud member of Tall Poppy Writers.


Website - www.amyereichert.com

Twitter - www.twitter.com/aereichert

Facebook - www.facebook.com/amyereichert

25 comments on “5 Tips to Finish Your First Draft”

  1. Loved this post, Amy - I know parents struggle to write in the doldrums of summer, when the kids litany of 'I'm bored', becomes unbearable.

    For me, #1. Every single day that I sit down to write, I'm afraid. What if nothing comes, and I freak out and eventually write, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy", over, and over, and over.... (Redrum, remember?)

    But eventually something ends up on the page. It could be shit, but I can fix shit.

    Just sit down....it'll happen.

  2. Great post, Amy!
    I'm a firm believer in #4. My first drafts are messy, get the basics down. I'll get to half way through and realize a huge gap in the early chapters or even minor tweaks that will have a ripple affect. I'll make the change moving forward then put a sticky note in the pages that are affected for revision time.

  3. I let writing be my reward after finishing my day job. As I drive, I write the scenes in my head so when I get home I can put them on paper. I'm putting the finishing touches on "Hard Times in the Heartland" the third in the trilogy of "The Late Sooner."

  4. This post is a boon for me. I am in the process of working with an editor and once again find I need to rewrite a bunch of stuff - including the ending! Your cheer leading are well received - especially Tip #5. Thanks!

  5. I literally laughed out loud at some parts of your post because it felt as if you were sitting next to me, in my home office, trying to ignore my coffee stains and crumbs!

    Great points that I can second because I've either been there, or I'm experiencing them now...especially the looming due date and clear path...

  6. Nice post. Number three is particularly interesting. I'm working on my second draft of "The Expanding Seas of Earth" (old school hard sci-fi), but I'm going to give that a try in my next effort.

    Number four I use all the time. Scrivener (great software) has a sidebar where you can save chapter summaries and chapter notes. I note what I want to add or modify, and ever to those notes when I rewrite. Greatly helpful.

  7. Perfect timing. i just confirmed the date in November for my appearance at Men of Mystery and I need something to spur me on to have some new work to show. I especially liked the comment about first drafts, and not going back. Thanks for a great post. Now I need to get back to work.

  8. Love the "word-vomiting" concept! Explosive. Uncontrollable. Cleansing. Turning that storytelling stew into a reader-engaging novel is the best part. Not the easy part. But the best part. Thanks ... and I totally relate to your streaks of Cheetos dust!

  9. Oh, I loved this post, Amy. Thank you. I agree with the shower part, why is that a lot of great stuff happen when you have shampoo streaming down your face. So, timely. Thank you.

  10. Shower? Well, there is waterproof paper and pens that write in space now. Or that kids crazy soap that writes on anything in the bath (just don't wash it away before you transfer it to a more stable place). 😉 Of course I never use these because I forget to take anything with me to the shower.

    Awesome points to remember, Amy. Thank you!

  11. a friend told me to either write or quit telling her I wanted to be a writer... so I write...

    she was nice, and she was right... saying it and doing it are two different things


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