Writing that first word of a story or novel can be like summiting Mt. Everest! There's this whole blank page in front of you and no one else can fill it up. Your heart beats a little faster because you know you're on the threshold of creative potential but you're afraid to step over it. Such is the excitement and terror of a first draft. What are some of the things that can hinder your progress in getting to the end, and what can you do to deal with them?
First Draft Freedom
The first draft of anything (even this blog post) is a beautiful thing. You have free reign to say whatever you want, however you want. No one has to know what mangled phrases and misused words littered that first attempt at a masterpiece. Like a newborn baby, you don't know exactly what the idea will be when it grows up. Like a child, a first draft needs a little freedom to explore and discover what it wants to become. Unlike children, your first draft needs no limitations. In fact, the fewer the better. Below are a few things that could get in your way and tips to avoid them.
Obstacle #1: Editing and Rewriting
These two things do not belong in the same room with you when writing the first of anything. Repress the desire to rewrite the first sentence; don't fret over word choice; and leave things blank if you can't think of the word(s) you want. If you can't think of a name for a character, try inserting NAME until later. I find that keeps me from stalling and also reminds me that that character needs a name. Ideas won't flow if you stop to adjust mistakes constantly or rewrite every sentence as you go. The Editor is your best friend later but not now.
Obstacle #2: Overthinking
Should Jimmy find out from his brother that Christine lied to him? Maybe not but this is not the time to worry about it. Remember that your first draft is a skeleton, a place to start. For now, follow impulses, embrace wild or incredulous ideas, and pick details from a hat. Analyzing belongs to the rewriting portion of the program. I've heard published authors mention how a main character's name (and to some extent identity) changed in rewrites. Clearly, they didn't fret over details on the first go around.
Obstacle #3: Criticizing
"This is the worst story anyone has ever written!" Comments like that should never be uttered to yourself while writing the first draft. This is the time for fumbling and blundering. You'll write boring passages, scenes that are D.O.A., and rough dialogue. But you may also find a character with a lot of emotional potential, stumble upon a moment when the story becomes something more, or write a scene of raw feeling you never knew you had in you. There's a lot of magic that can happen if you push through the imperfection. Tell The Critic to take a vacation. You have work to do.
Push to the End
Writing magic can happen in a first draft when you stop editing yourself, thinking too much, and criticizing every word. When you shush these three obstacles, you may find a story in the rough just waiting for you to chip away at it until you expose its full potential. And that is worth all the anguish a blank page can bring.
Take an idea from your notebook or a favorite writing prompt source. In one writing session, complete a first draft of this idea (beginning, middle, and end) in 500-1000 words. Your Goal: Telling yourself you're writing a complete first draft of a story is a great way to quiet mental obstacles. You'll be more focused on writing, and putting a deadline on the draft can really kick things into high-gear.
What is your biggest obstacle when writing a first draft? How do you overcome it? Share your thoughts here!