On Writing

Getting Through a First Draft

For me, the hardest part of any writing project, whether an assignment for university, a short story, a blog post, or even a book, is the first draft. I find them terrifying! My inner perfectionist just loves to tell me how awful it is. Did I use the correct grammar here? The right word choice over there? Does this sentence make sense? Could I have structured it differently? My inner list of critiques grows and grows until I am convinced that my work is a piece of … well … shit.

But it’s allowed to be. That’s why it’s called the FIRST draft. It is the first of several. What you write on the page is not going to be perfect, nor should it be, that’s what editing and proofreading is for. The first draft is about getting your ideas onto the page so you can see what you’re working with. You cannot expect to write a masterpiece in your first draft. More likely than not, it won’t be at the level you want. And that’s okay! At least you’ll have something to work with and improve.

In saying that, it is incredibly hard to quiet your inner critic. Believe me, I know. My inner critic has been a pain in my ass the past month or so. To combat the critic, I’ve compiled a list of activities/routines that i find useful to get myself into the writing zone when motivation is low, and my self bashing and perfectionism is high.

We all know how much I love coffee, but there’s a little more to this one. It’s not so much the coffee itself, or the caffeine (though I thoroughly enjoy both), it is the routine of mentally saying “okay, time to write,” brewing my coffee, and then sitting down at my desk with my novelty mug, ready to do some writing. It’s almost like a little ritual to get me in the right head space. If you’re not a coffee fan, try tea instead! I opt for a white tea with rose petals to help me focus. Yum!

Outside motivation
This is probably one of the most useful ways to deal with low motivation. It works very well for me. If I can’t find the motivation myself, I will look to others. I will publicly announce to my friends and family, usually via facebook, that I am having motivation problems. I will tell them what my goal for the day is (it must be reasonable, given my mood) and to check in to see if I have completed that goal. This usually forces me to complete my goal, and I usually find that by writing, I naturally become motivated. My friends and family leave me lovely comments that encourage and motivate me, and I don’t want to let them down. So if I can’t write for myself, I will write for them, because I know how desperately they want me to succeed! It’s quite sweet actually.

Change of scene
Preferably a weekend away to refresh and escape your every day commitments. Find somewhere so it’s just you and your writing. Of course, this isn’t always feasible. Life does get in the way and we have commitments, whether work, study, family, or something else. If you can’t get away, escape to a coffee shop. A lot of people find they’re able to focus better if they’re somewhere with a fair amount of activity and sound. But, if you’re easily distracted, try somewhere else, like a local library or park. The new scene should hopefully refresh you and help you focus as you’re away from your normal routine.

Accept the inner critic
Yep. I’m serious. That pain in the butt voice in your ear is there to stay, so don’t waste your time trying to get rid of it. Instead, acknowledge its presence and don’t take it seriously. If it says “hey, sentence structure is terrible!” Say, “this is a first draft, it’s allowed to be less than perfect,” and keep writing anyway. Make a note of the part your critic is picking on, and come back to it when your first draft is done. Accept that it isn’t up to scratch, but don’t spend your time on it just yet. That’s for the edit, the time your inner critic becomes somewhat more valuable. The edit is when you allow the critic to point out  your incorrect grammar, run on sentences and comma splices. The edit is when you fix these problems, not before. Otherwise, you’ll struggle to complete a first draft at all.

Well, hopefully this give those who are struggling with their first drafts some food for thought! If you have any extra advice or tips, I’d love to hear them!

Happy Writing!


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