The first draft of a fiction novel is known as the junk draft in my five draft method. Other authors and editors may call it something else, and you may simply call it draft one. It's where you first open your word processor or novel writing software and type in the file name and save it. During the first draft, many authors encounter some problems during the process. If you're not to this point and you are looking at a blank page, check out How to Quickly Start Your Next Fiction Novel.
1. You Get Stuck
It’s very common to get stuck in a first draft. It typically happens at the beginnings and ends of chapters, but it can also occur in the middle of a chapter or scene. In this instance, you may not know exactly what to write. You may not feel inspired to write a particularly violent, difficult or intimate scene. Whatever the reason, you can handle all of these problems pretty much in the same way.
Stuck at the front of a chapter
If you move to your next chapter and can’t think of a way to open it, just take care of the important parts. If you know a particular scene is going to happen, just write down that part of the chapter. You can put in all the filler information later.
Stuck at the end of a chapter
If you get stuck at the end of a chapter, and you know something should happen, you can summarize it. I typically put something like: (Bob and Charles argue. Bob storms out) Once I do that, I move on. I can fill in that scene later. I may also put it in bold text to ensure I see it during my next draft.
Stuck with a difficult, intimate or violent scene
If you’re stuck in a spot that’s going to include a difficult, violent or intimate scene or anything else you don’t particularly feel like writing, you can just describe what’s going to happen in the same manner you described what should happen at the end of your chapter. In this instance, I may put: (Joe and Sara have sex.) At some later point, I will describe that encounter, but for whatever reason, I’m not inspired to write it right now.
2. You don’t have names for your secondary characters
Secondary characters will pop up randomly in your first draft. It could be a secretary, cop, security guard, janitor or bartender or some other character that performs a service. It’s okay to put their job titles in place of the name. Just make sure to write it in the same way every time. The reason you want to always type: the lawyer, is because when you actually do figure out a name for that character, you want to be able to FIND: the lawyer and REPLACE it with the name. Otherwise, you will find yourself going through your manuscript during the last parts of your drafting and editing process and replacing every instance of that character with his or her name.
3. You feel like you are being redundant
As you write your first draft, you may feel like you are covering the same topics over and over again. That’s okay. Maybe one character has a really horrific past and that character keeps wanting to talk about it or think about it. Don’t worry about it. You can delete redundant passages later. For now, just type them in. Remember, this is the junk draft.
4. You suddenly get an idea for an awesome scene but it doesn't fit in the spot you are at
Skip to the end of your document, put a title on the scene and type it out. If you get one of these awesome scene ideas, you won’t be able to move forward until you write it down. It’s just best to write it down so you can keep moving forward. At a later part of the book, you may figure out where this scene belongs, or you may decide that it doesn't belong in the book at all. If I end up with a scene that falls into the latter category, I usually open up a second document and name it Deleted Scenes in X Manuscript and copy and paste it into the blank document. I may never look at that text again. I may find that a variation of that text works in a future novel. Since I don’t know whether or not I’ll ever use that text, I like to have it just in case.
5. Life keeps getting in the way
It goes without saying that the modern human has never been so busy. Between work, family, personal and social obligations, you may find life getting in the way of your writing. Most of the writers I know sacrifice sleep. Either they stay up really late or they get up hours before the rest of their family members. I decided to become a freelance writer so that I could avoid the wasted time associated with going to work, like having to work eight hours a day and the commute time. For the record, I starved for the first four years, so you may find yourself sacrificing in one way or another in order to get your book finished.
Of course, there unavoidable situations where you just can’t write right now. You don’t have 30 minutes or 10 minutes or even 8 minutes. You just don’t have it. If you suspect or don’t suspect that you’re going to take a long break away from your novel, I do recommend writing down a few lines in relation to where you want to go next with your manuscript. This will allow you to better pick up where you left off once your life slows down.
Another alternative is to write your manuscript in Google Docs or Word online or another word processor that’s available online and accessible from your phone or tablet or other digital device. In some cases, you may find yourself waiting in line or waiting for your kids or waiting for the doctor. If you make time for the gym, you can write while you walk the treadmill or bike. I have an at-home gym with a bike, and sometimes I do write on my phone while I bike. Sometimes, it’s possible to get a few words in while you’re waiting but not at home. At the junk draft stage, it really doesn’t matter what word processor or program you use just so long as you get it done.
6. It sounds like a second-grader wrote it
This is the junk draft. You may very well start to realize that it sounds like a grade-schooler wrote it. You may start off every sentence with the same name or same pronoun. You may use very simple language. It’s not going to flow very well. The good news is that you do not have to worry about it at this stage. As you work through the drafting process, this normally cleans itself up. You’ll add more description and character thoughts, and pretty soon, it’ll start looking like a good book.
7. You can’t concentrate
This is commonly referred to as writer’s block. I am not a big fan of the term writer’s block. The fact that you cannot concentrate or string two words together is either due to an internal problem or an external problem. Maybe you feel like you aren’t good enough. Every writer has, at one point or another, felt like they weren’t good enough. You are good enough. You just need to get the words on the paper.
Sometimes this is due to an external factor. Maybe you are concerned about your job or your home-life. Maybe a family member is sick. Maybe the dishes need done. Maybe your kitchen is overcome with trash. If any of these factors are bothering you so much that you can no longer ignore it, then do your best to fix it. If your house is filthy, take a day or half a day and clean it. If it’s another factor, do your best to identify the problem and remedy it as best you can. If you can’t remedy it, try to put it out of your mind. Readers read books to escape reality and relax. You can use your current manuscript to do the same thing.
8. You finished your junk draft and don’t know what to do next
Scroll to the top and start your structuring draft, assuming you aren’t brain-fried. If you are mentally exhausted, take a few days or even a week off, but you can also scroll to the top of your document and start your next draft immediately.
Post sponsored by: @taranealewriter
Read More on Drafting Your Novel
- The Minimalist’s Way to Start a First Draft ...
- Best Approaches to Start a Second Draft ...
- Writing the Third Draft of a Fiction Novel ...
- How to Write the Fourth Draft of a Fiction Novel ...
- How to Write the Fifth and Final Draft of a Novel ...
- How Many Drafts Should You Put on a Fiction Novel? ...
Understanding 8 Common First Draft Problems and What to Do About Them
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