5 Steps to Writing Your First Draft

By: Mary Anna Rodabaugh in Book Writing and Editing
on May 24th, 2021

When writing a book, you have a huge goal before you: completing the first draft. As you write your first draft, you have to commit to a draft of non-judgement. This means accepting the fact that a “crappy” first draft is just as productive of a launching pad as a highly edited rough draft. As you progress through your first draft, you may encounter imposter syndrome, unexpected challenges that delay your writing, and a myriad of other obstacles that prevent you from typing that final punctuation mark. This is 100% normal. To keep you on track, here are a few proven steps to get you to the finish line.

Step 1: Define Your Vision

You have a brilliant book writing idea. Perhaps you’ve shared this idea with those closest to you. As you explore your narrative notion, you are going to want to flesh it out as much as possible. The more guidance you provide yourself for that first draft, the better the drafting process will be.

First, consider what your book is about. What is the overall theme? What do you want readers to think about or feel as they finish reading your book? Next, define your target audience. It is a lot easier writing a book when you know who your prospective audience is. Consider what voice you want to use to write your book. Will it be in first person (I, me), second person (you), or third person, (he, she, they)?

Next, craft a mission statement for your book: your why. Why are you writing this? Keep that mission statement handy so when you feel stuck you can refer back to it for inspiration.

Step 2: Find a Book Writing Outline Process that Works for You

The next step before you begin crafting your first chapter, is to find a book writing outline process that works for you. You may want to write main events that will occur in your book on index cards so you can move them around freely as you develop the book’s structure. Or you can begin with a stream of consciousness brain dump of ideas in a notebook and circle the ones that really resonate with you.

You may consider creating a rough table of contents and instead of using chapter titles, use main themes or story ideas. Every book writing journey is different, and every author has an outline process that resonates with them. Don’t skip the outline. It can help you build personal deadlines and give you the puzzle pieces you need to write an extraordinary book.

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Step 3: Determine Where to Start

Logically, it makes sense to begin with page one, chapter one or even your introduction. However, sometimes your book writing idea stemmed from something recent that occurred in your life or the world around you. Before digging into the archives of your story, you may feel called to dive into a later chapter because the details are fresh on your mind. There is nothing wrong with skipping around! Just be sure to stay consistent and try to set your own milestones to keep you producing a set number of pages or chapters within a specific timeframe. Setting small milestone goals will make writing a book feel much less overwhelming and pave the way for steady progress.

The same goes for writing the scenes within your book. Let’s say you can articulate the “meat” of the action beautifully but are struggling how to write an introduction to set the scene. Instead of wasting hours writing and deleting your intro sentences, jump in “meat first.” Write the parts that come easily and backtrack to pad the “meat” with a compelling introduction and transition to the next action.

Step 4: Actually Start

Including this step sounds silly, but so many writers face crippling self-doubt and writer’s block in the beginning stages of writing a book. The innate desire to write the “perfect first draft” can overshadow the need to simply write a first draft to work with. So it is important to commit to actually starting your first draft. Know it won’t be perfect, but it will be the beginning of something great.

To keep yourself accountable, you may want to hire a book writing coach. This is an editor who can provide you with additional support as you traverse through your first (or even second or third) draft. If you choose to go forth solo, set reasonable deadlines and strive to meet them. This will keep your momentum going, especially when life gets in the way.

Step 5: Let it Flow

A first draft is just that, the primary draft of your book. Let the draft flow. Don’t be too nitpicky with making edits along the way. If a new character seems fitting or you recall an instrumental memory that is pivotal to your book’s sequence, than by all means, edit that into the manuscript. However, you do not have to go back and refine what you’ve written during the first draft stages. It can be messy. It can be repetitive. It is supposed to be!

Once you’ve completed your first draft, you could consider bringing along a book editor to help mold and shape your existing foundation into a work of brilliance.

The most important thing to remember is that writing a book is supposed to be a fun and rewarding journey full of discovery and feelings of accomplishment.