Everyone thinks and writes in a unique way, and there isn’t one method of writing that will perfectly fit each person’s needs. Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, though, there are a few things you can do to help organize your ideas and get your first draft completed.
1. Read widely in the genre or niche in which you plan to write. Take notes on what works for you and what doesn’t. For example, how much dialog is there compared to narrative? How does the author speed up or slow down the pace to build tension? When does the first conflict appear, and is it believable? In nonfiction, how is the material organized?
2. Keep a notebook or computer file of things you see, hear, or read that are unusual, amazing, thought-provoking, or inspirational. These tidbits of life may spark ideas to use in your work, adding a unique touch to a scene or giving you an interesting angle to approach an old topic.
3. Consider making a flexible outline or storyboard before you start. Jot down key points you think should be developed, and a basic timeline. When you aren’t sure what happens at a particular spot on the timeline, simply phrase a question to show your uncertainty and list a couple of possible answers to generate ideas to work on later. Keep that information handy in case your writing feels like it’s moving off track, but if it’s moving in a better direction don’t hesitate to change your outline. It’s supposed to be a guide, not a law.
4. Set a goal of being as productive as possible whenever you sit down to write. Don’t worry about the quality when you’re working on a first draft, focus on quantity. You’ll never finish if you keep going back to revise what you’ve already written. Editing is step 2, not step 1.
An interesting idea I read about but haven’t tried is to turn off the computer monitor while you’re writing. That prevents those with no self-discipline from editing as they write. The thing that would worry me about that, though, is the possibility my fingers were not positioned correctly on the keyboard and everything I wrote might be unreadable. (That happened to me a lot in typing class my freshman year in high school.)
5. Write regularly and keep the flow going forward. Don’t skip back to change things when a better idea for a scene, character, or setting comes to mind. Just annotate the change so you can find the spot when you start revising, and write everything from that point on as if the change had taken place earlier.
6. Don’t let others read your first draft until after you reach the end. No one else will be able to steer you in the right direction until they know where you want to go. Ask for suggestions on a particular problem if necessary, but until your manuscript is complete you won’t know exactly what problems and strengths it contains. (If you’re co-authoring a book or article, this advice wouldn’t apply. Communication with the other person would be essential in that situation.)
7. Don’t give up following your dream. Most people never finish writing the first draft of a novel or nonfiction book, but some do. Be one of those who succeed.
Rather than writing a book on this topic, let me just refer you to several articles that offer advice I think is helpful:
http://hollylisle.com/fm/Articles/wc2-1.html How to start a novel
http://www.karenmiller.net/index.cfm?page=20 Author Karen Miller on writing the first draft of a novel
http://www.storyinsight.com/techniques/creative/writing.html Developing a rough draft
http://jerz.setonhill.edu/writing/creative/shortstory/#tension Tips for developing short stories
http://www.spacejock.com.au/WriteANovel.html How to write a novel, by Simon Haynes, the developer of ywriter5 (which I use for my novels)
Getting ideas from head to paper.
What preparations do you make, if any, before writing a story, article, or book? Do you follow a certain formula for writing—like the Snowflake method, detailed outline, etc? How many rough drafts have you completed? How many have you started but still not finished?
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