• S.M. Ryan

Some Unpopular Writing Advice for Finishing that Zero Draft

Everything you don't need to worry about when writing the zero draft of your story.


Regardless of what you personally choose to call it, the first round of putting your story down on paper (or screen) in full - is ground zero. It's the story unfolding for you the creative, not the editor that takes up residence in your head who's going to whip it into a book that makes sense and looks effortlessly written later on. It's certainly not for the reader you want it to reach when it's published. Not yet.


The first round is all for you.

It's all about telling the whole story to yourself so that you can uncover how you're going to tell it to your audience later. Getting out the first draft is HARD. Creating a story and world from scratch is HARD. If it were anything else, there'd be more writers and no one would say things to you over family dinner like, "Oh I'd write a book too if I had the free time."


Somehow, even knowing that no one is going to see the very first draft (unless you decide otherwise) doesn't seem to do very much to lessen the pressure that comes with writing the first draft. Slice it however you want, but you can't escape the pressure that comes with having to write the first draft. It's the only way there's going to be a story to share with other people at all. I mean otherwise, it just lives in your head in spurts you might share with a writer friend over coffee now and again.


Despite how hard it is to create a story to share with the world, it's incredibly rewarding to be a writer and play with our imaginations on the page.


Though there's no advice that can tell you how to produce the book without actually sitting down to write the book (I have searched everywhere, I promise), I have instead decided to share the six popular writing tips and advice that I've ditched recently in favor of bettering my relationship with writing as a whole and getting through the zero draft phase of a project.




Don't Worry About the Opening Chapter

I know, I know, the first chapter is where your reader is going to decide if they are going to keep reading or move on to the next book. Here's the thing though, your reader doesn't exist in the drafting phase.


I'm advising you to ditch perfecting the opening chapter when you're drafting because I'm here to remind you that you're going to rewrite the chapter anyway. The opening chapter will probably always be the most edited chapter in all of your manuscripts no matter how many revisions you make and that's okay -- that's exactly why you don't have to try and get it all right the first time.


Sometimes, you get stuck in the first chapters of the novel because you're trying to set the opening up perfectly, except you can't always do that if you don't know what you don't know.


If you find you often get stuck opening up the story, focus on writing only what you already know, even if it feels a bit like following a template, or like you're far removed from anything that resembles one, and instead allow yourself to learn more about your story as you go.


Doing this is going to allow you to not only put down on paper everything you already know, but it's also giving you room to learn things about your story you can't predict or plan out. These details are usually the ones that fill in that something-is-missing feeling.


Let the opening chapters be the best you can make them in the drafting phase, and remember, you'll be returning to the opening more than most other areas of your book to keep improving it anyway, don't use up all that creative energy on one area right now.


The drafting phase will always be you (the writer) telling the story to yourself. It's the first time you're taking all of the story out of your head and laying it out. I promise no one's opening chapters are clean right out the gate.


It's more important to have opening chapters to perfect later, than no chapters at all simply because you wanted to get it all right the first time.



Fuck That Outline (Respectfully).

Okay planners, hear me out.


This tip comes on the tail end of the one above. Even when you outline a full story all the way through, there are going to be things you just can't outline and can only be figured out through writing and actually putting your characters through the trials. Sometimes, you outline a story and find that while writing it, it's not actually the best journey for your characters and things may have to alter from the plan down the line anyway.


That's okay!


Most of the time, your outline is what's going to help you keep going and keep you from getting stuck. Sometimes that same outline is going to be what's standing between you and your finished draft if you cling too tight to every single pre-planned detail.


It's important to let your outline be a guide for your creativity but not a barrier between it and your chosen canvas. You can update and change your outline as much as you want and you can follow it out of order if that helps -- but the key is that it's your tool, not a rule book.


Use it as you intended - to help you get through writing the book. Don't let it hold back other creative ideas that may come to you when writing. Anything you don't love can be removed, fixed, or updated later.



Skip It!

As creatives, and writers especially, it can be easy to get stuck in the middle of a good writing rhythm by the smallest thing like the name for a person place, or thing you made up, or not remembering the eye color or detail you gave a side character in the last chapter. Sometimes it's bigger things that trip us up like a line of dialogue you need, or a transitioning scene that makes everything mesh.


These things aren't unimportant, but they may not be the creative problems you can immediately solve at the moment. Instead of letting it stop your flow or your progress as a whole - SKIP IT!


It's okay to put smaller reminders to yourself in brackets, a different color, or in ALL CAPS so that you can come back to it later and keep your writing momentum flowing. Big or small, all things missed in the drafting phase will be taken care of in the editing process so it's okay to skip some things in order to get the story down.


The draft doesn't have to be perfect, so don't be afraid to skip chapters or scenes, or anything in between. There's no escaping reading through that draft when it's finished, everything can be filled in later.



Word Count Goals? Ditch Them.

If word count goals motivate you, that's great. Keep doing your thing. However, if word count goals have a way of making you feel like you've failed after a writing session, then they may not be for you, and that's okay.


Word count can be an important factor in many ways when it comes to writing but, they do not have to be as important in the drafting process.


Your word count goal is going to matter when you're looking for an editor within your budget, when you're formatting your book and researching the book-length expectations for your genre. It's going to matter when you're booking your cover designer and have to give them a final page count.


Word count is going to factor in often during the revision and publishing process, it doesn't have to matter when you're drafting.

If you find that you set word count goals that feel too easy, you can up them in increments until you feel challenged. If word count goals overall make it hard for you to feel successful throughout the drafting process, stop using them.


Yes, they are popular.

Yes, they are part of the writing community when we talk with each other.

But 500 words for one writer can be the opening of a scene, while that same number is a full scene for another writer.


Other ways to measure your progress in drafting can be by how many scenes you've written, how much of the character you've uncovered, how many chapters or how much of a chapter you've gotten written, how much time you spent working on your project, or even just how good you feel after your writing time.


Never feel the need to measure your progress in any way that doesn't make you feel good in the end. It's usually a sure sign that the way you measure progress doesn't work for you.



Don't Write Every Day.

Sitting down to write every day isn't for every writer and that's okay. The popular advice of writing every day is great advice in theory but it's far from a one size fits all suggestion.


In practice, it's not practical for most writers to find the time every day in their schedule to write. Not everyone can carve out an extra hour in the morning to get the words in before the day creeps in. Wanting to write every day, and actively being able to write every day are two different things.


While I've never met a writer who doesn't dream of being able to spend every day writing and crafting their worlds for their readers day in and day out -- I have met a whole lot of writers that can't make writing everyday work for their schedules and feel like less of a writer because of it.


But here's the thing, writing every day doesn't work for everyone for a lot of reasons and that's okay. Instead, write every day that works for you, and don't beat yourself up about not writing every single day just because the most popular advice has a way of making you feel like less of a writer if you don't.


Whether you write every day for the rest of your life, write every day for a few weeks and take a break, or write whenever the mood strikes, you're no less of a writer and you can still get your story written and out there however you want -- and it's not dependent on you writing every day.


Write when you can and take breaks when you have to -- it's not the same, or comparable, to giving up on your story.


 

As with all writing advice, please remember that one size does not fit all and you're welcome to return advice that doesn't work for you at any time.


Do you have a method, ritual, practice, or thing you do that helps you get through writing the zero draft of your project? Let me know below, I'm always open to trying new things.




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