One Way to Write a First Draft

I thought writing a novel would be too much for a person with a family, two children, a full-time job, among other responsibilities.

You get the point. I’m sure you’re plate is full too.

It was all so overwhelming that I’d outline and write, and as soon as it got tough or I got stuck, I’d stop and say this story sucks anyway and give up.

However, the more time I spent writing, along with joining a writing group and the coronavirus pandemic struck, I felt an urgency to act and begin a novel.

I was just as worthy as anyone else to attempt a first draft novel, and so are you.

I decided to break down the process in a way that suited me and what I decided I could handle to make the process more step-by-step and manageable.

I had preliminary steps I started with first.

The spark of a story idea became step one.

Constructing character development, weaving conflict, and a rough outline was step two.

And now for the primary step, writing.

Writing all the words and finishing the first draft is where I struggled. My remedy began by looking at a novel’s word count.

For the answer to this question, I looked to Jane Friedman, with her many years in the publishing industry.

I purchased the book she wrote, “The Business of Being a Writer.” In Chapter 9 on “Book Publishing,” she answers my word count question.

She explains a novel is generally around 80,00 words, with exceptions for more words with specific genres.

In my eyes, it seemed quite a task for the first-time attempt of a newer writer.

Butterflies somersaulted and flew about carelessly in my stomach. I was suddenly looking up at a never-ending wall from the earth to the clouds with no equipment or direction on how to climb.

How could I fit and find time in my schedule to write that many words?

Until, I decided to break those words down to get to a first draft, taking consistent, small steps forward.


My advice is picking whatever word count you believe to be achievable, but will also drive you further every day. And be consistent.

I decided to write 500 or more words every day for a month. I tracked and observed what happened during that month and how it’s bringing me closer to my first, first draft.

The novel I’m writing is fantasy, and my book’s premise is on a society that values good behavior above all and is willing to pay for it and impose whatever arbitrary rules it decides.

My main character, Delphie’s always been a little strange, at least that’s how the community and her family treat her. She has this peculiar ability that is ignored and discouraged. When there is a new rule of law descended upon the world, Delphie believes she no longer has a choice but to find a solution to the problems she faces.

So, I wrote and wrote and wrote, and eventually, I wrote past my outline. Forcing me to push through, bringing forth characters I hadn’t previously invented.

Like a, meditating, healer, to go with my frustrated, energy-yielding main character. Or a grounded, sensible friend to compliment my cynical, yet always hoping and over-reaching optimism of my main character.

I also decided on judgment-free writing. Allowing you to keep going, and to stop over-analyzing, and paralyzing your writing. It doesn’t need to be perfect.

It’s called a rough draft for a reason.

The word messy comes to mind when I think of my draft, with lots of editing mistakes, and not enough of one thing or another. But I’m okay with that because I’m getting it done, which I’ve never been able to accomplish before.

To counter the missing or messy, I’m making notes in the body of the draft to remember during my first revisions to add things like more world-building, more description, or character development.

I’ve decided I’m not giving up until this baby is finished!

No one is perfect, and I’m no exception. I should tell you; there was a weekend where I had zero days of writing. My schedule was full of Father’s Day celebrations, and I didn’t write.

I picked up on Monday again, where I’d ended on Friday.

Maybe it sounds silly, with only two days off. Still, I did notice for me it was more challenging to get going and follow along with the thread of my story, even after a short break.

There were days when I was excited about writing because I had an idea of where I was going and what I wanted to write. Other days, I dreaded writing with not a blessed thing to start with.

Here, I learned it is harder to write without an outline.

But I made something up, and the keyboard started clicking along. I decided that’s what we do as fiction writers anyway make stuff up. So, I did.

Try to make your writing experience as enjoyable as possible. I decided to find a space I’d most enjoy writing. I can transport my laptop anywhere in my house.

Due to the pandemic and the fact that I have children, the house is where I have to do most of my writing. Along with the occasional McDonald’s parking lot, when I need a quick egg McMuffin before work.

Although my writing time is fluid and flexible and at times is done after work or after dinner. I usually write outside, under my pergola, because I like nothing more than being outside as often as I can.


Writing, 500 words or more, didn’t take much more time than running an errand, doing a chore, or working out.

I ended up with 14,974 words at the end of the month.

I’m onto my next month’s work of 500 or more words daily.

Bit by bit, we can finish the first draft of our novels.

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