How to Learn to Love Your First Draft

finish your book Sep 18, 2023

There’s a major mistake a lot of writers make when they’re just starting out writing their book. Can you guess what it is? (Hint: the answer is in that first sentence!)

The mistake is all in how you think about your book -- including thinking of it as a “book” at all in the beginning.

We have very capital-R Romantic ideas about books and writing, ideas we’ve picked up from reading or watching movies and just fantasizing about what it must be like for published authors. 

If you’ve never done it before, here’s how you might think writing a book goes:

  1. Have an idea for a book. 
  2. Sit down and write the book. #easypeasylemonsqueezy
  3. Publish the book.
  4. Cash those royalty cheques.

Mm-hmm, sorry about that...I can tell you from experience that this is not the typical experience for most published authors.

What’s missing is a true understanding of the book-writing process -- how we really get from idea to finished product.

In my First Book Finish program, I coach my students in the “6 Phases of a Book.” Here they are for you now:

Phase 1: The Start

Ideas and detailed notes, outlines, partial text, sketches, pieces, sections, stories, chapters, poems, etc.

Phase 2: First Draft 

A completed first draft of the full manuscript; complete narrative arc; will still have some plot holes, character inconsistencies; more research may be needed in some sections; structure is not yet final; for collections (essays/stories/poems) the individual pieces in their first draft versions are complete and there’s an initial curated order to the contents.

Phase 3: Revision

Think of this as re-visioning. Reconsideration of story, theme, concept and structure; editing of text; deleting, adding and moving elements around; large-scale editing for clarity; preparing for reader feedback.

Phase 4: Edit

Re-writing sections, chapters, stories, poems, essays; editing at the larger overview scale as well as at the page/paragraph/line level. Possibly multiple editing rounds!

Phase 5: Submission

Seeking representation if desired/appropriate and sending out queries and the full manuscript to potential publishers. If self-publishing, you will replace this stage with research into the best self-publishing options.

Phase 6: Publication

Once accepted for publication, there will still be at least one more round of editing (maybe more!), followed by fact-checking, copy-editing and page proofs. You’ll also plan the book launch and promotion with your publisher.


So if the book-writing process is one with several phases, what does that mean for the role and purpose of your first draft?

It might help to think of the actual drafting process as happening in 3 different stages:

a) The first draft is just you telling yourself the story. (That’s my favourite Terry Pratchett quote right there!)

b) The second draft is your structural draft -- here’s when you shape your book.

c) The third draft is when you start thinking about language.


And then -- and only then -- are you ready to send your draft out into the world for feedback. 

I also want you to be careful here: sending a book to beta readers too early in the process can seriously derail your book progress. How can a beta reader really help you if you don’t yet know your full story yourself?

Learn to Love Your First Draft

You will never have just one draft of your book. This is a fundamentally freeing idea because it releases the expectation that *this* draft must be perfect. 

What does this mean for you right now as you work on your draft manuscript? When you sit down to write, stop thinking of your book as a finished book and start thinking instead about it as your evolving draft. It’s going to change as you write it -- even if you’ve outlined the story to within an inch of its life! -- and that’s okay.

When we think of the final book as we write, we generate fear and anxiety as our minds get caught up in how it isn’t working right now (of course it isn’t, you haven’t written it yet!) and how far we are from the perfect book we’re imagining in our minds. 

If we acknowledge the full book-writing process, take the mystery and Romance out of it and really make realistic plans for each phase, then we can take it step-by-step and let ourselves just write the da*n draft, and then revise.

Every writer is different, but the first draft of your book is often the most fun part of the process because it’s when everything is still possible. 

Let yourself have the joy of what Anne Lamott calls “the shitty first draft” -- just get the basics down on paper or in pixels and then take it from there.

Repeat after me: the first draft doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be written. 

If you’re longing to be more consistent with your writing so that you CAN finally finish your book, grab a copy of my free guide: 6 Steps to Becoming a Consistent Writer.

>> Working on a book? The First Book Finish program will open again for another group of students in early October 2023. Get on the Waiting List so you can be the first to hear when the program opens and receive some exclusive bonuses.


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