In some ways, the first draft is the hardest one. It is a place where characters you have just met take over the page and force you to travel with them to unfamiliar locations boasting societies completely foreign to you. Somehow, you are expected to forge forward, despite the inevitable culture shock and vertigo.
Does this sound familiar to you? Well, I have some good and bad news.
The bad news is: the first draft never gets any easier. It is always going to be a dazzling whirl-wind, a frightening and exhilarating roller coaster ride where you see the next turn too late to brace for it. For me, that's really half the fun.
The good news is: there are ways to manage your first draft, and different ways to go about it.
Every writer has specific techniques, a tool-box, which at the base parts is shared between all writers, and yet when compiled, is uniquely their own. That is part of what makes writing-- and reading-- so great. Every writer is different in their own way. Because of that, no one way of tackling the first draft will work for everyone. I do, however, recommend trying out different methods, because you never know what will fit like a personally tailored glove until you try them on.
The usual debate I always see is between pantsers and plotters, or as I usually dub them, the discovery writer and the outline writer. There is nothing wrong with either school, except for when people refuse to mix and match. I am sure there is someone out there who can never plot a word, or they will suddenly lose momentum, and as the other side of the coin, someone who must plot out the scope of every scene, every character, and every sub-plot before setting a single word to paper (or keyboard).
However, those are just two people. I think everyone else falls somewhere in the middle, and it is up to you to put on your mad writer lab coat (or whatever else you like writing in) and get to the experimentation. First, however, we need some definitions.
The Plotter: a writer who brainstorms, often times extensively, before beginning to write on a new project. This brainstorming can be done in many different ways. Some plotters will write out character sheets, as though they are characters in a D&D campaign or in a favorite game. Others will draw countless maps of the locations their characters will travel to. Yet others write outlines with the main plot points and themes touched upon in every chapter. It is a safety net, in a way, knowing where the story is going, and being able to write up to that final goal. This method allows you to see the finish line, you just have to make the long run uphill to reach it.
The Adventurer: a writer who sits down with a blank page, either digital or physical, and begins writing without any earthly clue where they, or the story, is going. The discovery writer often starts with a single idea which sparked their inspiration, or a single character, or a very base idea they want to explore, and start running with it. Often times, they won't know the ending of their book until they have written it. This is the seat of the pants, balls-to-the-wall way to go about writing, but at the same time, the writing grows organically from itself.
Most people fall somewhere between these two definitions. I used to be a full out adventurer. I would take a character and a ground situation and start writing. And maybe, three drafts down the line, I might know what my story is, or at least have uncovered part of it.
Both schools have their cons to go with each pro. The plotter, for instance, may run into scenes which seem forced, or feel like they have not truly been earned, because they follow their outline like it is the ten commandments and refuse to add or subtract from it. The adventurer, on the other hand, might go off on tons of little side adventures, wandering around on miscellaneous tangents because they aren't really sure where they are going.
Once you know how you want to go about tackling your first draft, you then have to actually don your gear and run out on the battle field, into the heat of things. It's daunting. Starting a novel is a monumental task. Novels can take years to come to full fruition, and after that, it could be years more before an editor actually looks at it, much less makes an offer.
Thankfully, we're just talking about a first draft here-- a rough draft, most specifically-- so we don't have quite so many issues to hunt down and fry.
There are many ways people use to motivate themselves to get the writing done, once they've made the pledge and begun. One such option is National Novel Writing Month (better known as NaNoWriMo), where literally thousands of authors from all over the world set aside the month of November, holidays and all, to tackle that daunting first draft, with the goal of writing 50,000 words in a mere 30 days (that's almost 1700 words a day!). It is extremely difficult, but I have successfully taken it down three years in a row, and will be returning to the fray in the upcoming year.
Another option is the Fantasy-Faction 500 Club (lovingly hash-tagged on Twitter as #ff500) which is made up of mostly fantasy writers (some sci-fi as well, and maybe a historical fiction or two). Just like NaNoWriMo, the FF500 survives off the peer pressure, as all members are expected to write 500 words a day, which is a good number to start with if 1700 seems like too much. The group is friendly, has daily check ins, and really helps with productivity.
These are two online writing "groups", but you could always set up a writing group with friends if collective pressure is your cup of tea. Being as competitive as I am, knowing that other people have written more than me really gets me going, and some of my best wordcounts come from sitting across the table from a fellow writer, declaring a word-sprint, and going.
Despite the fact that the rough draft can be excruciatingly painful at times, and like a full out root-canal at others, there is nothing quite as satisfying (bar getting something positive from an editor) as finishing a rough draft. Once those final words are penned, everything gets easier. You have the hard part, discovering your story, out of the way.
I suggest printing out that bad-boy when you're done with it, and dancing with it. Or throwing it like confetti. Or something else that shows just how excited you are about completing that first, massive leap towards becoming a writer.
Good luck, and happy writing,
~Tiffany "Kysis" Tackett