Rhonda in Blue How to Finish a First Draft
I wasn't always smiling at my first drafts.

Bear with me while I state the obvious for a second, okay?

If you want to achieve that life-long dream for most (all?) writers and publish a book, you have to first FINISH the book. 

I know you’re with me so far…

Then to finish the book, you’ve got to finish the first draft. It’s the straight-up cold-brewed truth of my favourite Jodi Picoult quote:

“You can’t edit a blank page.”

(I had this one printed and framed for over my writing desk!)

Most writers know this, of course…and yet. If you’re like many of us, you have at least one unfinished draft still sitting in the desk drawer or on a closet shelf. So, what happened?

Maybe you sat down to write one day and a quick thought ran through your brain like a mouse through a kitchen… “This isn’t actually very good.” 

Here’s the critical part: the thought you let yourself think AFTER that nasty little thought can go in one of two directions.

Either Thought #1: “This isn’t any good YET.” (See what I did there?)

Or Thought #2: “This isn’t any good…and I suck. I’ll always suck. I might as well give up now.”

What’s the difference?

With the first thought, you’ve let yourself be imperfect in the moment of creation. And guess what? All creation starts out imperfect. Good writers become better writers by letting themselves write a horrible first draft, knowing it can (and WILL) get better with each subsequent revision.

You need to know too that there will be many revisions. I was discussing that this week with some of the writers in one of my programs — how we romanticize the process of writing a book as “one and done” when it’s actually just one marginally improved version after another. 

This is such a hard truth to come to terms with, but we resist it at our peril. So if you’re stuck right now because in the back of your mind you think you’re supposed to get the next scene/chapter/section/story/poem PERFECT, just let it go. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to get written…and then you can make it marginally better bit by bit as you revise.

I absolutely promise you that this is how it works for all writers.

How to Finish a First Draft

What’s true for revision is also true for finishing that all-important first draft of your book. It just won’t be perfect and that’s perfectly fine. First get the darn draft DONE and then you can make it better bit by bit.

And you know what’s exciting about this? Writing a book can take up to a year (or more!) for most creative writers, and you’ll be writing and reading that whole time — so by the time you’re finishing your book and on the last revision draft, you’re also that much better a writer than you were at the start of the process, one eminently capable of shaping the book as it needs to be shaped.

I wish I could say that all of this came easily to me and I was born knowing how to manage my thoughts around a sh*tty first draft. Of course, I’ve read my Anne Lamott, whose book Bird by Bird publicly named and popularized the concept of the sh*tty first draft. (If you haven’t read that writing book yet, you absolutely need it: get to a library or bookstore ASAP.)

But even after I’d read her book years ago, it took me many more years to come to terms with my own thinking so I could let myself produce said Sh*tty first draft. (Actually, it took eons, but said in slow motion, as in EEEEE-OOOONNNS.) 

All the time I’d been thinking that the trick to becoming a better writer lay in learning more about craft, but the truth was that until I fixed my mindset around my writing, I wasn’t making any consistent progress.

This left me with a half-written book of short stories, a half-finished book of poems and an abandoned start (120 pages worth!) of a novel. I could start lots of new projects, but I couldn’t finish anything until I learned how to manage my thought process around creation.

I did a few key things to manage my creation thought process, including:

  1. releasing the self-imposed pressure to write every single day and planning my writing on a weekly basis instead;
  2. adding in meditation sessions just before I write;
  3. exploring some creative play options, also attached to my writing sessions; 
  4. taking regular social media breaks; and,
  5. working to shift my perfectionist mindset and giving myself permission to grow as a writer over time.

If you struggle with being consistent enough in your writing to actually finish the work you start, then I want to recommend you do two things:

First, commit to finishing. Decide right this very minute that you will do whatever it takes to finally finish the book you’ve been burning to write. Decide that 2020 is the year you finish and then make a plan to get it done.

Second, fix your creative mindset. Your thought process is not set in concrete and you can change it if you decide to do that. It’s just a different kind of creative work, but as a writer I know you’re no stranger to hard work. 🙂

To help with resetting your creative thought process, I’ve put together a guide and action plan to walk you through exactly how you can hit the reset button and finally finish your work-in-progress. It’s called Six Steps to Become a Consistent Writer and if you don’t have your copy yet, you can grab it here

Six Steps to Become a Consistent Writer

I want you to stop beating your head against the wall and wondering why it hurts — this is my metaphor for all those years I did the start-stop-start-stop-stop dance with my writing. I would give anything to have those years, and all those books, back. 

Now that I’ve just finished book #3, I know that this mindset work is really the deep creative work that all writers need to do in order to realize their cherished writing dreams. My hope is that everything I’ve learned in my struggle can help guide you to finish your next work-in-progress as well. 


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Sh*tty First Draft