Step one on any aspiring authorpreneur’s journey is write the book! But so many writers find themselves languishing in the first draft phase for months, even years. How does one go about starting and, most importantly, completing the first draft of your novel? Here’s the number one thing you need to know: Completing the first draft depends entirely on the way you set your goals and establish your writing schedule. Both of these things need to be motivating and sustainable, otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Below are my best tips for getting them right.

first draft

Be a Goal Getter!

You might be saying, “Megan, that is the most obvious advice. I already have a goal! It’s to write the first draft of my novel.” And you are so right. That is a goal, but it’s not the type of goal that actually helps you achieve it.

All writers should be setting SMART goals. The SMART goal-setting method is designed such that you actually have a higher chance of achieving them. Here’s how you’d use this method to break down your big goal of writing your first draft:

S – Specific

Completing the first draft is actually about as specific as you can get, but there’s a reason this is the first—not the last—step.

M – Measurable

How will you know you’ve completed your first draft? What indicators will you use to keep yourself on track? Based on the genre you’re writing in, come up with an estimated word count for your draft. (Pro tip: Go ahead and shoot for a little longer than average, because it’s way easier to cut content than it is to try to add it in later.) Or, if word counts aren’t your thing, you can measure in the number of scenes or chapters written per day.

A – Attainable

Take a look at your schedule as far out as you can. Do you have other big life events on the horizon that could get in the way of your writing? (Pro tip: Don’t try to write a novel and plan a wedding in the same year. Kidding . . . kind of.) On the face of it, the goal of completing the first draft is very attainable. People do it all the time, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to too!

R – Realistic

Going off of what I said above, it’s super important for you to set your expectations at a level that is easy for you to achieve. If you go into this goal with an unrealistic schedule, the second you get behind it becomes a self-defeating endeavor. Do NOT set yourself up to fail.

T – Time Bound

This is really the linchpin of the whole thing. All good goals come with deadlines. Whether it’s this year or during NaNoWriMo, pick a time frame for your goal. This will also help you to break down your milestones for measuring your progress. Watch:

If you know you want to be done with your first draft (S) in six months (T), and your estimated word count is 100,000 (M), then you’ll need to write 555-ish words a day (A and R).

STMAR just doesn’t have the same ring to it as SMART, but you get the idea!

Build a Sustainable Schedule

The most popular advice out there is to write every day. It’s what works for a lot of people, and can be important for establishing a habit from scratch, but personally, I don’t subscribe to it. For me, this maxim usually means when I miss one day, I miss the next and probably the one after that because my Bitch Brain (the nickname I gave my anxiety disorder) is telling me, “Well, you already missed a day, so you’ve failed at writing every day. You might as well quit.”

Missed days are inevitable, so if you’re like me and that kind of pressure is counterproductive, I have a different way for you to plan your writing schedule. I wrote a four-part series called Writing Like a Marathoner that outlines how I applied the principles I learned training for my marathon to my writing life. (There is a surprising amount of crossover. If you’re at all inclined to run I highly recommend it!) Part one detailed my method for establishing a sustainable, reality-based writing schedule. It works in perfect harmony with the SMART method and will seriously up your game productivity-wise.

Bonus Tip: Finding Motivation

A lot of goal-achieving advice out there says the best way to motivate yourself is by setting up an award system. But there’s research out there that says where creativity is involved, external motivation (awards/praise) decreases intrinsic motivation (doing something for the pleasure you get from it) and over time decreases your motivation.

Since writing the first draft of a novel is not a small goal, it’s super important to be drawing from the proper motivation well. This means tapping into your intrinsic motivation to write. How you do this will be very personal (it has to be) but a couple ideas include:

Making a poster or desktop background that features your why. Reminding yourself of why you have to write this story will keep it at the top of your mind and heart as you plug along.

Creating a comfortable and aesthetically pleasing writing space. The environment has a huge effect on your creativity. If you want to be in your writing space and it engages your imagination, then writing itself will be pleasurable.

You can’t edit, or publish for that matter, what does exist. Completing the first draft of your book is the necessary, possibly hardest, step in your authorpreneur journey. These tricks will make it that much easier!

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Author: Whynott Edit

Hi, I'm Megan! My mission is to help underrepresented writers refine their words, strengthen their skills, and tell the best possible versions of their stories.

If you have questions/comments/concerns about writing, editing, or publishing, or want to suggest a post topic, feel free to reach out to me! megan[at]whynottedit.com