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Your first draft, the first time

It must always start with the first draft. For many, that’s the hardest part. Whether it’s the reams of white space or the knowledge that you’ll have to go back and edit later, the starting draft of your novel can be a huge mental hurdle. Today Sophie Flynn - writer and Jericho Writers Head of Marketing – kindly shares her top tips to help you get through it with minimal stress. 

Your First Draft, the First Time | Sophie Flynn Takeover

I’ve just finished the first draft of my third book. Usually, I write an entire draft then ditch it and write another one from scratch, where the characters remain but nothing else stays. But this time, I only had time for the one draft – no throwing away. So, this is both my quickest and most polished first draft I’ve ever written (I wonder if I’ll laugh at that delightfully hopeful sentence when my editor reads it next week and tells me it needs a complete rewrite? Please pray for me.) 

Here are some tips that could help you finish a draft well before the end of 2022: 

1) Use Scrivener

I like to post updates on Twitter of my wordcount to force me into writing. Every time I do, someone asks ‘what’s the software you’re using to track your progress?’ and every time I say ‘Scrivener - it’s the best tool ever I couldn’t write a novel without it’.  Among its many tools is the ability to set a wordcount goal and target date. Each time you open Scrivener, it will then tell you how many words you need to write each day to reach your goal. And when you do, you get a satisfying DING and ‘target hit’ message. Delightful. 

2) Write in the gaps

As well as publishing two books this year, I also work for Jericho Writers. So, I don’t get vast stretches of uninterrupted time to write. Because of that, I’m good at fitting it in whenever I need to. My favourite ten-minute stretch is the time is takes my husband to put on his shoes. Whip out your phone and write on the Notes app every time a family member says they’re ready to go, and in fact, are not. You’ll be amazed at your progress. 

3) Take time to think

The main reason I’ve been able to write a first draft that doesn’t need to go in the bin is because I’ve given myself space to consider the plot before ploughing on. My recent routine has been to wake up an hour early, give myself 10-15 minutes lying in bed to decide what I’m writing that morning (what scene, what action, the resolution) before I open my laptop. I then find that my 500 words can be done very quickly (and, also, from bed).  

4) Go forward, not back

Sometimes you just need the words down even if they’re the wrong ones. Don’t get stuck on fixing old mistakes – just move on! Changed a character’s name half-way through or killed them off? Add a note *WRITING AS IF TIM IS CALLED FRED / FRED IS DEAD* and carry on as if those changes are already made, freeing your mind to go forward. (You do have to go back and kill Fred eventually though.) 

I could talk on this topic forever, and if you do want to hear more, I’d love to see you at my workshop ‘The Quick and Dirty First Draft’ at York Festival of Writing in September. In the meantime, do you have any of your own tips you’d like to share? Or tell me why mine would never work for you! Share your thoughts and tips below. 

Sophie Flynn 

Sophie lives in the Cotswolds and has an MA in Creative Writing from Oxford Brookes. She is the Head of Marketing for Jericho Writers and is represented by Kate Nash of Kate Nash Literary Agency.

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