How to Finish Your First Draft

I think everyone has one book in them and, if you’re reading this, then you believe that too. Believing in yourself is vital to your success, but it’s real work to get from A to Z. Follow this guide, reread it when you’re stuck or disheartened, and you will finish your book.

1. Have a Mantra

It sounds silly, talking to yourself, but this is important. If you’re a writer, not only have you already talked to yourself many times, but you’re going to do it again, and what you say to yourself is too often discouraging. You sit down to write and say “I can’t do this,” or you read what you wrote and say “Oh man, that sucks.”

All of what you already say to yourself is what’s keeping you from completing your first draft, so you’ve got to counter that negativity with positive determination and stubborn optimism. Negative thoughts will still creep in. I can’t say that will ever stop, but recognize when your internal bully needs to be put in his place. When in doubt, repeat your mantra and regain your confidence. Here’s mine:

You CAN do this. You can do it because you want to.

Keep moving forward. Get to the end.

Be your own fan, squash the negativity, and keep going.

2. Write Consistently

Some of the worst things we tell ourselves are not mean, but they are nonetheless hindrances to success. When you think “I’ll wait until I’m inspired,” or “I need to research some more before I’m ready,” you’re just stalling. Stop it! You have to actively counter the urge to quit, or the desire to delay, and there will be an abundance of both.

The longer you put off writing, the harder it is to get started. Each time I took time away from the keyboard, my writing suffered. When I’d come back to the story, everything felt foreign. I was disconnected from the words, and from the practice of getting the words out.

The more you write, the better you are at writing, and the easier it gets.

Everyone says they don’t have enough time for “x,” and everyone knows it’s bullshit. If you want something, you will make time for it. That may mean less television, fewer snuggles, or getting out of bed a smidge earlier, but if this is really something you want to accomplish, then you’ll do it. The only way to commit is to make the time. When you’ve made that time, sit down and write.

When you write is up to you. I have no set schedule for this, but many will encourage you to have a set time each day. What’s more important though, is that you write something each day.

Even if you don’t work on your first draft, write something.

This blog is my something. Right now I want to work on my new novel, but my brain isn’t in that place. Writing this guide, while I hope it helps you, is also helping me. It’s keeping me moving forward (see how I return to my mantra).

Now, repeat your mantra and go write.

3. Don’t Edit

When you sit down to write, accept that it won’t be a masterpiece. Hell, assume it’s all crap, but be okay with that. The important part is to get the story down. When that’s done you can come back and smooth out the rough edges.

When I began my novel, getting out of the first chapter was the hardest. I would go over and over the initial paragraphs, and while they seemed to improve, I wasn’t moving forward. You can’t get to the end if you linger in the raw.

Was that description terrible? Make a note and move on. Was that the most unbelievable dialogue in the history of all written language? Come back to it later. I know that scene is keeping you awake at night, but let it go. There’s more scenes ahead. If a spark of brilliance comes to you, write it in your notes, NOT in the actual scene. If you try to work it into the scene, you’ll discover it doesn’t just slide in. The surrounding sentences need alteration and something should go in earlier as a lead in. Hmmm, wait. That’s called editing! Stop it! If you want to finish the first draft you have to keep moving forward. Mantra. Repeat it and keep writing.

4. Have A Daily Word Count Goal

You can have all the positivity, consistency, and focus in the world, but if you don’t set goals, then you’re not going to finish. You might have an hour every day set aside for writing, and there is progress each time, but a few words each day are not enough. A  daily word count goal will push you to do more. It will give you a projected deadline for the entire first draft. The word count goal supports every other aspect of this guide, creating consistency, forward movement, and power for my mantra.

You may want to dismiss a daily word count goal, thinking “I move at my own pace,” or “I don’t respond well to pressure,” but that leisurely pace will kill you. I wrote almost every day for 8 months to finish my first draft, and by the end of it, I was close to giving up. I didn’t think of quitting because I hit road blocks in the story, or because I didn’t like what I was writing. I just wanted it to be over! 8 months on one project is a long damn time. Now imagine I wrote at half that pace. I would have been too tired, too bored, and too aware of how much was left to muster my thoughts into words.

Create a daily word count goal and stick to it.

Mine was 500, which at the beginning was rough, but I got there. As months went by that goal increased, as did my ability to surpass it. When I didn’t complete it one day, I made up for it the next day. Consider it your friend or your enemy, but it is a necessity if you want to finish your first draft.


There’s more tips, like ask for support, find an environment that’s just for writing, and plot your key scenes, but while all those tips help, following the guide above will get you where you want to go. You wanted to write a book. This is how you do it. Go finish that first draft, and when you do, come back and tell me about it.

Thanks for reading. Be sure to Subscribe and follow. For other new writer tips and topics, go to the New Writer Resources page.

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