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The Single Most Important Step in Your Writing Career

BY SACHA HAMILTON

 

One of the most frustrating parts about writing is putting together a first draft. No matter whether it’s an anthology, a novel, a biography or an essay, your writing is going to require one and it’s easy to become discouraged if you don’t remind yourself of the role your early drafts play in your final work. That being said, let’s take a step back and examine why writing a first draft is the single most important step in your writing career.

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In a perfect world, when an idea popped in our heads, it would already have the necessary elements to create the story. We would be able to sit down, write the book from beginning to end and have it be complete and coherent, with all the character arcs and climaxes intertwined around themes that logically propel the plot forward. And voila! The story would be successfully written.

Unfortunately, we know how imperfect the world really is and writing just isn’t completed this way.

(Image by  Lubos Houska  from  Pixabay )

(Image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay)

Most first drafts are rough… in fact, they’re beyond rough. Chances are they’ll be rife with spelling errors, continuity problems or they may not make sense at all. And as a writer with universes bursting to get out, it can feel defeating to read back what you wrote after imagining the perfect story, especially if it’s not very good. This may be the point where you begin to consider if you should continue working on your story or just quit altogether and start fresh.

The thing to keep in mind is that first drafts play a valuable role in producing any kind of writing, especially a large manuscript. They’re meant to help you sort through your ideas and get them down on paper. Focusing on how “good” it is shouldn’t be your goal, because first drafts aren’t built with that in mind.

The endgame should be to focus solely on mapping out your thoughts and getting them down on paper (not to be confused with mapping out your story during brainstorming). Once you’ve crafted your first draft, going through the editing process will expose the holes within, and you’ll discover exactly what you need to fix in order to make your story stronger.

Benefits to having a first draft:

  • The flaws of your story become more pronounced

  • You are more likely to figure out your flat characters and how to fix them

  • Your story’s plot will become clearer

  • It will become far easier to highlight the holes and/or contradictions in your story

  • You can decipher which story elements and scenes don’t work

  • You will learn how your characters mesh within the story and how they interact with one another (many writers come up with characters that come alive as they write and learn about them in their first draft)

  • You can nail down a sequence, so your story has a logical, fluid pace and flow.

(Image by  Birgit Böllinger  from  Pixabay )

(Image by Birgit Böllinger from Pixabay)

Take solace in the fact that first drafts are meant to be rough and no one ever has to read them except you. The editing process can always help you find the best version of your work, but you can’t edit an empty page. So always keep in mind that writing a first draft can help you organize your work and provide you with a clearer path to a much better finished product.

Three HUGE Mistakes Writers Make
 

BY SACHA HAMILTON

 
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Being a writer is difficult enough with character development, plot creation, editing, rewriting, research, writers block, and grammar and punctuation; there's no reason to make it harder by ignoring these three easy tips (complete with recommendations):

1. You aren’t treating yourself like a business.

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You aren't marketing, you aren't branding, you aren't writing expenses off when you do your taxes; this needs to stop! You're a business, treat yourself like one. I understand you may not be making "professional money," (and some of you may not be making any money) but you should actively focus on building your brand and yourself as a business. You don't need a finished product. Build your fan base.

Recommendations: 

  • Get a bank account and track spending. Have lunch with your editor? Buy a new laptop? Get more pens? Work from home? You may be able to write these things off when you do your taxes. Keep your receipts (file them in a simple filing system for easier retrieval) and talk to your tax preparer about what can be written off. Every little thing helps.  

  • Make a social media account to interact with your fans. It doesn't matter if it's on Instagram or Facebook, you can introduce people to the fact you're writing and your style, and start developing your fan base. For example: People love to name characters and if they play a part in a character getting named, they can easily play a role in your profits later on down the line. They will tell people they named a character in your book and, chances are, they'll want to buy it themselves. Also, social media is great for releasing tidbits of work. This is a free way (other than the cost of internet) to create a space for yourself in the writing community. Releasing bits of work can get people invested in your craft if they see what you're capable of. You do not have to have something finished and released to start your marketing and building your brand. The earlier you begin the better.

  • Invest in a business consultant. Business consultants can add to your business and use their knowledge and connections to help you expand. They should have a thorough resume with actionable results. My recommendation is Akamai Enterprise because they work with all levels of businesses and have knowledge of the publishing industry. They are a trusted source to elevate your business (any kind of business but definitely clutch for authors). 

 

2. You aren’t getting your work professionally edited.

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If you do not know how to edit, save yourself the time and get someone who can. Don't trust your creation with someone that can ruin it. 

First of all, no one's first draft is the best. If that's the case, you're saying the more you write, the worse you get. That's the complete opposite of how writing works. As an editor, I've seen some damn good first drafts, and even those have cringe worthy typos, errors, and general problems. A first draft plays a key role in the writing process though. The worst thing you can do is not give your manuscript enough effort to mature it. 

Secondly, there's no difference between refusing to edit your work and editing it incorrectly, whether by you or someone else. I often see authors over correct, therefore, convoluting an amazing concept. I've also seen authors make the wrong corrections. Dialogue is very easy to mess up. I've seen people take correctly written dialogue and butcher it with punctuation. I've also had friends give me edits that completely change the style of my work while others have had me scrap perfectly good scenes altogether because they couldn't relate to it. 

Besides knowing HOW to write, a good editor should also be able to take YOUR style and what you're already bringing to the table and enhance it while working on your weaknesses. This is why it's important to have some sort of rapport with your editor. I've been fortunate to build a relationship with my authors and I feel a big part of that reflects in the work. I can only imagine if you're trying to complete a project and you frequently don't see eye to eye with someone about something you created, it's bound to get frustrating and that may prevent the best work from happening.

Recommendation: 

  • When selecting an editor, keep in mind that your writing is extremely intimate and find an editor that you mesh well with. Through Vital Narrative's consulting services, we have developed a great process that encompasses all levels of editing. With this process that we implement, it allows us to offer a thorough, helpful, educational, and meaningful experience. On top of bound copies that the edits are in (and extras for yourself), we hold a private meeting to discuss your project so you know your next steps and what you're doing. Essentially though, when selecting an editor keep in mind that as a creative outlet, writing can be extremely intimate so find an editor that you mesh well with.


 
 

3. You alienated everyone on your friend’s list once your book came out.

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Don't spam your friends. It's the quickest way to turn people off. If they don't like it, they simply aren't you audience. DON'T FORCE FEED IT DOWN YOUR FRIENDS THROATS! Not EVERYONE will be your fan--optimistically, you may find fans in the strangest places. 

Recommendations: 

  • Keep a broad idea of your target audience and don't discriminate against your friends. At the same time, don’t assume they won’t be fans because of your writing style. For example, if it's extremely vulgar, it may not be for everyone on your friend’s list. But by adding people more indiscriminately than not you may catch a few fans where you least expect it. In my experience, quite a few people that I'd least expect to interact with my work have and it's been amazing. And even if they aren't as crude (and some shockingly are) they'll interact with the less vulgar stuff and with the more artsy stuff.  There's such a huge payoff in that because it drives more traffic to your sites hopefully grabbing the attention of a new reader. I have everyone from school teachers, stay-at-home moms, business owners and nurses, interacting on my page making it more of a community while driving visitors from all over the world. And while there are millions of people that may not like what you're bringing to the table, there could also be millions of people looking to be your biggest fan.

  • Research your target market. Read articles. Narrow down who your market is and focus your attentions there. This is also extremely inexpensive because you can find most of this information on the internet. Similarly, if you're working with a business consultant, they can assist you in doing this as well.

These three mistakes can be easily avoided with just a little effort. Writing is a craft and should be honed accordingly. Just don't forget to treat yourself as a business that puts out a product. Neglecting that business aspect of your business will be its biggest downfall. But most importantly, never stop writing. Good luck!


Sacha Hamilton is Lead Editor for Vital Narrative Press.

How To Write A First Draft

BY: GH



When I was in the eighth grade, I fell hopelessly in love with a girl who sat two rows in front of me. She always spoke in a way that let me know she read books outside of school like I did. And because I knew how smart she was, I realized I couldn't approach her just any old way - I wanted to show my intelligence and poise as well. Or at the very least, I knew I needed to say hello without melting into my desk.

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So, I went over what I was going to say in my head for days. I knew I wanted to work in that I read a lot and had started writing my own stuff, but then I thought she might ask to read some of it and that terrified me. So I kicked that idea from my mental Rolodex and decided to start from scratch.

Days turned into weeks until I finally put my foot down. I told myself I was going to say hello and ask for her phone number. I arrived early for first period and to my surprise, she was sitting alone, digging for something inside her backpack. I didn't think it would leave a good first impression to startle her by appearing suddenly when she was sitting alone in a room (plus, I still needed another moment to gather my thoughts). I walked into the nearest bathroom to wash my hands and took a few deep breaths. I told myself I would just say hello and go from there. It had only been about two minutes, but I already felt a lot more relaxed going into the conversation the second time around. I left out of the bathroom and walked back in to see her surrounded by three of her friends, chatting happily about some television show I had never heard of. Feeling like I'd lost my chance, I decided not to interrupt and walked past towards my desk. There was plenty of time left in the day, so I still had time to ask.

Second period was gym, so after I dressed out, she walked into the gymnasium with a good friend of mine. They were laughing and having a great time, which wasn't a total surprise because my friend was just as witty and interesting as I was. But I didn't want to disturb their conversation, so I just settled in my mind that I'd just go up to her at lunch. It made the most sense - the gymnasium wasn't the best setting for an intimate conversation and people were more social during a meal anyway.

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But at lunch, she was nowhere to be found. I searched both exits and the courtyard to see if maybe she'd decided to eat outside, but still nothing. I didn't want to ask around and give off the suspicion that I was looking for her, but I wasn't sure what else to do. We had been near each other all morning and now that I was finally ready to ask for her number, she had disappeared. I decided to drown my sorrows in chocolate milk and a cardboard pepperoni pizza from the school cafeteria while I mulled over what to do next.

By the end of the day, every attempt at courting this young woman had been met with opposition and disappearances. Just 45 minutes remained in the day and I was determined to make them count. Time crawled by as the teacher lectured for the first twenty minutes, but then sped up as we were spread out into groups, inevitably setting me clear across the room from my muse. Before I knew it, there were just sixty seconds left in the day and it was now or never.

I told myself I could still catch her once the bell rang. At least if she said no, I could just run out of there and hop on the schoolbus.

The bell rang, I grabbed my bag and sprinted towards her desk, but an obstruction in a Yankees hat blocked the aisle and I couldn't fight my way though. Why did this keep happening?! By the time he moved out of the way, I checked her desk and she was already gone - I had lost her forever.

Or at least until tomorrow when I told myself I would arrive early again and make another attempt at attempting to ask.

But as you can probably guess, that didn't happen.

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And that's how most people write first drafts. They have all the best intentions and tell themselves that one day they're going to sit down and ask that girl for her phone number. Or ask that girl to the prom. Or ask that guy on a date, but they never muster up the courage to actually stand up and say what they have to say.

In order to write a first draft, you simply have to put the words on the page. Don't worry about making everything sound perfect - that's what editing is for. Don't obsess over trying to find two hours to write everyday. Or even writing everyday. Start with ten minutes every Friday during your last break at work. And then just go from there.

The conditions are never going to be perfect. You're never going to find the perfect notebook or the perfect pen. You don't need a brand new computer first. You don't have to wait until next year. Use what you have and do what you can.

If you want to write to a book, you have to write a first draft. And to write a first draft, all you have to do is write.


Gregory Hedgepeth II is the founder of Vital Narrative Press. Garvey Hemisphere is his literary-inclined alter-ego. At least one of them wrote this.

 

Support his work below:

A COLLECTION OF ECHOES by Garvey Hemisphere
18.99

342 pp. A Collection of Echoes is the story of three strangers from Memphis as they begin group therapy for their various issues. Malone is still grieving the murder of his mentor while London is putting her life back together after a recent breakup. And Gavin is just trying to get by while dealing with the pressures of his career and his girlfriend who is adamant about getting engaged.

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Resource List for 'Behind Mount Rushmore'

BY: STAFF

 

Darlene Campos spent six years researching while writing Behind Mount Rushmore. Listed below is just some of the resources she used to develop characters, create settings and build her story.


There are many more books I read – this is just a list of the books I can think of from the top of my head. I feel like I read a small library for this one novel.
— Darlene Campos
 


You can pre-order Behind Mount Rushmore by clicking here.