Writing a novel is one of those activities that takes time. It’s something you’ll have to be willing to stick with for at least a year to a year and a half. So that’s why you’ve gotta love the process as much as you do the story you want to tell.
We all have story ideas bouncing around inside us, but most of us will never let those stories out. Because writing a novel is hard work. It takes love and dedication to write a story that’s worth telling.
At first the process of writing a novel can seem overwhelming. You may even be wondering how the hell you’re gonna take the idea in your head and turn it into a written document that’s cohesive and flows.
That’s when having a process to follow can make things a whole lot easier.
If you’re ready to finally let your story out, you need to learn about the three phases of writing a first draft:
- Story Development Phase
- The Planning Phase
- Doing The Writing Phase
If you want to ensure you only have to write one full draft of your story, you need to follow through with all three of these phases. Don’t skip any, don’t skip ahead, and don’t start writing before you really know what your story is about.
1. Story Development Phase
It’s during this phase that “Pantsing” comes into play (Pantsing means “writing by the seat of your pants,” without a plan or idea of where you’re going–thanks to Larry Brooks for that one!).
Pantsing should stay in this phase of your draft-writing process.
You can dig deep and find your story by sitting down and Pantsing some of it, whether it’s a random scene, an entire chapter or half of a draft. Pantsing can be a lot of fun because it’s like a writing adventure, just sitting down and seeing where the story takes you.
And now’s the only time it’s actually OK to listen to your characters and let them tell you whatever they want to tell you.
Use this phase to write your characters’ backstories. Use it to discover all the possible angles you could write from. Figure out what this story is really about; what story really wants to be told.
Sometimes the Story Development Phase mixes in with the Planning Phase, which is fine. As long as it doesn’t mix in with the Doing The Writing Phase.
2. The Planning Phase
In this phase is when you plan out the specific details about your story–who your Protagonist is, what his/her character arc will be, the structure of your story.
At this point, it’s no longer OK to listen to your characters. Your characters have spoken, and you have locked their lips and thrown away the key.
Now you are in charge of the story and its direction.
The Planning Phase can sometimes being the longest (and most tedious) part of the process, but if you stick with it, you’ll save yourself a shitload of time and frustration during the Doing the Writing Phase.
It took me eight-plus months of planning to finally feel like I was ready to write the first draft of my current novel–but I had the draft written in two months thanks to the story “road map” I created and followed that included a list of every scene in my novel from beginning to end.
If you plan out enough details of your story–and don’t Pants any of it during the writing phase–you won’t have to do another full-draft rewrite after you complete your first draft.
3. Doing The Writing Phase
During this phase, you do nothing but write. No developing, no planning, just fingers-to-keyboard (or pen-to-paper) writing.
One thing that always helps me in this phase is using a program, like Scrivener, to write the draft. The reason being is I can write one scene at a time, which keeps me from re-reading what I wrote the day before.
And it keeps me from getting distracted while I’m writing because I only have to see and focus on one scene.
My suggestion is that you don’t enter this phase until you feel completely confident that you know everything you need to know in order to write your story. If you’re still not sure on the plot points, or if your main character isn’t developed enough, etc., head back to one of the previous phases and figure out what you need to change.
Unless you actually want to write multiple drafts trying to find your story, in which case, skip phases one and two, and just have at it.
The Idea to Draft Story Intensive
If the phases of the first draft process intrigued you, and you think you might like support from a professional writing coach, check out Idea to Draft. In this virtual coaching program we work together moving through all of the phases of your story (under tight deadlines), so you can come out at the end with your first draft written.
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What’s your process for writing a first draft?
Image courtesy of Enokson