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How to be an Author: Writing the First Draft

How to be an Author: Writing the First Draft

I have wanted to write since I was in elementary

My grandfather was the best storyteller I have ever known. Throughout my life, he blessed my siblings and me with various stories, fictitious letters from Santa, and scary ghost stories that would keep you awake at night in wonder.

I remember in the third grade. I had a teacher, Mr. Coggins, who was a creative thinker. He was a great teacher who cared about the kids and expanded their imaginations and creativity.

Every Friday, we had a one-hour "show and tell" time. During this time, Mr. Coggins would allow students a few minutes to share a life event, a magic trick they learned, or a short story they wrote.

A friend wrote short skits each week in the style of Soupy Sales, and another wrote short scary tales that, once in a while, would be too gory for the class and have to be re-edited for content.

Inspired by my grandfather and the class of students, all taking turns trying to share ideas and stories; I gave it a shot.

The first story I shared was about a haunted house when I was in elementary. It was very Hitchcock, with a lot of suspense, a little action, and the mystery of the ghost that was a broken window blowing a curtain.

It was a hit, and I was hooked.

Losing Dani Strumm

Now that I am older and writing novels, I have learned a lot

The first draft is one of the most important things about writing (after creating a mind chart).

The first draft is a crucial step because it allows you to read through your story and see where you could improve the telling.

Each revision is like pushing the blade of a knife repeatedly over a honing stone. It only gets better with each pass. Finally, however, the time comes when honing has done all it can, and your story is complete.

Never be afraid just to sit down and write. This is far from your completed work, and you may find yourself inspired by your own writing. It has happened to me numerous times. I sit and begin to write, and before you know it, I am creating the story in my head faster than I can type!

As I write, the story comes together, and I imagine the scene and the characters and discover backstories, relationships, and trauma. The characters come alive as I type.

My creative process for a book works like this.

  1. Have an idea for a story

  2. Think about it for a while (days, sometimes weeks)

  3. If it "feels" like a story worth telling, the next step

  4. I say this because I have a book filled with vague story ideas. I save them because you never know when you may think of the rest of the story.

  5. Sit down with your postcards and create your timeline.

  6. After moving things around to create your compelling story, number the postcards, and you now have your chapters.

  7. From here, it is time to begin your first draft.

The infamous first draft

Remember, your first draft is never your last draft

I had mentioned before and even wrote an article about my dyslexia. It is something that will never go away, get better, or prevent me from telling my stories. I use tools, such as Grammarly, to help and hire copyeditors when I have what I consider to be the best version I can write of my story.

I discovered over the years that even the best copyeditors still miss things and make mistakes. This is why most authors' websites have a place to repost these errors so they can inform the publisher, and when enough are found, it is time for a revision or another "edition." For example, bullet point 5 on Stephen King's website contact page explicitly describes how to report these errors.

This should remove some of the fear from writing your first draft and the misconception that it has to be "perfect."

Anxiety and worry about your writing will definitely get in your creative way. So don't worry. There is no need to. There will be plenty of time you can spend rewriting, correcting, and fixing anything you need, and friends and family are always willing to read your manuscript and help catch what may have been missed.

Just focus on getting the thoughts in your mind onto the page. Editing comes later.

I love to write each chapter as a complete "short" story that is part of a bigger story. I believe this is true to life and brings more "realism" to my writing. Each chapter begins by trying to answer some questions about the "big picture" while dealing with the unique place the characters are in.

When I wrote Pandemic Dawn, I had several storylines that were complete on their own, yet all worked together and even crossed over with each other to tell the "big picture."

I enjoy writing this way because it gives the reader a broader view and a better understanding of the story and allows them many opportunities to find a character with which to "connect."

This brings the reader deeper into the story, and instead of being an "observer," they feel like a participant.

So, forget the Word count, stop looking at each individual sentence, and just write. Repeat your writer's mantra if the temptation arises: "It will do for now. I can fix this later. Keep going."

The only thing I worry about when writing is hitting my creative zone. For me, it is between 4:00 am, and 10:00 am. So I never try to write at any other time of the day.

I have tried other times, but knowing your body and mind best, you need to determine your writing schedule. Stick with it. You will accomplish far more by working a few hours each day during your peak time than by toiling away for too many hours, day after day.

I try to write something daily, just to keep it in practice

Like any other exercise. It trains your mind to think clearly, and how to put thoughts to paper.

I also like to keep a small notepad handy for random inspiration notes. You never know when it will strike, and you must be prepared to save great ideas. Recording voice memos into your phone is another way to do this.

Character relationship mind map for Pandemic Dawn

Here is what I do to work on my writing.

  • I get up early (my creative sweet spot is 4-7 am)

  • I get my coffee

  • I go to my quiet office.

  • I switch my phone to silent (or airplane mode)

  • I open up my wordprocessor program (usually Word)

  • I turn Grammarly OFF.

  • I can turn it back on when I am done writing.

  • I pick up the chapter notecard I am writing about

  • I begin writing...and I don't stop until the chapter is completed.

  • When I am finished, I take a break, do other things that need to be done, and then return with fresh eyes for a read-through.

  • I then turn Grammarly back on and correct mistakes.

  • I then turn Grammarly back off and go back to "fleshing out" where the story is weak or needs more meat to tell the story.

  • I do this until I hit the Word count for the chapter.

This may sound strange, but I write all of my chapters in order of the story, so I can keep my mind where I am at in the story. I have spoken with some authors who write what they consider to be the "easy" chapters first, then go back to write the hard ones, which is the introduction in most of their accounts.

I like to take the ride the readers will, from beginning to end. In Pandemic Dawn, where I had six or seven storylines, I wrote the opening to each first, then so on, until I wrote the final chapter to each storyline in order. Then the very last chapter of the book wraps up each storyline in a few paragraphs and sets up the next book in the series.

If you are still struggling to start your first draft, I suggest reexamining whether there is enough actually to start.

Remember, not all stories are worthy of telling, at least not until they are complete. You may need more inspiration to complete your manuscript. Go to places that remind you of the location of your book. Visit with people who remind you of characters or read other books in the same genre. Maybe a movie or two about the subject matter at hand in your novel. Or, as I have done plenty of times, write as much as you can about your story in your keepsake book, and file it away for another day.

Some of my "great book ideas," are nothing more than a paragraph. Here is an example of one of my "keepsake" storylines that I filed away.

The world is hit with unexplainable acid rain storms. Countries are perplexed at why this is happening. Then, after two weeks, the world discovers a fleet of alien ships approaching earth, unaware they are hostile. After the arrival, they find out the aliens are an insectoid type of being who communicate chemically, and the acid rain is their warning of the coming invasion and a plea for the earth to surrender.

I thought of this concept in the late 80s while in high school. I never went any further than the paragraph you read above. Maybe one day, maybe not. The best stories are naturally occurring and not forced. But I saved it, I have it, it's not going anywhere.

If you are struggling with the first line of your book, which is considered the "great hook" if you wish to grab potential readers, it can be challenging to write.

Something to consider is setting the stage for the storyline. Begin with a hook that makes the readers inquisitive.

The Pandemic Dawn Series by B. A. Shields

To this day, I still feel the beginning of Pandemic Dawn makes me want to read more.

The day no longer mattered. The seasons no longer discernible. The smell of fall leaves, the dew in the early morning, and the aroma of the air after a fresh rain—gone.
Mornings now brought with it the wind, and odors of those who had died. No one knew how many were dead, but most knew how many they had lost. No one knew whether the virus itself claimed the most victims or the government’s steps to combat the infectious and mutating disease.

One thing that I do is keep a filecard box filled with quotes or one-liners that inspire more profound storytelling.

How do I determine the "word count" for each chapter?

Firstly, there is somewhat of a standard to writing books. For example, short non-fiction is around 20,000 words, while traditional non-fiction runs around 60,000.

I write both science fiction and non-fiction. So after determining my chapters with the notecard method for storyline creation, I would know how many chapters I would write. Science fiction ranges from 50,000 to 150,000 words, and I like keeping my books around 70,000.

So I would divide 70,000 by the number of chapters, giving me my general word count per chapter. Obviously, this will vary, and I sometimes need more words, sometimes less, but it gives me a guide and a target to work towards.

Rewrites and Editing

Some of my books have been edited many times over. For example, taking my first draft, before it even went to the copy editor, I edited and did multiple rewrites to tell the story I was trying to convey.

So do not feel overwhelmed or defeated because you have multiple versions of each chapter.

If you are a creative writer like myself, you need to get all the obstacles and distractions out of your way, push on, write each chapter from beginning to end in one sitting and worry about editing later.

I hope this was of some help to you. Check out my other writing articles, and be sure to like and share this article with others.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments, and I will do my best to answer them.

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