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21 October 2016 ·

My Top 5 First Draft Tips

With NaNoWriMo creeping steadily closer, I thought I’d give my top 5 tips on pushing through your first draft.  Sometimes I need to remind myself of my own rules, so even if you’re not signing up for an official challenge, these still might help in getting that all important first draft downloaded from your head to paper or screen.
Tapping for the inner critic, CYA masterclass

1)    Send your inner critic on holiday. The meanie voice – my editor’s technical term – is not helpful in a first draft. In fact, it’s extremely detrimental. (I use EFT for this, but you can use any self talk that works for you.) And don’t worry, it will come back when you’re editing.
If the critic creeps back and points out that what you’ve just spent the last three days writing is complete garbage, tell it you don’t care. Every bit of garbage you write is teaching you more about your story. Even if you throw out every word in subsequent drafts, your first draft will have done its job.

2)    Take quick breaks from the screen – stand up and stretch every half hour, walk around a bit. Go for a walk outdoors every day, without a mobile phone. Meditate, do your yoga or tai chi. Your draft will be better if you’re physically and mentally healthy.
3)    While you’re writing, close email, turn off social media notifications and put your phone on Do Not Disturb. Each distraction might only seem momentary, but if it jolts you out of your own world, it takes much more than that out of your writing time. You need to be able to relax into your story to let it flow.
Early draft of Dragonfly Song -when Aissa was Aisha

4)    Don’t stop just because you’re stuck in one spot. If you find you’ve got a character without a name, call it Joe* or Jane* or just plain X or *. The name is likely to be much more obvious when you’ve written more of the story.
If a whole scene is stalling you, just skip it.  Put in a chapter marking and whatever thoughts you have, even if it’s just ‘Linking Scene or Passage of time??’
The brighter side is – if you have a scene that is exceptionally clear in your head or demands to be written because it is in line with your own mood at the moment – just do it. If it’s that clear, it’s probably a pivotal point in the book. Writing it may help clarify all the steps towards it.

5)    If you’re halfway through and decide that it really should be written in the first person instead of the third, or the past tense instead of the present, just go ahead and try. If it feels right, you can change the beginning when you redraft later. If it doesn’t you can revert to the person and tense that you started with.
So – to sum up:
Remember that this first draft is for fun, exploration, and the wastepaper basket.
A new first draft, 2 years later

Keep moving forward, no matter what.
Have faith that you will find the best way to tell this story; even if it takes more drafts and experiments than you hoped, each step and misstep will take

you closer to that best.


  1. Rosanne Hawke Hi Wendy, I agree wholeheartedly. I work like this too in a first draft. I just try to get ithe main story down and fix and fill out later. My first drafts have lots of gaps and I call them zero drafts. Rosanne
    October 25, 2016 at 5:13 pm · Reply
  2. Wendy Orr Zero drafts! I love this, @Rosanne Hawke!
    October 25, 2016 at 5:14 pm · Reply
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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio