How to Write a First Draft

Hey there, writer! Are you stuck in first draft no man's land? Are you feeling that creative writing slump? You've come to the right place. 

A first draft is kind of like riding a horse: you hold on for dear life and see where it takes you. Maybe not a horse. Something less tame. Like a hippogriff. That'll work. In writing the start of a novel, you have to think big picture. Luckily, I've got a few tips to help you write a killer, super quick first draft:

What's my character's story?

A first draft is where you really get to know your characters. The more you write, the more you learn. Using creative, get-to-know-you character techniques will help you breeze through your draft.

One of a writer's toughest job is to make realistic characters. Especially secondary characters who don't get as much page-time.

Tips on writing kick-butt characters:

  • Get informed! Head over here to learn more about creating believable characters.

  • Test their settings. Allow your characters to interact with each other in a setting that makes sense. Then throw them into a setting that doesn't.

  • Conversation. Write a conversation between your main characters, focusing only on their words. (Translation: ignore dialogue tags.)

What are my themes?

Theme is a bit tricky. It's never something you state outright in the book, but it's the essence of what your story is trying to say. You say it without saying it. That totally makes sense, right?

The way you get to the heart of this is by seeing how your main character reacts to the plot. How is your character interpreting what he/she is doing, events that are happening to him/her? I suggest not over-thinking theme at the start of your story. As you write your scenes, it just kind of starts to present itself.

My story has a lot of themes, but the overarching one is: do people ever really change? This comes in the form of a love story, through the experiences of my main character growing up, and through the mirrors of her friends, who are also just trying to figure the "adult" thing out. 

Tips on finding your theme:  

  • Reread your scenes. Does any "message" keep popping up in your mind? What's the thread keeping your story together?

  • Know your characters' motivations. Okay, we're back to characters again. What are their obstacles? What unites them?

  • Keep a theme list! Keep a separate tab in your writing notebook specifically for theme ideas. What words/phrases resonate with you?

What's going on with my plot?

Everyone writes in his/her own way. Personally, I write scene-by-scene, rather than in chronological order. I write the scene that I feel like writing in that moment, and hope that one day, all of these scenes will come together.

Stories come in a range of frameworks. You've got your Hero's Journey set-up and your pillar structure and countless other ways Remember: there are always exceptions to the rules. As long as you keep true to your story and where it needs to go, you can keep the action/progression/build up. Also, editing helps.

What's that you say? You want more tips? But, of course!

  • Outline that 'ish. Personally, I'm a pantser. I don't outline until the second draft, and even then, it's maybe only a page long. My friend Kristin's got great advice on outlining here.

  • Brainstorm. The possibilities are endless! Brainstorm the directions your novel can take.

  • Know your "why." Every chapter, every scene, every sentence has a purpose. Knowing why you are writing ______ can help determine where you're heading next.


Are you ready for a tough truth? Planning is the sneakiest form of procrastination. We tend to sit in the limbo of our first draft because anything past that seems scary.

We need to finish our first drafts, and we need to do it fast. How the heck does this happen?

Sign up for my free email series to learn how I wrote & published my books, all while working a full-time job!

Want even more tips? Check out these articles below:

Okay, so there's a lot to think about when it comes to this whole writing business. In your first draft stage, these should be at the back of your mind, but the writing part comes first. Get those words on the page. That's the most important thing.

Discussion time: What are your best first draft tips? Comment below!