10 Strategies for Pushing Through Each Draft

Writers who claim "You just do it!" when asked how to complete a draft get on my wick, frankly.

It takes enormous self-confidence, or ignorance, to 'just keep going', and most of us aren't known for that particular trait. The more craft you gain, the more aware you become of how little you know, and that can inhibit the process.

So what can less confident writers do?

Here are my strategies:

1. Tune up your story engine.
No matter how good a car's tires, or how glossy its paintwork, no car can move forward without a healthy engine. In story terms, your motivation for wanting to tell this particular story is the engine that will drive you through this draft. It's expressed by creating an engaging character who struggles to overcome an interesting, high stakes conflict that you feel passionately about. Go over your early notes, explorative drafts, images—anything that reconnects you to your early vision—and make a summary of the things you most loved about it in the beginning, the reasons why you decided to focus your effort to write it. Is your central conflict still relevant to that mission statement, or have you wandered from the path? Whatever triggered your desire to tell this story should be uppermost in your mind when you sit down to write the day's quota. It will make all your decisions easier.

2. Go back to structure
Don't roll your eyes, pantsers. Everyone can benefit from brainstorming a list of major story landmarks that need to be achieved in order for the central story question or problem to be resolved. If the Landmark List doesn't hold up, neither will the finished manuscript. You may stubbornly push through an exploratory 'zero draft' without it, but there'll come a day when you can't "just do it" because you haven't resolved a fundamental story logic problem and your subconscious knows it, even if your conscious mind is in denial.

3. Reduce the fat, increase the muscle.
Have you overcomplicated the story? Do you have too many characters? Too many themes? Too many subplots? This isn't the only chance you'll ever have to explore them. If you finish this book you can write another one. Put your book on the scales, deal with the cold hard truth that it's become bloated and unhealthy, and put it on a diet. Reduce it to essentials: a character in conflict, and how they are, or are not, able to prevail. Sometimes the temptation to add more 'stuff' to the story is a denial of the uncomfortable truth that the central conflict isn't clear or strong enough.

4. Surround yourself with more experienced writers than you
Many authors reflect on their acknowledgement pages that it takes a village to produce a book. You may, like me, be attempting a project that's beyond your skill set, but if you can ask for advice or 'cheats' from more experienced storytellers, you'll be that much more able to "just keep going". If you don't know how to handle time transitions, for instance, making each new chapter equal a new day in the story's timeline will bypass that problem. An experienced writer can advise you about alternative ways to tell a story, or how to solve a craft problem. Just remember to pay it forward when you have an opportunity to offer a hand to someone less experienced than you.

5. Break it into manageable parts
Instead of viewing the story as a huge doughy pizza to be gobbled in one gulp, divide it into manageable parts and give yourself a reward, or at least a pat on the back, for achieving each smaller goal. Some do this via a number of pages, or chapter by chapter, or obstacle by obstacle. Others do it by setting a kitchen timer for an unintimidating amount of time, then resetting it for a longer time until they get in the zone. Whatever works.

6. Work with a friend.
It's not so easy to procrastinate or avoid knuckling down to write difficult chapters if you check in with a writing friend every few hours and share short excerpts to keep yourself honest. On the days when I can do this with Veronica Rossi and Keely Parrack my productivity soars.

7. You can have another crack at it.
Your current draft, especially if it's your first draft, doesn't have to be the final one. You may make as many attempts as it takes to get it right, especially if it's your first novel and you don't yet have the pressure of deadlines and contracts. So why are you putting so much pressure on yourself?

8. Let go of perfect. It'll never be perfect.
At the end of the day, it's more important to have a completed draft than a perfect one. No one has ever written a perfect novel. No, really. No one. So what makes you think you can? Let that go. It only has to be good enough to make a beta reader and then an editor want to help you make it better. That comes down to one thing... Why should I care?

9. Move me.
Readers are looking for emotional engagement. They want to be interested in the character, be fascinated by the problem he or she is facing, and care about the stakes if they fail.

You can get away with doing a lot of other things wrong if you get those parts right.

10. If it's hard, you're probably doing something right.
One of my favorite writing quotes is by Thomas Mann, who said:


"A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." 
—Thomas Mann, Essays of Three Decades


...but that's no excuse for not doing it.

Because the world needs the difficult stories most of all.

Now it's your turn:
What strategies help you get through each draft?


I can't wait to read your story, Lia. I'm cheering you on as you keep pushing through!

Love the list Lia, having a friend to check in with daily really helped me - sometimes you have to use different strategies even for each draft let alone to motivate you through each novel!

I adore this post. I'll bookmark it, Lia.

I love this post! Thank you for writing it! Also, thank you, Tina Hoggatt, for flagging it on Facebook!

I think a lot of people who say "Just do it" say that because so many people bobblehead without a single idea as to what you mean when you say the things above, or get tired of repeating themselves. I think this is a GREAT list and is absolutely true. :)

Can't wait to read more of your stuff, Lia!

I love being able to check in with someone, and I get inspired by your progress when I do, Keely!

Thanks for sharing it, Tina!

Yay! I love that you found it helpful!

I hate to admit it, but at the end of the day, Neil Gaiman's quote really is the ultimate truth. There are ways to get the job done, but you do have to implement them. "It's that easy, and that hard." LOL

Thank you! Every cheer reaches me, you know!

You've said this with masterful talent. Thank you. Thank you.

Thank you for cracking my brain open and posting the words I needed to hear as I wade into the murky middle of a novel that seems to grow each time I sit in front of the page. Now printed and hung as a reminder!

I'm bookmarking this to revisit it again and again – such great information. (I'm a pantser that truly WANTS to be an outliner! trying, trying….)

Me, too, Jodi ("pantser that wants to be an outliner") - I think it gets easier to outline with each finished manuscript, because you build a stronger instinct for story. So we just have to keep trying!

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