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Mark O'Neill

90% of what I do is daydreaming. The rest is typing.

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Beginning the first draft of your book

Getting started is always the hardest part. Quite often, you just have to start writing - even if it's a load of crap.

Today, in my self-publishing series, it’s the part you’ve all been waiting for – the writing process and the first draft of your book. OK, calm down there at the back.

south park

Understandably, starting to write is the part that strikes absolute heart-pounding terror and fear into writers, leading to what is commonly perceived as writer’s block. Getting started is always the problem, and the longer you stare at the blank page, the more you convince yourself that nothing is going to happen. So it’s a problem that continually feeds upon itself.

The solution is simply to start. It doesn’t matter if what you’re writing is a load of crap. Just get started. You can edit the stuffing out of it later. The first draft, or the second or third for that matter, is never the final draft. My books go through, on average, seven or eight drafts before I reach a final publishable version.

The first draft

rewrite first draft of a book on a typewriter
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The first draft is the equivalent of mixing a cake mix to make a cake. It is a sloppy unidentifiable form right now. Later, it will become the best cake ever, but right now, it’s just slop. But give it time, more preparation, more ingredients, and some time in the oven, and you’ll have something to be proud of (hopefully.) That’s the book writing process in a nutshell. The first draft is merely getting the slop out onto the page.

As you write, always resist the temptation to edit as you go. This will also slow you down considerably, as you would have to switch from writer brain to editor brain (two different beasts entirely.) The priority at the beginning is to vomit your first draft out. The editing comes later, after the first draft is finished. Resist the temptation to combine the two.

Setting a daily word count

alphabet close up communication conceptual
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Set a daily word count and try to stick to it. Start small – say, 500 words a day. But as your confidence increases, and you are easily hitting those 500 words, increase it to 1,000 words a day. Then 1,500, 2,000, and so on. Having a minimum daily word count target keeps your bum on a seat and forces you to get the words out before you can consider calling it a day. Hitting that target gives you an enormous feeling of satisfaction, and you can then treat yourself with whatever you like to treat yourself with.

At first, writing is hard. Very hard. But like everything else, it gets easier with practice. It’s a habit that has to be developed, a muscle that has to be trained. Keep going every day, and pretty soon you’ll be an expert.


Is it best to outline the novel first or write as you go along?

This is a personal choice for each author. Some people prefer to work from an outline, while others prefer to “pants” it (write from the seat of their pants). You have to try both methods and see which one works best for you.

Is it normal for the first draft of a novel to be terrible?

Yes. Even the most famous authors, such as Ernest Hemingway, said that first drafts are utterly terrible. But once you have something down on paper, you can then work on it to improve it. Nobody will see the first draft except you, so don’t worry about it. Get the first draft down then work on it until it’s better.

Can you write a book in 3 months?

It’s certainly possible and Stephen King swears by it. But if it’s your first novel, you would be putting unreasonable pressure upon yourself and you would end up publishing a sub-standard piece of work. It would be better to take a bit longer -say six months – to ensure you do the best work possible.

Why is writing the first draft of a novel so hard?

Because you are constantly comparing your first draft to the final draft of books by other authors. But you fail to remember that their first drafts were most likely terrible too.

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Mark O'Neill

Mark O'Neill

Mark O'Neill is a bestselling award-winning self-published author of the Department 89 spy thriller series. He has also written two other series - The Scorpion and The Undertaker. His books have been translated into German and partly into Spanish. Mark lives in Germany with his wife and dog.

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