Rough Draft Challenge: 4 Steps to Get Your First Draft Done

POSTED ON Nov 6, 2023

Jackie Pearce

Written by Jackie Pearce

Home > Blog > Writing > Rough Draft Challenge: 4 Steps to Get Your First Draft Done

Writing a full rough draft is one of the hardest things you will ever do as an author.

You need to take all of these ideas in your head, translate them to the written word, and then somehow organize these endless ideas in the right order. But what is a rough draft, exactly? And how can you write one successfully?

Writing a book is a long challenge, but learning how to write a rough draft is the most important step. It's also one of the most rewarding steps – especially if you're writing your first book!

That being said, without your first draft, you have nothing to edit and work on. The book is still sitting in your head, no closer to completion. To help you reach this first book-writing milestone, we will be going over what a rough draft is, how to write a rough draft, what makes it different than a final draft, and some tips to get it done.

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What is a rough draft?

A rough draft is the very beginning of your book. It is more than a book outline. It is a complete first version of your book – but it's a version that isn't ready to be published. There are likely to be mistakes and errors sprinkled throughout, and that's okay!

If you've been following us for a while, you know that we tell people NOT to edit while writing.

What is rough draft used for? You can think about your rough draft as the foundation upon which you and your editor can build.

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box, so that later, I can build castles.”

Shannon Hale

Once you have a draft to work with, there is still work to do.

You may have some more character development questions to ask yourself. You may want to review the setting of your story to ensure it draws your readers in. At a minimum, you will likely have some content and copy edits to make to ensure your book reads well and is error-free.

What is the difference between a rough draft and a final draft?

A final draft is ready for publication but a rough draft is the initial attempt at getting your thoughts out onto paper.

Your first draft should be a good attempt, but it is not anywhere near the final version. Whether you are self-publishing or going the traditional route, every author has to go through an intense editing period to mold their rough draft into something that is ready to be published.

Every book starts with a rough draft. It is a necessary step. Considering that the average first draft of a book is around 50,000 words, it will require a ton of discipline and consistency to finish.

You need to break that down into manageable chunks.

How to write a rough draft in 4 steps

First, decide on your timeline.

How soon do you want to be holding a rough draft of your book in your hands? Whether you want to do it 30-day sprint-style, à la NaNoWriMo, or take it a few pages at a time over a few months, it is completely up to you.

“I would advise any beginning writer to write the first drafts as if no one else will ever read them—without a thought about publication -and only in the last draft to consider how the work will look from the outside.”

Anne Tyler

1. Write down all your ideas

The reason so many writers take so long to create their first draft is that they think their first attempt at a book should be great.

Just know, not even the best authors create a perfect rough draft that is immediately ready to be published.

This step is about taking the ideas out of your head and getting them on paper. You should not put extra pressure on yourself to make that first draft perfect. The rough draft is the time to let your own creativity flow. At this point, there are no bad ideas. You may not even know where your book is going to take you.

Remember, until your ideas are on a page, you cannot start self-editing or working with a professional editor.

Start with a mind map or by drawing out the characters in diagram forms.

Put 15 minutes on a timer and write down everything you think of about the topic of your book – or about your character. You can do this with pen and paper or with a mind-mapping software. Just make sure you don't overcomplicate the process. If you're already familiar with a tool and you like using it for brainstorming, perfect. If not, just use a paper!

You just need to get something out there to work with.

Writers call this part “prewriting.” It can be a stage of just purely letting ideas flow without any judgment, and you write faster than usual so you can override your internal editor from thinking too hard – or at all.

2. Begin to structure your book

You've got your ideas. Now you can organize them.

You might create general “buckets” in your story to start putting ideas into. These don't have to take the shape of chapters or fully-developed characters just yet. In fact, putting pressure on yourself to have well-established chapters ahead of time can be a barrier to writing the first few pages of your rough draft.

Instead, look at your mind map and try to identify themes. Circle them and start to put your ideas into those buckets or themes. You can use color-coded highlighters to separate your different ideas.

You can also categorize your ideas as “before the main event, during the main event, and after the main event.”

Or maybe you have buckets of each of the main characters in your story and start to plug in what happens to them in each bucket.

If you do already have your chapters fleshed out, spend a little bit more time outlining each one before you begin your rough draft.

3. Avoid naming your chapters (unless you already have them)

Ignore your internal editor, for now.

Whether you want to call it your internal editor, or “The Resistance” as Steven Pressfield calls it, there is a part in all of us that wants to criticize our work before it is even done (or sometimes before it is even started at all). There is another part of us that won't let us move onto the next step – actually writing the rough draft – until we feel like we have a perfected outline.

This may come up in the form of thinking you can't begin the rough draft of your book until you have all your chapters perfectly laid out and appropriately named. It may be that thought that creeps in to say, “that scene is dumb,” “your book will not sell,” and “you should just pack it up and put it away.”

While you are writing your rough draft, you will encounter this resistance.

Just know that almost every successful author has gone through this. Even the best of the best have had their moments where they are plagued with doubt and think they should just throw in the towel.

It is essential that you keep showing up and putting in the work, day by day.

4. Develop a writing routine

A writing routine will save your sanity when it comes to making sure you are showing up for yourself and your future book.

Identify your writing motivation. Name it. Write it down and put it somewhere you will see each day. Then set a daily, weekly, or monthly writing goal for yourself that will help you get your rough draft done in the timeframe you want.

Keep in mind, your writing routine does not need to be painful and long. You do not need to sit down and only write for eight hours with no breaks.

You can simply start with 45 focused minutes on your rough draft. Or maybe your goal is around word count and you aim for 500 words at a time.

Your writing process is unique to you. It needs to be inspiring, perhaps a bit challenging, and, most importantly, achievable.

You can use book writing software to help you keep track of your goals and keep you organized, but you should not feel the need to buy anything more than what you have. For centuries, writers have written by candlelight with nothing more than an idea and a quill pen. You only need to use extra tools and software if it actually supports your writing.

A final piece of your writing routine that many authors overlook is adding a reward.

You'll get your rough draft done much quicker if you actually enjoy the process! Look for small ways to make your writing time or space feel special. You could do this by setting up your desk in an intentional way, writing in front of your favorite view, writing at your favorite time of day each day, sipping on your favorite drink while writing, or doing something after – like watching an episode of your favorite show when you are done.

Ready to write your book?

The answer should be a resounding, “YES!”

Whether you've just started your rough draft or still need help, we have the tools and support to help you finish this phase of your book-writing journey.

This fiction book outline has everything you need to start putting the main characters and themes of your book together and finish the first draft of your manuscript.

Get Our 6″ x 9″ Pre-Formatted Book Template for Word or Mac

We will send you a Book Template for US Trade (standard paperback size).

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