Editor’s note: Gordon’s advice is perhaps most applicable to non-fiction projects, but many of the same ideas can be applied to fiction in circumstances where you’re struggling to get to the end of a chapter or section (especially if you already have a plot outline).
Write your first draft as quickly as possible.
That’s what separates the newbies from the veterans. The latter race through the first 100 yards while the first timers belabor every word, parse thrice every phrase, and start again and again and again.
The vets know that many, maybe most, of their first words will never see light—nor should they. Rather, they will edit it later to bring the words and thoughts up to par, and beyond.
The uninitiated are offended at the suggestion that anybody, even themselves, would dare change a word of what they have created—or chiseled. So they write and rewrite and delete and write again, and it’s any wonder that a page a day ever gets completed—however well-crafted (and later inappropriate) that day’s output is.
7 tips for finishing your first draft
Try this process that has guided me through 1700+ freelance articles and 46 books in print. It took me some years to catch on. Nobody told me!
1. Look at your purpose statement (taped to your monitor), read the chapter title, go through your notes, and just start writing.
2. Divide that chapter into logical points or questions. Explain or answer them. Interviews help.
3. Don’t edit as you write; forget about spelling; use punctuation if you remember. When inspiration or words flee, put the vague idea in brackets and define it later. Your goal is to finish that chapter or section at that sitting.
4. Do your in-depth research on your off hours or after the first, rough draft is done.
5. Don’t spend forever writing. Sit, start where you stopped yesterday, and quit when it gets boring. The rest of the day is for the rest of your life.
6. Edit your starter prose in draft two. Trim it; re-organize it; add in the details that will make it fun to read and valuable to own.
7. A final thing: What you write stays in your head or on your computer. Don’t show the rough stuff to spouses, secretaries, or anybody else. It’s not ready. It’ll get good later. If they gripe or peek, tell them you will report them to the prose police.
You have two choices. You can finish every day with honed prose, lots of it ultimately unusable and created at the cost of hours of useless editing, or you can just write, word after word, pulling your magic out, then primp and polish that word rock until it shines like a gem. Print and sell. Really.