Helpful Tips to Write Your First Draft During NaNoWriMo

Your first draft can be intimidating and challenging. Here are some tips to make your draft easier to write.

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Small shell on a white keyboard.

It’s that time of the year to get your first draft written! Time to stop slacking and get those fingers moving on that keyboard or that pencil moving on your paper. NaNoWriMo is an event that challenges authors to write a novel during November. What you do with the challenge is up to you, but starting a first draft can be a daunting and scary thing if you don’t know the best ways to approach it. Everyone and their mother has advice on writing a first draft, some of it good and some of it bad. But there are a few basic rules that everyone should strive to follow.

Just Write It

Compare it to building a house; you build a frame first and then go through and add details. A house is bare and plain at first, but you can’t make it look good until it starts ugly and unfinished. Let it be bad; forgive yourself for errors as you go. Decorating the house comes later. For now, you should focus on building the walls up to support it. Even big, beautiful mansions were once bare walls. That is what you’re building: bare walls to hold up what will soon be your big and beautiful story. It is going to sound a bit off, maybe even weird and wrong. That’s fine! It’s a first draft. The most important thing when writing this is getting it down on paper. Get those bare walls up. It’s going to be an eyesore, and it might read like an illiterate child tried to write it, but that’s fine. Forgive yourself; this is not the stage of writing to be a perfectionist.

Stack of papers on the right, two hanging sticky notes that read "Write! Write! Write!" and "Don't Forget!"

Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.

Louis L’Amour

Reading is as important as writing.

Reading is valuable and provides helpful information to writers. One surefire way of improving your writing is to read, read, and read some more. As you read, it’s worthwhile to take notes of what your favorite authors do and then ask yourself why it works. Figuring out why a particular piece is good can help you use similar methods in your writing. Just as important, notice what doesn’t work in their writing and figure out ways to avoid doing it with your own. Reading can also help with stimulating your creativity. It starts to make you wonder and imagine your own story and how you can add to it.

Person lounging on a sofa reading a book. A large stack of closed books at the end of the sofa.

It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written.

Stephen King

Don’t let writer’s block stop you.

Yeah, I said it. Writer’s block isn’t real. Well, not a diagnosable type of real, but it is a type of real that might put a stop in your momentum. Writing a first draft can feel like a river as it flows from the writer onto the page. Once you create a rhythm and have a flow, it’s amazing how quickly a first draft can be created. However, writer’s block is a dam created by the beavers of distractions, overthinking, and real-life problems. This is, unsurprisingly, not good for the river of the first draft, and it can end a good flow. The best course of action here is to prevent the dam from ever being placed in the first place. By that, I mean don’t let writer’s block set itself into your writing. Cut out all distractions, sit yourself down in your cozy spot, and get that first draft written.

Indeed, every time I am faced with a blank page, I feel that I have to rediscover literature for myself.

Luis Borges

Set Reasonable, Attainable Goals

When a person wants to get into building their body through exercise, they don’t set the bar to the highest weight, and they don’t plan to run a mile their first time jogging. They have to set a pace and build up from there. This also applies to writing. If you set a goal to write once a day this month, don’t set unreasonable word limits for yourself. Odds are, you won’t write an entire chapter in one day. And that’s perfectly fine! Set a small word count goal and see how you feel after that.

Person typing on a typewriter. Head is made of crumbled paper and crumbled paper is coming out of the typewriter.

Still, got some ideas flowing in that noggin of yours? Get them down! If you feel content with what you wrote in the time you gave yourself, set it aside and return to it later with fresh ideas. Regardless of what you do, it’s important to set reasonable goals when you are starting out, or else you will get burned out and feel upset when you set an unreachable goal and fail to reach it.

I try to write a certain amount each day, five days a week. A rule sometimes broken is better than no rule.

Herman Wouk

Let your idea spiral on the page, not your brain.

Knowing what you want to write about is an obvious first step. But be careful not to stay on this step for too long. I’ll be the first to admit I’m guilty of this. I’ve had many book ideas never leave this phase of the writing process, and I bet I will have many more. Getting stuck in this perpetual loop of rethinking ideas creates a messy pool of chaos that you might find yourself lost in. When you have an idea, write it down. Don’t let it run amok and create a bigger issue. You don’t have to dissect it. As long as you keep it contained, your idea will stay on the pages where it belongs and not in your head.


Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.

John Steinbeck

NaNoWriMo is here, so take this month to write that novel you’ve been thinking about for the past few months or years. Let it be bad, and don’t sweat the minor details. Let the story flow from you and onto the page. Set obtainable goals and do your best to meet them. If you aren’t able to write your novel this month, don’t let it get to you! You can use it as a head start for your novel, so long as you continue writing it and don’t let your writing during NaNoWriMo go to waste. You are capable of doing this as long as you trust in yourself and write those words out.

To read more tips on NaNoWriMo, click here.