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21 Ways Not to Finish a First Draft

Writers can come up with a lot of reasons for not finishing a first draft, and some of them even sound plausible. I know the real reasons. (And I’ve got a solution.)

  1. Fall in love with the thrill of new ideas, but don’t fall in love with the work it takes to execute them.
  2. Need to begin at the beginning and make it perfect before you move on.
  3. Wait to find the time to write.
  4. Leave the work before you can get through a difficult patch of writing.
  5. Abandon the current writing project for a new and better writing project.
  6. And then abandon that project for another one.
  7. Seek praise from others, show embryonic work, and then be broken by how people react to it.
  8. Write as if you’re being watched.
  9. Decide too soon what the piece is about, and don’t allow yourself to wander off the trail you’ve set.
  10. Compare your writing to the writing of others.
  11. Judge and discount your work prematurely—early in the draft or even before you get anything down on paper.
  12. Talk about it instead of writing it.
  13. Think  about it instead of writing it.
  14. Think you need to write in a certain order. “I can’t write the next scene—chapter, line, paragraph—until I write this one.”
  15. Think it should be easy.
  16. Think it’s easy for other people but not you.
  17. Think you’ve got to get it right the first time.
  18. Think you’ll run out things to say.
  19. Think your writing doesn’t matter.
  20. Think you need to know in the beginning how it all turns out in the end.
  21. Romanticize writer’s block.
Does any of this sound familiar?

I have, at one time or another, taken just about every route on the list. And I still wander some of those paths.

The last one–romanticizing writer’s block–is delusional. We might feel we’re members of some cool writer’s club—even when we’re not producing work—if we have writer’s block. (Heck, movies are made about it. ) But we don’t feel quite so cool when we admit to what writer’s block really is—crippling fear and anxiety.

All the behaviors I’ve listed above are based in fear and anxiety.  But once you cop to being scared and understand that it’s normal to feel anxiety about a writing project in development—you’re not the only one who feels it—it can get easier to move forward in spite of these feelings. It would be healthier, I believe, if writers would talk honestly with each other about how scary writing can be, instead of romanticizing the idea of writer’s block.

Here’s how to finish that first draft: Get comfortable with discomfort.

When you start a new writing project, you can’t be sure how it will turn out. No one is, even the pros. Uncertainty is inherent in the writing process. Accept the discomfort of uncertainty, make friends with it, invite it to sit next to you as you work, but don’t let it grow into the kind of fear and anxiety that stops you from writing what you are meant to write. Easier said than done, I know.

A version of this post appeared in the April 2015 issue of The Florida Writer.

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Follow Mary Ann de Stefano:

writer, editor, website designer

Mary Ann is the editor of The Florida Writer (the official magazine of the Florida Writers Association) and MAD’s Monday Muse. She is also a writer, editor, and organizer of writing workshops with 30+ years’ experience in publishing and writing consulting. Besides working one-to-one with writers who are developing books, she designs author websites. Website

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6 Responses

  1. Lori
    | Reply

    Thanks Mary Ann,

    In a nutshell! Great.


  2. Cindy
    | Reply

    What a great article! I’ve done almost everything on this list.

  3. Gen saffron
    | Reply

    I published with penguin and they did it all. Now I have a new draft and need it edited and how to use the new internet. Thks

  4. M. L. Anderson
    | Reply

    Through the years I have read similar advice, however not as lean, to-the-point, and no-nonsense as yours. Why have I not discovered you before? You’re great!

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