How to Finish the First Draft of the Article

Itxy Lopez

Photo by Glen Peters

Not every idea can be a good idea, and not every day can be successful. Every writer struggles to finish their work sometimes. It’s normal. However, I’ve seen some writers complain about how they have more drafts than completed work. They struggle a lot more than the usual writer.

This doesn’t make you a bad writer nor does it make you less of a writer. I used to have a folder full of drafts and bad ideas — filled to the point where I started to believe I only had bad ideas.

But you can stop that draft folder from overflowing. You can start turning your ideas into fully-fleshed articles. Here’s how.

The Mindset That’ll Help You Push Forward

You get an idea, so you sit and start writing. Then, halfway through, you realize it’s not as good of an idea as you thought, so you abandon it. You add another unfinished piece to your folder. Does that sound familiar?

Here’s a question (or two) for you to consider.

  1. What would happen if you kept writing even though you knew it was a bad idea?
  2. What if you said screw it and kept typing even though you weren’t sure where you were going?

I’ll tell you: a close-to-miraculous event would occur. When you write anyway and see that bad idea through, a good idea suddenly blooms and grows like a flower.

Fully-fleshed, ready-to-write ideas rarely come to creators. Most of the time, you won’t know what you’re actually writing about until you’ve started. Actually, you might not even figure it out after you’ve written your article.

You’ll never find those good ideas if you keep giving up on your stories a third of the way.

You have to push through the bad, no matter how much it hurts. You should see my first drafts. They’re a mess, there’s never a clear message, and they’re badly formatted, but that’s the point of first drafts — they’re the equivalent of planting seeds. It’s not until you’ve gotten through that dirty work that you can start growing the flowers. But you’ve gotta set the seeds.

A good writer doesn’t get good ideas — a good writer finds good ideas within the bad ones.

Stay Open-Minded Even If You Already Have an Idea

A good idea doesn’t guarantee a good story. I’ve started plenty of articles, thinking I had struck gold, only to realize that I didn’t have enough to say about the topic.

You’re going to bump into ideas that don’t have enough content to turn into full stories. That’s why it’s important that you don’t cling to a subject if you’re struggling to write about it. Stay open-minded.

As I said, you might not realize the direction of your story until you’ve written a few hundred words. This new direction might be a completely different path than you had imagined, so it might hurt to abandon your original idea.

Unexpected paths tend to lead to the greatest destinations.

If you accidentally start talking about a different topic along the way, follow it. See where it leads you. You might feel the urge to resist this new idea because you don’t like that you wasted time writing those other words for no reason. The great thing is that you don’t have to erase what you’ve written.

The majority of the time, you can use it as a subpoint for your new idea. It might not be a concept worth giving a title to, but a heading works well. Listen to your writerly gut and follow the words.

How to Take a Break That Helps You Find the Right Words

Being unable to find the right words for your story can be frustrating. Most people tend to remain in front of their laptops and force themselves to figure out what they need to write. This works, of course, but not all of the time. If you’ve reached a point where you’re so stressed you want to throw your laptop out the window, you need a break.

It’s during that break that you’ll find what you’re looking for. You’ll find the accurate words, connect the right dots, and find the idea you’re looking to compose. So, instead of throwing the laptop, close it, and put it aside for an hour.

Go for a walk, take a shower, workout. In her Masterclass, St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) calls this ‘passive engagement.’ You’re working out all the details without actually working out all the details.

Don’t go on social media, read, or do anything that involves all this noise in your head. The key is to let yourself think. In his TED Talk, How to Get Your Brain to Focus, Chris Bailey shared that boredom unlocks creativity. When you have time to think, you have time to connect the dots. Because the dots are there. We know this because you thought of the idea in the first place.

Waste time. Productivity addicts hate doing this, but if you want to finish your article, it’s a solution, not a problem.

“The music will tell you what it wants to be,” St. Vincent said.

Trust that your story will tell you what it wants to be, too.

Why You Shouldn’t Listen to Your Inner Critic

Forget how badly your article is coming out. Forget the way your ideas are spread all over the page like peanut butter on toast. Forget the typos, the lack of flow, the bad structure.

This is your first draft. Think of it as puking onto the page. It’s not a pretty picture, but that’s the reality. It doesn’t matter how many years of experience you have under your belt, your first draft is never going to be worthy of publishing as it is.

You have to get your ideas down without judgment. The only reason you want to throw your work into that draft folder is that your inner critic is saying it’s not good enough. Joke’s on them — no first draft is good enough!

Everything you write, no matter how badly, is leading you to the exact words you’re going to use. But you’re not going to find them until later, just like the rest of us.

If you don’t start shutting out your inner critic, you’re never going to finish an article. How do you ignore it? You push through by accepting that your first draft will be bad, but at least you’ll have the groundwork. Understand that you need solid ground to build a grand house.

You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence. — Olivia E. Butler

Remember this: You can make it pretty later. You can fix your mistakes, clean up your sentences, and make it readable. That’s what the editing process is for.

9 Ways to Get Yourself in the Zone

If you find yourself struggling to finish an article, it might be because you can’t focus. You’re surrounded by distracting noise and people who don’t care that you’re in the middle of writing an article.

In her Masterclass, Joyce Carol Oates said:

“Constant distruptions are the destruction of the imagination.”

The source might be outside of you — your dinging phone or the screaming kids next door (I have two of those, lucky me). The source might be within — you have too much energy to sit or you’re thinking about other tasks.

It’s difficult to write if you can’t center on the page and the words. Here’s how I deal with all types of distractions.

For external problems:

  1. Pop in noise-canceling headphones (I highly recommend investing in some if you don’t own a pair) and listen to music.
  2. Silence your phone and leave it in a different room.
  3. Work on a different browser where you’re not logged into distracting sites so they’re harder to access.
  4. Tell the people you live with that you’re writing and to leave you alone. (How you say it definitely depends on your attitude.)
  5. Enter full screen — you can see below how clean and less distracting the screen looks without the open tabs and bookmarks.For internal problems:
  6. Breathe (one, two, three, in, one, two, three, out).
  7. Walk around, do jumping jacks, or clean to rid of excess energy.
  8. If your head is flooded with thoughts, dump them out in a journal. (You’re a writer, so I know you have a few lying around.)
  9. Make a to-do list of what you have to work on later so that it’s not distracting you.

Now that everything’s out of the way and out of your head, write and finish the article.

Final Words

Let’s get one thing straight: all of your first drafts are going to be bad. All of them. While these are helpful tips, you’re still bound to have days when you can’t finish an article. But that’s a part of every writer’s journey.

The difference between the writer you were before you read this article and the writer you are now is that you’ll have less of those occurrences because now you know how to deal with it. Now you know that all you have to do, the majority of the time, is stick to it.

Anyone can start stories and quit a third of the way in. A writer keeps writing anyway. Follow these tips, and you’ll find yourself looking at a shitty first draft in no time. Trust me, that’s a good thing.

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