The Novelcoaster: Your First Draft in 3 Steps

By Megan Malone


The first draft of your novel is like a rollercoaster. Before boarding, you should take certain precautions. The ride itself can be intimidating and scary while still being full of fun. Ending the journey can leave you feeling shaky and exhilarated. Plus, even though no trip is the same, there are things you can expect and plan for!


“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story”

-Terry Pratchett


Step 1: Prepare


You’ve waited in line for a while, and you’ve heard the screams of people experiencing the journey’s highs and lows. Now it’s your turn. Congratulations! Simply deciding to hop on the ride is a cause for celebration. But wait! Before jumping in, take time to prepare and plan- you’ll thank yourself!


Figure out how to best strap in. That looks different for each person and each draft! There are three general types of writers. Keep your individual needs in mind, because being aware of what method brings you to the finish line could be the difference between finished and incomplete.

You could be a Pantser: people who fly by the seat of their pants. This is diving into a first draft and making the story up as you go.


Or maybe you’re a Planter: people who carefully plant and grow their plot to perfection before starting. These people thrive on scene cards and extensive outlines.


Anything in the middle, and you’re likely a Plantser: people who benefit from a loose plot structure, but don’t require a thorough game plan.


If you don’t know what type of writer you are, experiment beforehand with novels, short stories, or essays. Forming a plan to cater to your method of writing will pay off in the long run! And, above all, please keep your hands and feet in the vehicle at all times.


“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


Step 2: Ready… set... go!


Time to get down to the nitty-gritty. Writing the first draft is challenging, but unimaginably exciting! Akin to a rollercoaster, sometimes the mad rush will feel overwhelming and scary. There may be moments where you’ll think, AH! I want to get off this ride!- and that’s normal. Try and plow through, because it’ll be worth it!


But guess what? It’s also ok to stop and hop off if you have to. Maybe the concept isn’t working, or you haven’t discovered what writing process works for you yet. Remember: each unfinished draft is proof you’re learning.


However, here are some tips for finishing your projects!

  • Avoid editing while you’re writing your first draft. Avoid it like the plague. No, not just the plague. Avoid it like an army of knife-wielding cockroaches! Give yourself the freedom to write an awful first draft, for you’ll have plenty of time to tweak, restructure, and flesh everything out later. Tell your inner editor to go away until the second draft, because right now, editing will kill your momentum.

  • Say you can write 5k-10k words, but burn out past that point. Instead of forcing yourself to write more (and, consequently, taking the fun out of writing), channel your talent into writing short stories/novelettes. Each story you complete, whether it’s 50k words or 5k, improves your craft!


“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

-Jodi Picoult


Step 3: Get off the ride and relax.


You’ve finished your first draft. Hooray! Now what?


Relax and take some time off, because you’ve earned it. Plus, you’ll create space between you and your shiny new first draft. If you skip this step, you won’t be able to look at your novel objectively. This will hurt your story in the long run! So, set aside your novel for at least a month. In the meantime, work on some short stories, read, or even begin a different novel. Whatever will let you forget about your draft! Starting again with fresh eyes will allow you to make better edits, and prevent burnout.


The Novelcoaster is a rewarding and scary trip. But coming prepared and going full-steam ahead will ensure that you end with an incredible first draft. You got this!