Three Techniques to Get Through the Slogs During the First Draft

This was my very first draft of anything, and although I’m still not quite finished, I can definitely see the light at the end of the tunnel and am projected to be done within the next two weeks if I maintain my current pace. The entire process of writing has been a pretty big mix of emotions. There were times when I literally felt like I was writing the biggest piece of crap I’ve ever seen, and then others that I know I’m going to go back and enjoy reading later—okay there are probably a lot more of the former than the latter, but you get my point. I hear this is common with most writers, if not all. While I may not have words of wisdom from years and years of experience, I can give you some of the techniques I used to get over the humps and get me to the finish line on a first draft.

Track Progress

I used a spreadsheet to track my progress (similar to this one, although the one I created provided way more stats and data—maybe I’ll do a blog post on my own spreadsheet at some point). It’s probably a little nerdy, and I can see how it may not be for everyone. However, me being a software developer and just absolutely obsessed with data and numbers, I knew this would help me, or was at least something I felt like I should try.

Every day after I finished my writing session, I would track the word count, chapters finished, and other stats in a daily writing log. This gave my engineering mind plenty of numbers to crunch, and I loved seeing the progress completed get higher and higher each day. Over time, I was also able to figure out my average writing statistics, and give myself an estimated date to be completed!

This in itself helped keep me motivated, but I think the real key here was I couldn’t lie to myself about when I wrote. I tried to keep a pace where I wrote at least five days a week. A couple of times, I found myself trying to take two days off in a row and forced myself to sit down that second day and write 300-500 words. If I wasn’t keep track of the days I wrote, I probably wouldn’t have cared as much, but just having the log in a spreadsheet kept me honest with myself.

Listen to Instrumental Music

I live with two kids and a wife, so squeezing in writing time just sometimes has to happen while everything else in the house is going on at the same time. My wife might be cooking dinner, the kids running rampant in the house (they are older, so they aren’t too crazy—okay who am I kidding, yes they are), or other things of daily life happening. It. Gets. Noisy. So I found on those days, it’s nice to just put in my earbuds and listen to some music while I write.

I was a big fan of Binaural Beats, and supposedly there was some studies backing how they increase brain activity, but I think that’s been debunked. Honestly, I think any music would work for me as long as it is unfamiliar and instrumental. It’s about focus for me, and having music helped as long as it didn’t have lyrics that I would sing along to.

Write in Sprints

Most of the time I would focus on writing a certain number of words to “meet my quota” for the day’s session. I typically shot for 500 words a day, but found more often than not there were days I would get into a scene and end up with 800-1000 words that session. Of course, there were others that were quite the slog and I struggled to even get to 300 words. At some point, I got introduced to writing sprints, and that changed my attitude during those days where it felt like I wasn’t accomplishing as much.

With writing sprints, I would start a stopwatch and plan to set aside 15-20 minutes, and just write. More often than not, I would find myself completely reengaged with the scene I was having issues with, and find out 45 minutes (and 600 words) later the stopwatch was still going and I had completely forgotten about it. That’s not to say there weren’t the days where I still felt unproductive, but I might still see 200-300 words during one of these sprints, and that was better than nothing.

The great thing about writing sprints, was that I could do a 15-20 minute sprint, then go do something else, then come back and do another writing sprint, and repeat the process. I utilized this on weekends and found it worked very well even when I had other things I had to do that day because I could just DO THEM IN BETWEEN THE SPRINTS. It broke up the day and gave me things to do in between my chores, and also gave me breaks from writing at the same time. It was a win-win.


So there they are, three techniques I used to keep me motivated, and just keep the writing flowing. I hope they might end up helping someone else, as they did me.

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Published by Mitchell J. Sanders

Software developer and sci-fi/fantasy author.

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