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Sarah's Rules of Writing Your First Draft

There is no right or wrong way to write a book, but after working with writers for over 15 years to get them published, I do have some rules that I know work. Rules are here to guide you way. These ones are deal-breakers. I have a pdf you can download and print. Read them! Stick them up! Use them!

‘Write as freely and rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Review in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material…’ John Steinbeck

You can download and print a PDF version of my rules to print below

# 1 Know Thy Genre

Don’t dare start until you are very, very clear about where your book sits on Amazon’s list of genres. Go back to that task 5 now if you are not yet 100% clear.

#2 Stick to a basic Word editor

Close down all other programs every single time you sit down to write. The only program open must be Word (or Pages on a Mac). No email, no Internet and definitely no Facebook. Try not to use fancy word processing packages like Scrivener. They are just distractions, unless this is a program you already know well.

#3 Write an entire scene in a sitting

It takes a while to get into a scene (or section). You will fidget, move stuff around, make coffee, weed the garden, make toast, and reread your notes. The good material comes once you have got this out the way. Don’t break your flow once you find it.

#4 Don’t discuss your book with anyone until your draft is finished

Talking is not writing. Instead of telling people your stories, your challenge is now to move them into the written form. This rule is also to keep your own project sacred. You will find that everyone is ‘writing a book’. Well YOU are doing it, so there is no need to talk about it.

#5 No self-editing or revising the previous day’s work

This is the single most important rule that will get you to the end of your book. It is also one of the hardest to follow! Don’t look back. Once you start writing, do NOT read your previous day’s work. Just keep moving forward until you have finished the entire first draft. Your aim is to get your word count up. You will end up changing most of it in your second draft anyway.

#6 Do not read books similar to yours for the entire duration of your writing process

Your book is not unique. There are millions of books out there. You are bringing your own voice and life to an age-old story. Reading other’s work will confuse you and make you judge your own story. You will want to write like them. Avoid this.

#7 Be clear about your book and chapters (or scenes) before you write

Don’t start until you have (most of) your scenes roughly plotted so you understand the arc and flow of your story. If you are at this point in this book, you should have already worked through all of that by now!

#8 Don’t change your story

There will come a time when you wonder why on earth you chose this story, this angle, when there are so many better ones out there. Well, there are not better ones, only distractions. This is your story – tweak, refine and improve – but stick with it to the end of your first draft.

#9 There is no such thing as Writer’s Block

Really. Take my word for it. Writer’s Block only kicks in when you have been given a massive advance to write your 7th novel and you have no ideas. You might realistically be unsure, scared, confused, bored, irritated, usually fearful of what writing will require of you, but no, not blocked! Get rid of that excuse right now.

#10 There is no such thing as good or bad writing

I can’t stress this enough. It is not the most talented writers who get published. It is the most disciplined and tenacious writers who get published.

Your writing style is your own. You will find readers who enjoy it, or an editor who can clean it up later.

#11 There is nothing you can’t fix in a rewrite or second draft

This really speaks to rule #5. That’s why I don’t want you to edit or revise your work each time you sit down to write. Leave it for the second draft.

I have worked with writers on many books so I also know that sometimes I have to throw the rules out the window. A recent writer who got a publishing deal spent eight years writing about her adventure in Tibet. She crafted, tweaked and slowly got the book written. A businessman last year threw his book together in four months using an Excel spreadsheet and a research assistant who gathered the facts. Some books only come together in the editing phase, or your best idea comes once the publisher has already sent your book off to the printers.

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