Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Writer's Marathon

If you’re a fan of the Olympics like I am, writing during this time comes with its own set of challenges. I am also lucky enough this summer to be only an hour and a half outside of London. Now add to this mix that I am straining to run the writer’s version of the marathon - finish a first draft before I return home to family responsibilities in two weeks.

Exciting times. Let me share with you ten things which I have learned to help you complete your first draft.

10. Stop fixating on your word count. Just write your story. Easy to say; tricky to do.

9. Resist the urge to hit that shiny delete button.

8. Remind yourself it's your decision when to put your story in front of someone else's eyes. Until then, it's just you. But really ...

7.5 Don't show anyone your first draft. Trust me on this one.

7. Have a daily goal. It's up to you how ambitious it is, but aim low. The glow of passing that goal could keep you warm on a frozen winter's night.

6. Don't compare your output to anyone else's. There's no win here. Again, trust me.

5. Remember, speed does not necessarily equal quality. On the other hand, slowness does not necessarily ensure quality either. Isn't being a writer wonderful?

4. If you notice yourself smiling while you're writing, it's probably a good sign. Or, you're thinking about cookies.

3. Expect your characters to say and do things you're not expecting. They generally know best. Annoying, but true.

2. Ignore the lure of your colourful secondary characters. One or two will insist they have a larger role. They're usually wrong. This makes up for #3.

1. No one said it was easy. If it were, everyone who says "I'd like to be a writer" would actually be one. Screw your courage to the sticking point and persevere.

*Bonus* And don’t forget, dear reader, that once that first draft is finished, you’re still nowhere near the true finish line. Don’t be depressed. I find huge comfort in that statement.

Enjoy the Olympics. Or, enjoy whichever stage of the writer’s marathon you’re running (or walking, or limping ... you get the idea.)


Elspeth Antonelli is an author and playwright. Her latest mystery game, "A Fatal Fairy Tale" was published in February. All her murder mystery games and two plays are available through She has also contributed articles to the European writers' magazine Elias. Her blog, It's A Mystery, explores the writing process with a touch of humor and she hopes to start blogging again once she returns from England. Really. But she really is on Twitter as @elspethwrites

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  1. I think many people will appreciate this :)


  2. Great post! I definitely worry too much about word count and it messes up story trajectory. Thank you for this - exactly what I needed to hear!

  3. Great advice, Elspeth (especially #4 - make mine chocolate chip).

    Easy to say, but hard to do. Getting that first draft on paper (aka hard drive) is step 1 in finishing your book. (Note here that research, character sketches, outlines, etc., are step 1 in starting the book.) It's all downhill from here . . . sort of.

  4. Great list, Elspeth. Your tension between watching the Olympics and writing was particularly of interest since I spent an hour this morning watching the show jumping with a cat on my lap. When I had to get up to come into my office, the cat wasn't the only one disappointed. LOL

  5. So many books; What a kind thing to say - thank you!

    Xan; It's hard to do, but it really does help. Good luck!

    Linda; You're so right! I've found the more time I spend in preparation (research, character bios, outlines, etc.) the easier my first draft becomes.

    Maryann; I identify completely. Of course, over here in Britain, the commentators were going wild!

  6. Mmm, cookies! Today we're actually having Devil's Food cake with orange frosting, but hey. If it inspires a fresh chapter, I'll eat it.

  7. silfert; Where do you live? Just asking.

  8. Elspeth, I'm completely behind you on this entire list, but especially #7.5! Why on earth do people give their first drafts out to other readers? You're using up precious IOU chips when you haven't truly mined the depths of your story yet—that's what your next couple drafts are for!

  9. I've been sorry to send my revisions to inexperienced readers! Live and learn. And on that note, back to Book-in-a-Week. I've managed to write two pages this week. Committed to 50 and have until Sunday to do it.

  10. Our writing journey's are so varied and that is what makes it so wonderful to share, grow and inspire each other.
    I will keep your points close.
    Thank you
    Mandy Eve-Barnett


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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