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7 Things I Learned Writing My First Manuscript

7 Things I Learned Writing My First Manuscript

Ten years ago, I woke up with an idea. An idea I wasn’t sure how to make room for amidst other priorities. I wrote in starts and stops. Hills of progress. Valleys of neglect. 

Until one day, I emerged with a 85,000-word first draft. 

My process from blank page to first draft wasn’t pretty (or fast). Luckily, I learned a lot along the way. Most of which I gleaned from other writers brave enough to share their own process—so in thanks and in the spirit of process-vulnerability, here are seven things that helped me. I hope a few of them help you, too.  

1. You Have to Hire Yourself to Do the Job 

Writing a book can feel like a second job. And at some point, I finally started treating it like one. Around this point a friend recommended Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art and boy, did that ever light a fire under my book-writing soul. It changed how I thought about creative work and allowed me to “hire myself.” I’d ask, “Would I do X if was running late to work right now?” If the answer was no, I sat down to write. 

2. Deadlines Only Work if Someone Else Knows About Them 

I’m sure there are self-imposed deadline unicorns out there who can write a book in a vacuum. I just wasn’t one of them. Eventually, I paid someone to keep me on track. 

Within The Write Practice’s 100 Day Book program I had deadlines where *gasp* an entire group of writers was waiting to read my work. Suddenly, “I can’t, I have to write,” was a lot easier to say to myself, and to others. 

3. The Right Tools are Everything 

When you set out to build an entire world it can be easy to get disorganized. For me, Scrivener (a long-form writing software) was a total lifeline that made it easy to sort out the madness. I also wish I’d had Save the Cat! by Jessica Brody on my radar earlier in my writing process and am excited to explore her advice as I move forward. 

4. You Deserve Writing Treats and Expert Advice

As I was writing, Scribbler boxes made me feel like I was part of a larger community, which boosted my confidence throughout the process. They encouraged me to continue to fill my creative well as I wrote, and even provided access to professionals in the publishing industry and opportunities to engage over live chat and garner exclusive insights.

5. Thinking-Time is Underrated 

It took me until after finishing my first draft to realize that words on the page weren’t the only thing that counted. I ended up putting so much pressure on writing that I wasn’t giving myself time for deep thinking. Now, I slow down to really learn about my world and the characters inside it. Sometimes that means taking a long walk instead of writing a single word. 

6. Avoid Research Wormholes: Place Holders = Friends

While time for big thinking and research is super necessary, these things can lead you down a rabbit hole of unproductivity. Which is why it’s important to keep moving during that first draft and leave place holders for things non-essential to the plot’s progress.

7. The First Draft is Just the Beginning 

When asked if I’d finished writing my book, I realized how complicated it felt to respond. Yes? But no, not at all? I want to re-write…80% of it? 

The first draft was 100% necessary—but is it my book? No way. Is it the bones that will take my story where it needs to go? Absolutely. 

Writing a book will be one of the hardest jobs you ever take. A job that you’ll likely do on top of other jobs. A job that will take hours upon hours and cause self-doubt, hermitism, and sleep deprivation. But unlike most jobs you’ve worked, it’s one you chose. And the pay? Completely immeasurable. 

Meet Ellie

Ellie Burke is a YA science fantasy writer and content strategist. When she isn’t writing, you can find her chasing her toddler, baking, or dreaming of Christmas, Scotland, or Christmas in Scotland. You can follow her writing journey on Instagram @ellieburkebooks.