I’ve started a new novel—as in a blank “page one” in need of 275 to 400 more pages to be complete. I’m lucky, because this book is second in a series, so I already have the plot and framework in mind (sort of ). I just require about 70,000+ more words to fill in the blanks and have a finished rough draft.

It sounds so simple, but writing rough drafts can be so difficult to actually accomplish.

3 Traps to Avoid When Writing a Rough Draft

How to Write Rough Drafts

Fortunately, I’ve completed four other novels and will publish book number four later this year. I’m trying to apply what I’ve learned in the past to remain more sane this go-round. Let’s discuss three pitfalls I’ve learned with rough drafts.

1. Perfectionism KILLS Creativity and Productivity

Writing is messy. I mean, m-e-s-s-y. This is true whether it’s novels, short stories, memoirs or how-to’s.

That first day at my laptop, I wrote tiny snippets of at least a dozen different scenes. I typed as fast as possible, writing as much as I could about the characters, their dialogue and setting, but I also typed phrases like: describe the cemetery more here, research huffing hairspray later (I know, I’m sick and twisted).

When I hit a wall with that particular scene, I immediately switched to whichever scene struck me next. It was a hodge-podge of confusion, but it was still twenty new pages that gave me solid bones to my book. It also let me understand my story better.

By the end of that session, I rearranged those chaotic, unfinished scenes into semi-order.

Ten years ago, the perfectionist in me would have never allowed myself to cut loose like that.

Some people are truly linear thinkers and MUST write the story in chronological order. It’s fine if that's you. If you find yourself stalled and don’t know what happens next, try other methods for a breakthrough:

  • Switch to free-writing in a notebook and interview a character to see what information they hold.
  • Open a new file on your laptop and list possible solutions to your plotting problem (1-2-3-4).
  • Go for a walk (or any repetitive activity) and stage a conversation between two characters in your mind and see what they reveal.

New York Times’ Bestselling author, Nora Roberts, says, “You can fix anything but a blank page.” (Share that on Twitter?)

Bottom line: Perfectionism is the enemy of creativity and productivity. Give yourself the time and space to let your story be far from perfect in the beginning.

2. Doubt is Part of the Creative Process

Self-doubt, perfectionism, procrastination…whatever keeps you from writing are just fancy words for fear.

This is normal.

Fear will do anything and everything to stop you, make you start your book over (and over again), or quit altogether.

The good news about fear is the more you love your story, the more negative emotions you’ll experience while writing it. Fear is a bizarre, but useful gauge to show you how important this piece is to you.

If the thought of it doesn’t scare the bejesus out of you, then you’re wasting your time, effort and energy.

Bottom line: All kinds of doubt and fear are part of the creative process. Expect it, then write anyway.

3. You Don’t Understand Your Story Until It’s Written

No matter how much you plot, outline, or plan your work beforehand, you can’t comprehend it’s mysteries until you put pen to paper.

It’s exhilarating when you discover a surprise twist, or a dark secret about your character, or find the theme of your book.

If you won’t give your story the time of day, then your story won’t give its treasures to you.

Bottom line: You must commit time, heart and energy to your writing, before your story reveals itself to you.

What’s one trap to warn others about with their rough drafts?


Today, I want everyone to focus on the same fledging writer. His name is Walter and he wants to write a novel. In fact, he's dreamed of it for years. But he's terrified to do so. He carries too many demons. What happens to Walter when he finally sits down to write the rough draft of his novel?

Take fifteen minutes to tell his story, then please share in the comments. Remember, if you post a practice, please comment on your fellow writers' work.

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