Getting through that first draft is one of the toughest part of writing—and one of the most important.

I’ve often felt while drafting that I’m not so much writing as much as I am weathering my way through it. No matter how carefully I set my sails, there’s inevitably a change in the wind at some point, and my story drifts off on some unchartered path.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re going to wing it in unknown waters, you better have a few tricks up your sleeve. Who better to take tips from than a the ultimate pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow?

Here’s four of his best tips to navigating the high seas to help you navigate your way through a first draft.

Photo by Ross ElliotPin

Photo by Ross Elliot

1. The rules are more like guidelines

It’s important to know the rules of the craft—but it’s also important to know when it’s okay to break them. Just like in Captain Jack Sparrow’s world, they’re really more like guidelines.

The truth is, your story is a wild and roguish thing. There’s really nothing to do but let it be the story it is. Don’t inhibit yourself on a first draft! Go ahead and see where it leads you, mate.

2. Improvise as needed

Once you let your story lead you where it wishes, you may find yourself (or, rather, your characters) in situations you didn’t plan for. No amount of outlining can save you now—and that’s okay. Like life, your plot is bound to have some twists to it.

Follow Jack’s example and just go with it. Let it be unruly, love. That’s exactly what first drafts are for.

3. All that matters is what you can do and what you can not do.

You can set aside a little time each morning to do a little writing. You can’t function properly after passing on sleep to binge-write three nights in a row.

You can outline before you start drafting. You can’t foresee every detail of what your characters might develop into as you get them on the page, and the ways those little details might turn into big changes in your story.

Surprises are bound to pop up. Do what you can do, and accept what you can’t. Give yourself and your story a little breathing room. Savvy?

4. Or was that the plan all along?

No matter how many times Captain Jack Sparrow encounters unexpected twists (or changes sides), he eventually ties it all up so neatly that you start to wonder if he somehow had this elaborate plan in mind all along.

That’s how a reader should feel at the end of your book. Take the time to tie all your plot threads up in a nice neat bow, and no one will ever know all the trouble it caused you to get there.

Getting through a first draft can leave you feeling lost and desolate. But keep your spirits up! Follow wherever the winds may take you, and Captain Jack Sparrow’s tips are sure to keep your draft on a steady path.

And if all else fails, a little rum never hurt anyone, either.

What’s your biggest first-draft struggle? What tips do you have for getting through it?


Take 15 minutes and start to draft a story. As you do so, put on your pirate hat and apply Captain Jack Sparrow’s roguish attitude to your drafting. Then, post your unruly and wild works in the comments.

By day, Emily Wenstrom, is the editor of short story website wordhaus, author social media coach, and freelance content marketing specialist. By early-early morning, she is E. J. Wenstrom, a sci-fi and fantasy author whose first novel Mud will release in March 2016.

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