3 Things I Learned After Finishing My First Draft

Every year, I can feel myself growing more as a writer. Though I’ve written a first draft before, quite a few years have passed between then and now. Right when I began writing Project Swabby in January of 2022, I knew something was different. It took me many months of working on this draft for me to realize that I was witnessing my growth as a writer.

The first draft I ever wrote took me five years to write. In those five years, I was going through high school and college. So not only was I figuring out who I wanted to be, but I was also finding my voice as a writer. I’ll probably always be working on that voice as I continue to grow and evolve my craft, but I’ve never felt more at peace with writing than I do now. 

I’ve learned a lot from writing this first draft of Project Swabby, but I wanted to highlight a few in the hopes that my learning experience can also help you, dear reader, in some way. And if not, allow these points to take you through the creative war path that is my writer brain!

PERFECTIONISM HAS NO PLACE IN DRAFTING

I had to come to terms with this one. I’m a perfectionist. Not in everything, but when it comes to writing in particular? Absolutely.

I would so often get stuck on a line, a scene, a piece of dialogue, and I would psych myself out. I’d think things like:

“I haven’t planned this out yet. How am I supposed to write this?”

“This is a HUGE turning point in the story. What if I mess it up?”

It would drive me crazy. Then I would spend several minutes staring at the screen, and thus my writer’s block would begin. I would avoid the piece of writing like the plague and not move on for days at a time, sometimes weeks. All the while, I would be itching to write and not doing anything about it.

Writing a book is hard. Even those who don’t write know that truth. But it’s even harder when you’re just letting it sit and fester. When you’re not giving it the life it needs, your story is not going to grow and thrive like it ought to be. I was depriving my book of life because I didn’t want to “mess it up”. Then I learned a very harsh and important lesson.

You’re going to mess up on your first draft. It’s inevitable. No matter what you do or how much you try to edit along the way, there are going to be so many mistakes and loose ends to fix.

There’s a quote by author Jane Smiley that says it best:

“Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist.”

That’s it. That’s the first draft’s only job. To exist. 

You can’t edit or improve something that doesn’t exist to begin with.

It’s easier said than done. Believe me, I know. But once I was able to let go of that perfectionism, the words just flowed out of me. When I hit a spot where I didn’t know what to write, I added in brackets or a note of what I thought might happen in the scene. When I got to that big scene I was so worried about messing up on, I pushed through it, reminding myself that there would be time to perfect it later on.

Perfectionism definitely has a place in writing. Editing and revisions thrive best with the art of perfectionism. Let’s just leave it out of the initial drafting process.

TRACK YOUR GOALS LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW

I’m a lover of lists and organization. I’m not super strict about it, but I do like to keep things as organized as possible. This applies to writing as well, but I make sure I leave myself enough wiggle room so I can have plenty of creativity flow. 

I’m considered a “plantser” which is the combination of a “planner” and a “pantser”. I provide myself with a loose outline of the things I need to accomplish (hence “planner”). Then, I dive right in and let my creativity take the wheel (hence “pantser”). 

This comes into play when I’m planning out my goals. I’m not anywhere near the level of organization that I’d like to be, but I try to list out my overall priorities. Top 3 is usually what I go with, keeping it simple and to the point.

Once I had my overall writing goal in place, I found that tracking my process really helped me in climbing that massive mountain. I knew I wanted to finish my draft by the end of the year, so I incorporated tools like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and bullet journals to keep me on track. There are also plenty of word count trackers available on online platforms like Etsy, where they’re already made up and ready for printing purposes. I just enjoy bullet journalling, so I used that hobby to my advantage.

It’s insane how good it feels to check something off of a list or color in your progress for that day. It holds you accountable while also providing you with the ability to see how much you’ve accomplished. There’s just something satisfying about seeing it right in front of you. It’s also something to look forward to whenever you hit a milestone!

At the end of it all, it’s amazing to look back and see physical proof of all that you’ve accomplished.

TAKE THE TIME TO CELEBRATE ALL OF YOUR SUCCESSES

I’m definitely guilty of this. I’m way too hard on myself without realizing it, especially when it comes to writing. If I don’t do it on the first try, failure. If I don’t accomplish everything I want to by the end of the day, failure. If I don’t pick up on something quickly enough, failure. If I don’t find “balance” between all the things that are important to me, again, failure.

It’s way easier to be hard on ourselves than to appreciate all we’ve accomplished. It’s easier to give in to that little voice that seems to be rooted in our brains to remind us how we aren’t good enough. That’s why it’s so important to take time for ourselves and really evaluate where we are in our lives. Be more aware of that negative voice and call it out. Instead of focusing on what hasn’t been done, take a moment to reflect on all you’ve accomplished the past week, the past month, the past year.

When working on the first draft of Swabby, I tended to focus on the negative for a while. I hit a hard burnout last fall and it was seeping into every aspect of my life. My writing suffered and I barely wrote on a regular basis for months on end. I was trying to do too much at once without realizing what I was truly doing to myself. When I struggled with my writing schedule and it wasn’t a part of my regular routine anymore, I was even harder on myself.

I pushed myself too far until I wasn’t sure how I’d get back to my regular flow. It was only when I started out small and was kinder to myself that things finally started to change. I focused less on what had to be done every day, and instead focused on what I wanted to do that day. I would set small goals for myself that were very attainable. With time, those goals suddenly started to grow bigger. I still kept my small goals, but I was able to set bigger goals to work towards without feeling overwhelmed.

That’s why having a reward system is so important. My writing coach that I’ve been working on and off with for the last few months, Lindsay Elizabeth, reminded me of this fact constantly. Celebrate your successes, no matter how small, and be as specific as possible. While writing Swabby, I would reward myself with a movie whenever I hit a certain word count goal. Something simple and meaningful. Since I don’t have as much time to just sit, relax, and watch a movie as much as I used to, that was the ideal choice for me. Sometimes the reward was buying an exclusive edition of a book I was excited about. The bigger the goal, the bigger the reward. I live by this now, and I’m far more motivated to keep a steady pace with my writing goals.


I’ve already grown so much while writing this book, and I’m excited to see where this journey takes me. It’s incredible and magical. I can honestly say I’ve never felt this way about one of my projects before. Somehow, this story feels different to me. Precious in a way that differs from my previous works, though I’m still incredibly proud and passionate about those.

There is still plenty of work to be done on this project, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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