Turn Off Your Brain While You Write A First Draft

Turn Off Your Brain While You Write A First Draft

During NaNoWriMo 2019, I started writing a sci-fi novel. I got about 6000 words in at the time. I had no real intention to write it, but at the time I needed a mental change from writing my satire series of books, The Secret Ingredient Of. I’ve been slowly adding to it ever since, because I’m curious to know where it goes. Surely I didn’t word vomit 6000 words for it to go nowhere, right? After NaNoWriMo 2020, it’s over 23,000 words. And still an incomplete first draft.


Turn Off Your Brain While You Write A First Draft


Turn Off Your Brain While You Write A First Draft


The thing is, I don’t like lots of the book. I know there’s an entire chapter (possibly two) that need to be deleted. Or maybe they are salvageable with intensive re-writing? That’s a later on problem, though. This blog post is to talk about getting through those challenges in the first draft.


I will never finish everything if I edit as I go. And it is hard not to. Sometimes you want to rework a section to make it flow. Maybe even flow like a waterfall after a summer storm.


But if you get distracted with how you spent time explaining what a knock sounded like (hint: the part I wrote was a bizarrely illogical contradiction) then you won’t finish the draft. I tend to put some curly brackets around {} words that I don’t like.


In the sci-fi realm, I also use the curly brackets as a flag to come back to a word. For example, do they write, call, video call, or something else? What does that look like in this universe? It’s how I stop overthinking and keep writing. At least in theory. No one is perfect at this stuff and there are certainly days where my own rules don’t work on me. But having some kind of personal rule book to say “do this now, do that later” can be a helpful focus tool.


How do you get through a first draft? Any tips or tricks to keep you writing and just ‘get it done’?


Psst, I’m looking at putting together some short courses this year on getting a book written. Make sure you sign up to my newsletter if you want to hear about them. I’m thinking one specifically for small biz owners, and one along the lines of “get your first draft done”. Probably $50.

12 Replies to “Turn Off Your Brain While You Write A First Draft”

  1. Ugh, I need this at the moment as I’m struggling with an assignment. I told myself I was putting a rough first draft together but instead getting stuck on the ‘structure’ rather than just putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      It’s harder to just get a first draft out when you’re working in a constrained environment like uni assignments though. Writing those is a balancing act between getting a draft and avoiding an excessive edit to remove the less academic parts (at least that was always my problem).

  2. I’m of the word vomit no edit school of first drafts. I like to get them out quickly and then come back and take my time putting it together. I use Scrivener to draft in and colour scenes I know need work. Good luck!

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      I’ve been stalled on one book and I’m thinking what I really need is to do exactly that – word vomit a lot so I know what I need to come back to.

  3. Joanne, I have a friend who does that, but I am a slow poke and edit as I go, in short segments. Maybe why I still have a chapter to wrap up and another one to get into! Nessa, thank you for this, lots to think about.

    Blessings, Michele

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      Ultimately it’s totally what’s best for you! If it’s getting done, that’s the main thing.

  4. I definitely am a ‘just get the first draft done’ person. With longer forms, I have an outline of sorts but with my short stories, I have a bit of an idea of what I want to write and then I just write. Then I’ll go back and edit.

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      Short stories are so hard. I find them really challenging to write as my tendency is to wander and find the story, but then I don’t want to cut things.

  5. You concur with the author Anne Lamott’s view when she spoke of her writing method in Bird By Bird…you write by doing “shitty first drafts.” Brene Brown and others have borrowed that from her too.

    Good on YOU though, this is yours! Like your little marks to come back to as a strategy.

    Thank you for linking up your blog post today. Next week’s optional prompt is 7/51 Self Care Stories #1. 15 Feb. In this one, I am using the new category in my blog called Ageing Stories because it was a good fit. Look forward to seeing you there too. Denyse.

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      I have to admit, I gave up reading about writing as I actually don’t find it very useful. But hey I’ll take that – I’m doing what an expert thinks is a good idea 🙂

  6. I remember the struggle to hand write 10k essays when I was in university. I did not own a PC so editing was all by hand – scribbles and crossed lines. So hard when I think back.
    I then had to use my electronic typewriter to bring it all together. Thank God for computers.

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      Oof I am glad that I straddle that line of growing up without social media but not writing essays by hand 🙂

Leave a Reply