How to write your first draft (the only secret you’ll ever need)

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How to Write Your First Draft (the Only Secret You'll Ever Need)

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Writing your first draft can feel like an intimidating task—but it doesn’t have to be daunting. In this blog post, I will provide you with secrets, tips, and strategies for planning and executing your first draft successfully.

After helping over 500 authors complete their manuscripts, I can tell you that the two biggest struggles authors face when approaching their book writing are:


  1. How to begin their first drafts. In this case, the issue is due to a lack of clarity and experience.
  2. How to FINISH it. In this case, the struggle is based on perfectionism and a lack of momentum. 


Finishing your first draft is by far the most difficult thing about writing a book. That’s because, of most people who set out to write a book, only 2 out 10 actually get to finish it. And the reason is simple: perfectionism. Trying to make your draft as perfect as possible is only going to stall you and even prevent you from finishing it.

This is why this post will focus on methods that help you FINISH your first draft. 

I’ll say this from the start, the secret to pulling off a great first draft is to focus on getting your ideas down on paper, first and only. Forget about making it perfect, you will have all the time to do that once you’re done. In this journey, perfectionism is your enemy.

Once you have your book outline and chapter ideas down, start writing. Straight up. Don’t worry about making it perfect right away—the whole point of a first draft is to get your thoughts out. As you write, focus on one point or chapter at a time. 

After you finish, you will have the time to go back and review the entire piece, making sure that everything flows together and that each point is advancing the book. 

But that’s only possible once you have a full draft.

As a first-time author, it’s important to learn that writing a book comes in different stages: e.g., the pre-writing, the draft stage, and the post-writing. Each phase has a goal and focus. 


  1. The goal of the pre-writing phase is to come up with a realistic plan or roadmap for your book.
  2. On the other hand, the goal of the draft stage is to start and finish the draft. 
  3. While the goal of the editing is to review and refine the draft.


Let me iterate this: during your draft stage, your only focus should be to quickly pour out your thoughts on paper and FINISH your draft without worrying about perfection. And your book outline helps you with that.

The worst writing problem that first-time authors face is not finishing their first draft. No one can publish an unwritten or unfinished book. 

But, while writing, there is a tendency to feel like your points aren’t good enough. This feeling makes you spend too long trying to perfect your draft and, as such, you fall into a mental rabbit hole and never finish your manuscript.

But here’s the gist, no one ever publishes their first draft. Why? Because it’s always a mess. There is no such thing as a perfect draft. In fact, that’s why it’s called the rough draft. Some call it the ‘messy draft’ or the ‘terrible draft.’

At Madda, we call it the Shitty First Draft or SFD. But you get the sense. No one’s first draft is ever perfect.

Thus, the goal of a first draft is not to achieve a perfect version of the manuscript. Because you will have plenty of time to refine and polish your work during your editing stage. But unless you reach the end of your first draft, you may never have a manuscript to edit and publish.

As we delve deeper into this post, keep in mind that momentum and speed are your best friends when doing your draft.

The key message here is that, to achieve your book in good time, you need to permit your mind to quickly work through your first draft without stopping to read or edit it along the way. Even if it looks messy. Just keep going.

Here’s the secret: Quit being afraid of how your words sound or whether your thoughts are coming out like a pro. If you stop feeling that way, nothing will prevent you from getting to THE END of your manuscript.

As I said, permit yourself to do the worst work possible simply because you will have plenty of time to fix all the issues during your editing phase. That’s when you get to sound like the expert that you are.

(As an aside, when you permit yourself to do the worst work possible, your mind gains a certain amount of freedom, and you don’t feel too nervous, instead, you end up doing a great job.)

Below are some secrets to help you ace your first drafts in good time.


First Draft Tip #1: Plan your book

Many first-time authors plan poorly for their books or don’t plan at all. This is why they don’t finish it. And then they become unhappy and get discouraged. As with all worthwhile endeavors in life, we start with a plan.

Approach your book like you would a new business. Start with a business plan—in this case, a blueprint or roadmap for your book. Outline every step and allocate timing to them. Schedule a timetable and stick with it.

Your first draft is the most emotional stage in the process. And the good news? It’s not the final version of your manuscript. So, you can loosen up on it, and don’t be too hard on yourself even if it feels like you’re getting nowhere. Just keep at it.

In my recent post series on how to professionally outline your nonfiction book using our primer method, I explained that your book outline offers initial clarity, not total clarity, on what your book will contain.

In the same order, your first draft is a step further into your clarity journey. And it won’t be the final lap of your book journey.

It best helps when you think of your book outline as the skeleton. Then, your first draft is the flesh and body parts. 

The redrafting and editing stage is the cleanup, cosmetic, and dressing. And you’re just ready to storm your publishing party.

That said, you don’t need to get too stuck around your first draft, and it shouldn’t take forever. I recommend 30 days or 60 if you’re very busy.

Imagine you only write a minimum of 500 words per day—which you are likely to do more, you will have 15k or 30k words, respectively.

Thirty thousand words! That’s not bad for a first draft, and your book will grow when you come for a second draft. Before you know it, you have a full-fledged, publish-ready manuscript by the end of the process.

So, start with your initial clarity (book outline or roadmap) and put down what you can. You will have enough time to develop, deep-clean, do extra research, fact-check, and edit.

But take it one step at a time. Focus only on what’s in front of you at this time. Do it, then move to the next.


First Draft Tip #2: Use the right authoring tools

Here’s a short list of the essentials to start with and complete your book’s first draft. Ensure 1 and 2 are in place before starting.


  1. A clear book outline. This is helpful to channel your focus when writing.
  2. A niche compass. It guides your writing by ensuring you write with the right audience in mind.
  3. A simple writing software. Avoid fancy or complicated writing apps. Stick with the native (follow-come) authoring app on your device, e.g., MS Word. The simpler the app, the faster you will write. It’s not about the tool, it’s about you the author.
  4. Writing timetable. Keep it simple. stick with it.
  5. Be flexible. permit yourself to start where you are and get to the best place you need to be at the end of the process.
  6. Book Team. You need an accountability partner or a support group such as your book team or book community [join now].
  7. A free spirit (the absence of self-judgment)


First Draft Tip #3: Have the right mindset

The most important and only psychological preparation you need for a start is #7 above. Most writers and creative people struggle with some form of internal resistance (e.g., writer’s block) when they set out to work on their tasks.

This problem is universal and experienced by highly seasoned writers and creative professionals too. It’s usually caused by:


  1. Fear. you’re focusing on why it’s impossible instead of seeing that it may be challenging, but it is possible.
  2. Shame. while writing, you feel like the whole world is watching you, and you feel nervous that you don’t have enough valuable things to say.
  3. The wrong motivation. writing a book to feel good about yourself instead of focusing on the audience.
  4. Self-judgment. Self-doubt, imposter syndrome, and negative self-talk are your enemies.


Remember this, you are not a failure. If you write something that sounds poor or miss a day on your schedule, forgive yourself and move on. Just let it go.

Don’t be hard on yourself. Because even if you complete the book and publish it, you’re not going to get the best of your message out that way.

Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. If they had been self-judging or feeling nervously ashamed, what would you have said to them?

Now, accept your own advice and apply it to yourself. Say it out loud to yourself. Then, move on with your work. It’s OK. You will write that book! You will finish it! And everything will be fine.


First Draft Tip #4: Your niche compass

The professional book outline format we recommend contains your book positioning, initial table of contents, working chapters, and your niche compass.

A great book offers value to the reader either by solving their pain point or serving useful advice in an area of interest. This is what your niche compass helps you accomplish.

Think of your niche compass as an executive summary in a business document or the abstract in a thesis.

It is a terse statement about your book stating your objectives, audience details, and your idea, all in one paragraph. As a guiding compass, it helps you make the best decisions for your audience throughout your book project.

I recommend writing it out and putting it somewhere visible to you from where you write—in your office, bedroom, study, basement, garage, car, or library; anywhere that helps you get content out of your head is the best place that works for you.

Depending on what I’m writing and my mood, I mostly would pick a quiet place with a view—my workstation.

Occasionally, I choose the right music for the hour and plug my ears. That helps me get the words onto the pages like I’m bleeding them out.


How to achieve your first draft

Your first draft is the initial piece of writing you start with after plotting your book outline and before you edit. It is the rough manuscript that you first created to develop into a publishable one.

The one rule pro book writers use is: don’t edit when you’re writing; don’t write when you’re editing. And it’s how to approach your first draft. But how do you achieve that?

Forget about how your words sound or if they’re disorderly. Focus on putting down what you know. Like I often say, your skeleton or outline is getting some flesh. No need for aesthetics yet.

A first draft is how you move from outline to manuscript—just the initial piece. If you already have an outline, pick a chapter you’re comfortable starting with, and start writing out narrative text under respective subpoints or subthemes in that chapter.

You can achieve your first draft in any of these 5 easy methods.


  1. The written draft method
  2. The spoken draft method
  3. The email-a-friend method
  4. The mentor-then-report method
  5. Work with a book strategist

The rule remains: find out which you’re most comfortable with, do it, and stick with it. The point isn’t which method you’re using; it’s getting content out of your mind the best way that works for you.

If you feel like switching to another method in the middle of your writing, by all means, do so. You’re the captain of the ship, so feel free to steer the boat to your intended destination.

But whatever your route is, ensure it’s getting you where you need to be.


1. The written draft method

Let’s say you’re doing a quick, how-to book and your working title is, e.g., How To Make a Garden. Let’s also say you have a ready outline and niche compass in place.

Now, your next task is to make your first draft, which is the narrative or body text to your outline. Plugging in your texts is one effective method that helps you do just that.

Here’s how to do it. Start by going back to your outline and look at your table of contents again. Say, it has some main points (chapters) and sub-points under each. Something like this:


Main Chapters Sup-points under chapters
1. Preparation Do you have time to do this?
What do you want to grow?
Can it be grown in your area?
2. Installing the Beds Find a location for the beds
You need room around them to walk and work
Should be near a water source/body
Buy or construct the beds
Fill with dirt at the base
Add a compost and topsoil mix
3. Planting Selecting the Seeds
4. Maintenance Watering
5. Harvest Is it Ripe Yet?
Washing and Prepping
Canning and Storage
Sample table outline to illustrate how to achieve a first draft using the written draft method.


Notice that it’s short and straightforward. Also, the points are written to sound like prompts. All of these are intended to get you moving quickly as you tackle your first draft.

That’s your sample table of contents. Next, start brainstorming for the chapter contents.

From the top or middle, start answering each of your prompts as you wish. Write the text under each chapter, entering each chapter’s content as a separate document. That will force you to keep your message clear and to the point.

After writing out the body texts in separate documents, begin to plug each chapter text into the main draft document. The one containing your table of contents. Now, you have an entire draft. Move to the next thing on your calendar. Don’t stop at all.


2. The spoken draft method

This method works best for people who aren’t comfortable with writing but find it easier to speak.

Get a quiet place. You don’t need disturbance, not even from calls and texts. Set up your preferred recording tools.

Preferably, use a speech-to-text enabled app or software. You will have all you say automatically converted to text, not perfectly, though, but good enough to review and archive for proper future editing.

If you don’t have a speech-to-text app, use a voice recording app. You may have to get a transcriber to help you with the typing later.


Don’t bother if what you’re saying isn’t sounding like you’re making sense. Try not to delete it, even if you said so many fillers or repeated yourself. That’s all part of gaining clarity; everything will add up by the end of the process.

So, move on with it.


3. The email-a-friend method

If you’re writing a book you’re confident will be helpful to readers, you might as well start it with your first reader.

Find an avatar reader, someone who matches the description of your target audience—especially someone in real who needs the solution your book is offering.

Schedule an email conversation with them. But you’re doing most of the talking.

They might ask questions about areas of confusion, which you will be answering. Note all their reactions and feedback; likely, your actual audience will feel the same way.

One great advantage of following this method is that, in the end, your book will sound conversational and down to earth in a way that your readers will be able to relate to its message and apply its steps.

Another benefit is that your avatar reader on the other end of the email will also serve as your accountability partner. Over time, they might fall in love with your emails and reach out when you miss sending them.

The feedback they will give you will add substance and direction to the solutions you’re offering and also be an encouragement to keep you going.

Here’s what to keep in mind: pay attention to your outline. Try not to deviate much from it. Each email should discuss a unique point or step in your outline.

Keep the discussions engaging and very open. Ensure it’s very detailed and helpful content but short enough to be read without stopping. Aim for no less than 1k words per email, depending on your topic. The length will be a plus if it’s engaging enough and contains no unnecessary information, and your reader will be grateful.


4. The Mentor-then-report method

This method is straightforward: teach what you already know to a small group of people who need your book solution in real life. Collect some feedback, and then report your findings.


5. Work with a Book Strategist

Method #5 is your last resort if none of the others has worked for you.

Judging by what works for most authors we know, anyone should be great after applying any of the first three. However, if your person and project are unique, soothe yourself, and go for something else.

Ensure it works best for you and your book. Ensure it will significantly help your audience.



Writing a great first draft doesn’t have to be a daunting task – just keep the focus on getting your ideas down and leave all the reviewing and refinement until you have a full draft. With a little support and some hard work, you’ll be able to write a great first draft.

Perfection is not your friend when writing your first draft manuscript. And neither is creativity and style. Ignore all that until you are done. I strongly recommend you focus only on getting your thoughts out, even if they sound unclear and unrefined.

Also, I recommend you set a hard deadline for finishing, e.g., 1 – 2 months, and ensure to stick with it. Break your timeline into daily word count goals to write no less than 500 words per day. 

Remember, it’s just a quota, and you are allowed to go beyond. Write as it flows, as long as you don’t slow down or stall.

Your best bet against procrastination is planning a writing schedule, finding an accountability partner, and sticking with your arrangements.

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Updated: January 19, 2023
Bayo Moses

Book Strategist | Developmental Editor | Book Coach | I help first-time authors attain definite publishing objectives.

Published: January 26, 2022
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