First-Draft Syndrome is a term I use when working with writers who get stuck while writing their first draft. To get them writing again, we need to dig into the reason(s) why they’re not writing. Usually, it comes down to First-Draft Syndrome.
Here are signs that you might have First-Draft Syndrome:
You’re stuck in a rewrite loop
The Symptom: You rewrite the same scene, chapter, or act over and over again, waiting for it to feel perfect before you move on to the next one.
The Treatment: Write to the end of your story before you fall down the perfection rabbit hole. Get the whole story out so that you have the entire story to work with before you begin to revise. It’s likely you won’t know how to modify your first act until you get to the third act.
Your scene/chapter doesn’t ‘feel right’
The Symptom: Your first draft won’t feel right. There. I said it. It’s the first draft. It’s not supposed to be a final draft. So it will never feel right because it’s not supposed to be right yet.
The Treatment: Stop expecting to write the perfect scene or chapter or book your first time out. This thinking will lead you straight into the rewrite loop.
You set unreasonable goals
The Symptom: If you decide that you want to have your first draft written in two weeks and you work a full-time job and have a spouse and kids, I’m guessing that goal is unreasonable. Then when you don’t meet that goal, discouragement takes root and your motivation to work on the project plummets.
The Treatment: Set small, reasonable, process goals. Don’t set a goal months out. Instead set weekly or daily goals that keep you consistently making progress on your project.
You ‘should’ yourself into unproductivity
The Symptom: Having a constant, nagging voice in your head that repetitively says, “You should be writing,” can make anyone feel like an unproductive failure, and that feeling can slurp up any creative urge that might surface.
The Treatment: Treat your writing like a job and set days that you don’t have to write. Then actually write on the other days. You’ll be amazed at how free you suddenly feel on your off days and how ready to write you’ll feel on your writing days.
You wait to feel a certain way before you write
The Symptom: Some people call this ‘waiting for inspiration,’ and others call it ‘waiting to feel the character.’ There are a million different ways to articulate the feeling you’re waiting to feel so you can write again.
The Treatment: Those feelings are the exception rather than the rule, and often they are triggered by writing. Don’t wait to write until you feel something. Write anyway. Ask yourself if the real issue is that you don’t know what to do next or you don’t know how to do what you want to do. If that’s the case, start brainstorming and problem-solving or reach out to someone who can give you a new perspective.
You read what you wrote and determine it sucks, and you can’t write
The Symptom: If you read a later draft of your story and it doesn’t feel right, that doesn’t mean you can’t write. It means you have good instincts. You sense something is missing and there probably is something missing. It means you are likely missing some tools you don’t even know you lack.
The Treatment: Seek the tools you might be missing. Read some books on the craft, preferably written by professional editors. Editors tend to write books for writers that have practical tools to help upgrade your writing.
If you’ve experienced any of these symptoms, then you may be suffering from First-Draft Syndrome. Try some of the cures and let me know how it goes. I’m here if you need some one-on-one coaching.