I ran cross-country in high school and one year we had a team shirt that said, “Run the first mile with your legs, the second with your head, and the last with your heart.”
A standard cross-country race is 5 kilometers, just over 3 miles. I took the saying on our team shirt to heart and it helped me in a lot of my races. The first mile I would just focus on moving my legs. One forward and then the other. Left, right, left, right.
The second mile, I’d start to fade. I was running as fast as I could and I still had two miles to go! But I’d tell myself I could do it. I’d push through the mental struggle and the negative things my mind would tell me. I knew I was physically capable of running 3 miles, I just had to prove I was mentally capable.
Runners say the last mile should be your fastest, and that’s where the heart comes in. I’d always feel so exhausted and tired, at that second mile mark. My legs burning, a stitch in my side, and my breathing heavy as I sprinted on. But I was so close to finishing. I’d gone twice as far as I had left. My heart, my love for the sport, propelled me through the last mile. I had a passion for running and that spurned me on when nothing else would.
But why am I talking about running on a blog for writers? Well, I think the advice about how to run each mile is very applicable to writing.
How to Write a Novel in 3 Drafts
This post discusses three basic types of drafts, but each type of draft may require a few rounds of drafting.
Write the First Drafts with Your Hands
You start a race pumped and ready to go. You’ve trained for this moment and when the gun goes off you start moving those legs as fast as you can. Ideally you’ve eaten a high-carb meal and you’ve rested well the night before the race. You’re feeling good and able to focus on keeping those legs moving at a quick, steady pace.
Writing can be a bit harder to just focus on your hands. It’s hard not to worry about your brain trying to fix sentences, improve style, and hone in on grammar mistakes. Well rested and fed or not, it can be hard to keep the head out of the first draft. But the first draft should be about your hands. So when writing the first draft, just let your hands go. Try and save all the fixing and revising for the second draft.
Not ready for revision? In the middle of a draft? Pin this post for later!
Write the Second Drafts with Your Head
After running a mile, it can be exhausting to think you still have two more miles to run. What we think can have a huge impact on what we accomplish. A sport like cross-country is mental just as much as it is physical. It’s amazing what we can do when we tell ourselves it is possible.
Writing is the same way. Rather than being daunted by all the revision your WIP requires, try to think positive. The hardest part is over. You have an entire draft of your novel. Use your head to remind yourself what you have done, instead of focusing on what you have yet to do. Encourage yourself and love yourself for getting as far as you have. Many writers stop short of completing (or even starting) a first draft, so you’re already ahead of the game!
Now that you’ve got the idea from your head to paper or screen, and you believe in yourself as a writer, use your head to improve the draft. That brain of yours can store so much information. It’s time to put it to use! Let yourself look for plot holes, characters that lack development, and grammar mistakes.
Write the Third Drafts with Your Heart
The last mile of a race can be exhausting because you’ve already run two miles. But a passion for running and the knowledge that the end is in sight can make the last mile the best. You’ve already run twice as far as you have left to go. Knowing you’ve done more than what’s left, knowing that you are so close to finishing, can give you the motivation you need to finish the race sprinting.
You have a draft, and you’ve fixed the biggest problems. Now it’s time to go through it just once more and really pour your heart and soul into it. Focus on word choice and making sure that this work of art, your masterpiece, your precious darling, is everything that you want it to be. Make sure every word and sentence belongs and adds to your writing. Look for any remaining grammar issues or typos. It can seem like a menial task to go through your draft again just for a typo or two. But giving it one last run through to make sure it’s your best work will help your manuscript stand out against those that are to lazy to fine tune their manuscripts.
What is your revision process like?