Roadmap to Success: The First Hurdle Every Author Must Face & How to Overcome It


There are many challenges one must face on the road to authorship, and there are subsequently too few persons who are well-equipped with the necessary means to overcome them when the occasion arises. 

In the course of the past several years, wherein I have worked hard to instil myself with as much as I can regarding everything from storycraft to various prose techniques, I have come to the understanding that every single one of these challenges can be encapsulated within three, monumental hurdles.

In this discourse, I would like to give a brief rundown of the first of these––and in service of those reading, provide three methods by which such an aspiring author might emerge triumphant in the trouncing of this thorny trial.

Let us commence here and now. The First: And Of What That Consists The first is, well, the first draft.

A common statistic that is often quoted in the writing community concerns the singular truth that around eighty-percent of all mankind have considered or at the very least given thought to the notion of setting a story (or any nonfiction work) down in writing at least once within their lifetimes.

As I’m sure you’re well aware, the amount of people who actually go out of their way to enact such measures as would lead them to a fulfilment of this ambition is, of course, exceedingly small.

It should be noted that, when set against everything else that must naturally proceed forth from such an entity, the first draft is not the most critical hurdle––not in the slightest.

But it is, without a doubt, the obstacle most responsible for derailing the careers of countless would-be-storytellers. 1. Write Wretched Work

What you must first understand, above all other things, is that first drafts are called first drafts for a reason––meaning, they’re directly and purposefully intended to be followed up.

If you manage to write even a slightly intelligent, full-length novel that will draw its readers into a rigorous and emotional experience, and simultaneously provide high catharsis at the denouement, you will be heartily acclaimed from within every corner of the writing-sphere, and I will personally congratulate you upon your success.

However, the truth is, the vast––and I mean vast––majority of professional authors would rather reduce their manuscript, over-which they’ve poured innumerable hours, sweat, and tears, into little grey ashes, than suffer their initial draft to see the light of day before said story has reached its final stages.

The most important thing for any and every aspiring author to grasp in completing their first draft is to set aside the inner editor that screams heinously at you every time you write something substandard.

Allow yourself for this present time accorded to you, to write badly, so that you might write pleasingly. Read the published first drafts of famous authors you admire, so that you can wrestle the inner critic into submission.

Get it written now, get it right later. 2. Dismantle Denigrating Distractions

Distractions of any nature can prove to be a massive deterrent for many authors, whatsoever his or her ‘rank’ might be.

Many people struggle to balance their everyday occupation with finding the hours required to plug away at a white screen in the wee hours of the night. Others find themselves harried by the taxing weight of some emotional or mental trial, addiction to the internet/social media, or even the sustained clamour of irritating whippersnappers who refuse to put a lid on their little traps.

My only advice for balancing multiple activities is to persist, set aside what time you might otherwise spend watching TV or scouring your social media feeds, or pull an extreme and find a new job.

On the other hand...If your desire impels you to such ends, you could consider quitting your job, selling all your earthly possessions save for your computer only, in exchange for consenting to make your dwelling beneath the underside of a bridge, while you write your way to stardom and beyond.

Of course, another (and likely more agreeable) option would be to simply begin writing at a young age, so that the habit is built-in and time-tested for times such as these.

My advice on the distraction of the internet or various social medias is to either 1) possess a powerful sense of self-control, wherein you are grown accustomed to denying yourself and handing out flat no’s with impunity that would make a polar bear blush, 2) remove all temptations from the immediate premises, by either physical means, cutting the internet cable, or 3) do away with everything and settle yourself in the untamed wilds of the Arctic.

In regards to emotional turmoil, I would actually offer up the (unanticipated?) opinion that the former is perhaps the most invaluable mindset a writer of words can possess, in that writing is a highly recommended avenue for the channelling of tribulation. Not only can adapting your thoughts and fears into the lives of your characters be intensely relieving to the mind and soul, but it can also give you the means and material to tell a very compelling story.

This is something to which I can safely testify.

As for the latter––that of the pandemonium that habitually ensues with the existence of vociferous (and might I add, quite insistent) pipsqueaks within the general vicinity––I have this only to say: do please perform either of the following: 

1) Stumble across some method, cure, or remedy that solves this hitherto untreatable demonstration––or in the likelihood that you fail to do so…

2) Shut yourself within your chambers, plug in a pair of headphones, and as the British would direct us: crack on. 3. Acquiring a Vision

Out of all of the hindrances I have faced in getting a first draft written, the struggle for a vision that satisfactorily meets my ambition at every level, has, perhaps, been the most challenging to overcome.

As I have already expressed both this sentiment and the means by which I have endeavoured to vanquish it elsewhere, I would like to include a brief excerpt from my contribution to Kingdom Pen’s inaugural article on writer’s block, which you can read here:

“I am by nature, a very vision-oriented author, and I consistently require a goal or clear idea of what I wish to accomplish in a [particular] scene or chapter.

“I can indeed settle back every here and there and ‘not think’ and ‘just write,’ but when you’re writing a story with very specific intentions in mind, that becomes almost impossible (for myself, at least).

“There must be grounds. There must be justification. There must be purpose.

“It’s akin to playing a piece of music while trying to make up the tune as you go along. It can be done, but it requires a great deal of work later on—work that could very well be done away with. Once, however, you’ve brought to life a definitive melody, then you can focus all your efforts on performing that piece to the very best of your ability.

“That said, here are several methods I have learned to apply whenever the words refuse to come:

“1) The medium of music: I myself much prefer film scores to anything else (ranging from the estimable Howard Shore to Hans Zimmer and so forth), and such music can be [hugely] beneficial in separating yourself from the distractions and intrusions of everyday life, and better focus your attentions on what you wish to accomplish.

“2) Reading great literature: As much as music aids and abets, some things can only ever be set right by reading. The reading of famous authors and writers, as I have found, can prove to be a profound source of inspiration or act as a catalyst to ‘get the words flowing.’

“Usually, a brief digression into the worlds of Tolkien or Austen or other such persons can provide me with all the motivation I ever needed to spur me on as never before.”

To those who might be given reason to doubt me as to the veracity of my claims, I heartily recommend Christopher Tolkien’s twelve-volume History of Middle-earth series, wherein you will find virtually every draft ever written of Professor Tolkien’s Middle-earth sagas, along with a profoundly insightful commentary provided by the son. 

These volumes, while perhaps somewhat tedious or repetitious for the general reader, have had a profound impact on not only my prose style, and subsequent appreciation for the lost archaisms of the past century, but my entire approach to storytelling.

As a small addendum, I might also suggest reading through his published missives, as seen in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter, and published in 1981.

Both selections dispense an abundance of worthwhile and extremely beneficial information for those seeking to grow in their craft, and are, in my opinion, quite pleasurable if you’re the sort of person who takes an interest in roots and beginnings.

Moreover, not only are you given the rare opportunity to look within the mind of a literary genius (and thus see how one might escape conventional story trappings, in addition to adding a deeper and richer dimension to your vocabulary), but you will also see that the great Professor was in the end, a simple, ordinary Englishman with cares, concerns, and struggles of his own.

Famous Last Words Where many people fall short is in regarding the first draft as the end, not the means. The common circumstance is when they either 1) send it in to a literary agent/editor, wrongly assuming that the other party will “fix” the novel up in the editing, and suffer immediate rejection, or 2) (perhaps worse) self-publish as is, and get quickly passed over and trodden under in the vast deluge of mediocre novels that pollute the online publishing sector.

However, the first draft is utterly and unquestionably essential for those who wish to make a profession of writing, and if you chance to finish it, you’ll be leagues ahead of your competition.

Just get the dadgum thing written.


[the above was taken from Matthew's post on KingdomPen.org, which was originally published on August 10, 2020]

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© 2020 BY MATTHEW ROLAND. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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