How to Fast Draft

Photo credit: Chapendra on Flickr
On average, it takes me about three to six weeks to complete a first draft.

To be fair, with two notable exceptions, most of my first drafts are on the slim side, from about 40 to 65k (though I usually aim for more than that in later drafts). But as far as first drafting goes, I am, what many would consider, a fast drafter.

So why do I tell you this? Because NaNoWriMo is nearly here. And reaching 50k at the end of the month, my friends, requires fast drafting.

So for those of you who are new to the mystical ways of writing faster than the Energizer bunny on speed, here are five quick tips to help you get through your first draft quickly.

  1. Plot first. If you’re a committed pantser, then more power to you. It’s not impossible to fast draft without some sort of outline, but if you’re open to plotting before you begin, I highly recommend it. Why? Because put simply, it’s a hell of a lot easier to write quickly when you know where you’re going. 

  2. Don’t look back. No really. Don’t. The key to fast drafting is to turn off your editing brain and write. If you want to make 50k by the end of the month, you don’t have time to fix that terrible first chapter or rewrite that cringe-worthy scene. Right now, you don’t need to worry about writing well—you just need to write. That’s it.

    It’s ok to write badly. I promise. Worry about making the words pretty while you’re revising. For now, just get the bones down. 

  3. Write or Die. If you’ve read my blog before, you know about my love affair with Write or Die. I won’t rave about it yet again here—all I’ll say is if you’re even the tiniest bit prone to getting distracted and/or staring blankly at the screen, unsure of what to write, then I dare you to try Write or Die just once. 

  4. Word wars. If you’re on Twitter, chances are you’re going to find more than a couple writers who are participating in NaNoWriMo, or are otherwise writing. We writers love to tell Twitter when we’re actually being productive, and I’ve found that a great motivator to write quickly and stay focused is to have word sprints or word wars with other writers. Check out hashtags like #wordmongering, #amwriting and #NaNoWriMo to find other writers who are getting some words down. 

  5. Daily writing goals: stick with them. And this is the holy grail of fast drafting rules: make a daily writing goal and do everything you can to meet it. For NaNoWriMo, your daily writing goal will likely be 1,667 words (assuming you plan to write every day). If you have Scrivener, you can set a goal and time frame and every day it’ll recalculate the words you need to write to complete your goal (which is pretty shnazzy if I do say so myself). If you don’t have Scrivener and you miss a day, don’t fret—just recalculate your daily writing goal and keep writing. 

So those are my fast-drafting tips, now I want to hear from you: what tips do you have for NaNoWriMo (or fast-drafting in general)?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Getting reading for #NaNoWriMo? Here are five quick tips for your future fast-drafting needs. (Click to tweet)  
Gearing up for #NaNoWriMo? Fast-drafter @Ava_Jae shares five tips for reaching the elusive 50k in 30 days. (Click to tweet)


catayl said...

Yay! Another fast drafter! I'm a fast drafter too. When drafting I aim for about 2K-5K a day, so like you I seem to finish a draft in about 3-6 weeks.

The 3 main reasons I fast draft are because: (a) It keeps my excitement up about a project, (b) It's largely (though not wholly) pointless to go back and polish a scene/chapter that may end up getting axed, and (c) It's fast! Which - in theory - means more novels per year!

I don't need a lot of external motivation to fast draft. Honestly it just seems natural to me. It would be painful to do anything else. But I do spend a fair bit of time plotting out my story first (though the structure inevitably changes when I start writing - sometimes for better, sometimes for worse).

In addition to plotting first, not going back to edit and mostly keeping to my word goals, these are two other tricks I used to keep my pace up for my most recent draft:

(1) Write anachronistically. If and when I was inspired by a scene that wouldn't occur until much later in the novel, that was OK. I went ahead and wrote it and then worked my way up to it. In fact next time around I might write out all my key exciting/turning point scenes first as a way to keep my story on track and working up toward the key plot point moments

(2) Use easy to find-and-destroy fillers for sci-fi jargon and names I hadn't decided on yet. For example typing things like HEALINGSERUM or BOYWITHBOOK helped me move the story right along without getting bogged down in immediately deciding a name for every little worldbuilding/character detail. Then I went back, listed them all, decided on names and did a find-replace. Made things so much easier, and so much faster.

Darth Lolita said...

I was at the NaNo discussion on reddit, and it was recommended that instead of aiming for 1,667 words a day, aim for 2,000 words instead. It will help boost the word count tremendously and falling behind for a day or so won't really hurt your overall wordcount.

I'm going to try that this year. Last year, NaNo hit me just as I was preparing college applications and getting ready for midterms. Now that I'm in college, I surprisingly have a lot more time! xD October is my busiest month, but hopefully November will have much more free time.

I'm not a fast drafter, but I hope to become one someday! :D

Ava Jae said...

I also aim for 2k a day when I'm drafting, though I often try to do more than that—I just consider anything above 2k to be a bonus. :) Like you, I also find that fast-drafting comes pretty naturally to me. I did NaNo for the first time last year, but I've been doing pretty near a book a month (or month in a half) for a while. It definitely helps keep up the enthusiasm.

I've heard a lot of writers swear by writing anachronistically, and I definitely see the potential usefulness, but that's one thing that, as of yet at least, hasn't really worked for me. My scenes build on each other, and I tend to use excitement for a future scene to push me through days where the writing slogs. But I totally understand why it works for some people. :)

And fillers! That's something I haven't really taken advantage of, but I think I'm going to try it. Definitely sounds like it'd be helpful as far as not getting caught up on details that'll be changed/expanded upon later.

Thanks for the great tips!

Ava Jae said...

Yes! I'll be aiming for 2k, which is my normal writing goal anyway. Those extra few hundred words a day can help you get ahead of the curve early, and it's not much more than what you need for the NaNo goal anyway. And as you said, it also helps build in a padding for tougher days.

Good luck with NaNo! :D

Alicia Rades said...

These are great tips. One of my weaknesses is that I go back over the first chapter countless times just so I know I have the beginning right. If I don't have that down, I'm not confident that the rest of my story will follow the proper path. This time, though, I'm aiming on knowing exactly where I'm headed without turning back until I hit the 50K mark (or finish the story, whichever comes last).

I'm really excited to start and I'm confident I'll be done with my first draft pretty quick. Last month I finished a 50K draft in 10 days. It's far from perfect, but that's not the point of this challenge, and I'm fully confident that I can reach the 50K goal long before Nov. 30.
I also wanted to share my tip: After you know how many words you have to write per day, aim for finishing your idea. Don't just stop once you hit that word count mark for the day, but make sure you finish the idea (or chapter) that you're working on.

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Alicia! I understand feeling the need to get the beginning right (it is important), but the good news is you can always go back to it later to perfect it. :)

Finishing a 50k draft in ten days is insanely amazing! Can't say I've ever done that before. And as you said—perfection isn't the point. Now that you have a story down, you can really work on making it shine.

Finally, I think your tip on finishing the idea is great. If you still have the energy and motivation to keep going after you reach your word count goal, then by all means keep going! You'll be glad you did a little extra later on when you're having a slow writing day. :)

sjp said...

Great tips, and already wickedly curious about this Write or Die... I'm quick to form a story, it constantly develops in my mind, actually sitting down and writing it is the problem ;)

Stacy Teitel said...

Great tips! Thanks for the hashtags. When I'm in the writing spirit, I frequently look for fast writing rounds to join. Makes it more fun to write and the competition to rack up the word count per hour gets those juices flowing... :)

Ava Jae said...

Thank you! I definitely recommend Write or Die. I've written full MSes (in short spurts, of course) using the application. :)

Ava Jae said...

Agreed! Love the spirit of competition in the writing community! :)

nan dixon said...

I've been trying to get some of my research done in advance. But if there is something I need to research, I'll just put a note in the manuscript where i need to clarify things. Can't get sidetracked!

Ava Jae said...

Exactly! It can be easy to get really distracted with research, so making notes to check something later is a great way to avoid that.

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