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As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m a permanent fast-drafter. Regardless of the month or day of the year, when I work on a first draft, I blast through it as quickly as possible. It usually takes me roughly three to six weeks (then again, I tend to write lean first drafts), but I’ve been known to finish more quickly or slowly. Depends on the manuscript, but either way I have quite a bit of experience with first drafting. And so I’m sharing my personal fast-drafting rules.
Like any writing “rule” these of course are subject to change and can certainly be broken, skipped or ignored outright if they don’t work for you. The only real wrong way to fast draft is to, um, not fast draft.
So all of that said, here we go:
- Have a plan. While this doesn’t work for everyone, many fast-drafters swear by outlining if only because it cuts out the time spent wondering where the manuscript is going or accidentally writing yourself into a corner. Personally, knowing where I’m going next has helped me tremendously in terms of writing quickly because when I always know where the story is going it helps me to keep forward momentum. That being said…
- Be flexible. Sometimes my characters will completely ignore what I had planned for a scene and do something totally different. 10/10 times what I come up with while I’m writing is better than what I originally planned. Some of my biggest twists and greatest moments of characterization have come out of these spontaneous, unexpected detours, so in short, if you find your characters start taking you off the beaten path, don’t fight them. Your subconscious—and your characters—know what they’re doing.
- Write in spurts. My #1 not-so-secret secret to writing thousands of words in a day? It’s writing in thirty minute spurts. Again, this doesn’t necessarily work for everyone, but when I set a timer for thirty minutes and watch my word count go with either Write or Die, my Scrivener doc or—something I haven’t tried yet but can’t wait to experiment with soon: mywriteclub’s online word sprints—it really pushes me to get the words down quickly without thinking too hard about the quality of said words. Which is key because…
- Don’t worry if it sucks. Writing quickly doesn’t automatically equate to sucky writing, but it might. And seriously, that’s beyond okay. First drafts are allowed to suck. I usually think my first drafts are junk while I’m writing, and sometimes when I re-read parts I agree, but many times I realize it’s not quite as bad as I thought. So just get the words down and don’t worry about whether or not it’s any good until later.
- Don’t look back. Part of not worrying about whether or not what you wrote is any good is making a pact not to go back and edit anything until after you’ve finished writing. I generally find it’s best not to re-read more than a couple paragraphs (to remember where I left off), and even then I often just do a brief skim, if that, before I dive in again. The temptation to edit, otherwise, is too strong.
- Don’t censor. Even when I know it’s not true, I like to write my first drafts pretending that I am the only person who will ever read it ever. This means I don’t censor anything—language, sentences I think are stupid, dialogue that is definitely dumb, questionably acceptable content, etc. First drafts should be free and loose and fun—you can always cut whatever you think is necessary later on.
- Leave blanks (if needed). That time that I finished NaNoWriMo stupidly quickly I used this method. I’ll be using it again, because sometimes the last thing you want is to stop in the heat of a scene to figure out what that rando’s name is going to be and totally mess up your momentum.
- Have a daily/weekly goal. Keeping on task is pretty important when you’re fast drafting, and especially when you’re NaNoing. I like to build a buffer into my daily goal which then gives me room to take a break when I need to, or else I just write more than I need to early on when I tend to have the most enthusiasm and momentum. But at any rate, when you figure out good daily or weekly goal for yourself, do whatever you can to keep yourself on track.
- Interact with other writers. Last time I did NaNoWriMo, interacting with other writers is a big part of the reason I blew my goal out of the water and finished really early. Events like NaNoWriMo are fantastic because there are so many excited, enthusiastic writers who are all embarking on the same goal, which means there are plenty of people to word sprint with and cheer each other on. And that alone, honestly, can be incredibly awesome for motivation.
But even if you’re fast-drafting when it’s not NaNo season, talking to other writers online and finding people who are also writing can be really encouraging.
- Celebrate milestones. What milestones you celebrate are up to you, but make sure you celebrate! 10,000 words is my first big milestone because that’s when I call a writing experiment an official WIP (anything I abandon before that I don’t consider an actual WIP). But with NaNo, every 10,000 words, or the 25,000 milestone, or whatever you decide is a milestone worth celebrating is one you should be proud of. Because celebrating the little steps along the way can give you the boost of happy energy you need to get to the next one.
Have you ever fast-drafted? Will you be NaNoing this year? What tips do you have?
Considering fast-drafting? @Ava_Jae shares ten tips for getting through a first draft quickly. (Click to tweet)
Gearing up for NaNoWriMo? @Ava_Jae shares ten keys to fast drafting. (Click to tweet)