I recently came across a poll asking how many authors actually enjoy the daily process of writing. The answer choices?
- I love every minute of the writing process!
- It depends on the day.
- I like writing, but love having it done with.
- Can I just skip to the editing phase?
I would love to tell you that I chose answer number one… But the other three are much closer to how I really feel. Writing your first draft – quite honestly – is a chore. The days vary from fingers flying across the keyboard and cranking out 5,000 words in a day… to banging your head on the desk, unable to even write one sentence.
My first novel took two years to complete. Granted, I was finishing college, moving to a different city, starting a new job and not prioritizing my writing. But when it came time to draft my second novel, I knew I wanted this one to go a little differently… and a little more quickly.
Because editing is my jam. Going back through the sludge – everyone’s first draft is shitty except maybe Stephen King’s – and really making it shine is the best part of being an author. The ability to transform 80,000 random words into a story is why I love this job.
But you have to words on the page before you get there, and if you’re like me, you want to get to the fun part as fast as possible.
So here are some tips and tricks on fast drafting your novel:
- Ruminate on your story before you begin.
This can take hours or months. I committed to writing 700 Main in October, but I am just getting really serious about it now. The last five months have been for plotting, character development, scene setting, etc. I am not a writer who can just sit down and let a story flow out of my fingertips. If you are, bravo to you!
- Bounce your ideas off your betas.
Especially if they are familiar with your writing style from other projects, beta readers and critique partners are the best sounding boards for working out your ideas and storylines. They can listen and give feedback until you find one that fits.
- Wrestle the scenes in your head into a rough outline.
Regardless of whether you are a planner or a pantser, be sure to at least jot down the scenes in your mind before you forget. I use a spreadsheet with one cell per scene, and then update the status of that scene as I go.
- Do the math and set daily goals.
The average word count for an adult commercial novel is between 80 and 90K. (If you are looking at specific genre or different age group, check out this post for help.) I am planning to have my first draft completed in two months. That means I will need to write approximately 1,416 words each day. Some days you will write more, and some days you will write less. But having a goal in mind helps to streamline your writing into something small and doable.
- Don’t edit, just get it on the page.
Now as I previously mentioned, editing is my favorite. So I really have to reign myself in when fast drafting the first version. It’s no place for perfectionism! Just write it down and you can fix the story, the prose, etc in draft two, three, or four.
- Make a list of things to research later.
As you write, you are going to think of things to look up (types of clothing, when an item was invented, a specific date in history). Don’t pause your writing to do this research. Highlight the spot in your draft, jot it down on a research list and do it later. Inspiration is a fleeting feeling, don’t waste it on Googling lest ye be sucked into its abyss,
- Stop writing when you know what is going to happen next.
This is a hard one but so helpful. If you can force yourself to stop and make a few bullet points about what needs to happen next, it can percolate in your mind overnight for a great start the next day. Then you’re not stuck staring at your computer screen with no scenes in sight.
- Reread the previously written page for a refresher.
Again, do NOT edit! But rereading the last page you write can your start a new day on the right foot. Not only does it refresh your memory on the plot but also on the emotion, creating a better transition.
- Beware of burn out.
Spinning head, aching fingers, tired eyes, brain pain… These are all common symptoms of burn out, a totally normal and expected malady for writers. Treat this like you would any other illness. Rest! There is no shame in taking a day or two off. Just have a plan for how to catch up once you are feeling on top of your game again!
- Don’t forget to read!
I know it may seem like you have no time for anything else, but reading is the single most important and rejuvenating thing for a writer’s mind. Read your genre for inspiration or something completely different for a break. Read non-fiction, a self-help book one of your characters might read, or even writing references! It doesn’t matter. Just pick up a book!
There you have it: a quick guide for a fast draft. Now set your goals, get to writing, and share your progress below!