Tuesday, November 19, 2013

4 Ways to Write Faster Than Ever

Whether or not you do NaNoWriMo (and by this point in November you've already decided if you're going to finish or not), if you want to make a career out of writing, you will absolutely need to know how to draft quickly.

As a writer, unless you are one of the rare handful of uber-successful multi-millionaire writers, you will constantly be working on someone else's schedule. Many of us spend years writing our first book, churning out the first draft slowly over many, many months. But if and when you sign a contract, you don't have the luxury of moving that slowly for the second book. Agents and editors will want to see early drafts very quickly, often as quick as sixty or ninety days. And that has to be a draft that you're comfortable presenting to them. Not your first draft.

Experienced, multi-published authors get in the habit of getting the story down, drafting entire novels in a month or less (Robison Wells famously drafts each of his novels in two weeks or less - VARIANT was drafted in eleven days!)

If you're someone (like me) who spent much longer than that on their first draft, you might ask "HOW DO THEY DO IT?!?!?"

I have the answers for you. Buckle up. This is going to go quickly. (Not really)

- Plan before you write. 
Put together an outline, or a plot, or a rambling summary. Make character biographies, create a list of names that fit in your world that you can draw on quickly, have an idea of terrible things that could happen to your character. You might not use it all, but having a mad-libs sort of list to fall back on is a lot better than spending an hour "researching" all the ways teenaged girls can hurt each others feelings.

And by "research" - I mean watching 90s teen movies. Obviously.

- Utilize the placeholder. 
When I get to a place where I can't think of the word, or I realize I haven't built that piece of the world yet, I put "XXX" in the manuscript and move on. At last count, my NaNoWriMo project has about 41K words, and 31 instances of XXX. The XXX stands in place of towns, directions, people's names, list of ingredients, description of weapons, symptoms of an illness, anything that I need to do more research on or need to think about.

The XXX allows me to keep writing. I know where the scene or the conversation needs to go, and I don't want to get bogged down by details and research right now. I'll come back to it. When I'm done drafting (or if I have a few minutes to spare and need a mental break), I'll use the search function and find all the XXXs and replace them, one at a time.

- "Insert this kind of scene here"
When I know I need to have a transition scene, or a scene where someone reveals some information, but I can't get the words to flow, I type, in big capital letters, "INSERT A SCENE WHERE SHE CONFESSES HER LOVE BUT HE REJECTS HER". Then I move on to the scene I am mentally/emotionally prepared to write. It's not always that specific. Sometimes it's "INSERT TRAVEL SCENES HERE" or "INSERT SOMETHING AWFUL HERE".

Then I use that handy-dandy search function to search for the word INSERT and take care of each scene, one at a time.

- Make changes inline. 
Sometimes I'll realize I need to foreshadow something, or that I've written a bunch of scenes out of order. In line with the text, I'll type in "XXX move this scene up - before she eats breakfast" or "XXX add stuff about his hair before this". This way, I don't waste valuable drafting time scrolling up, searching for just the right paragraph, and finding ways to do these little things.

So that's it. Those are my tips.

What are you fast-drafting tips?


  1. So, this list is brilliant, and "And by "research" - I mean watching 90s teen movies. Obviously," is spot on. I like your consistency a lot, not just with the XXX, which I use, but the "INSERT..." idea, too. I've been highlighting sections that need work, need to be moved, etc, so this simplifies the problem of me scrolling. I've also found that Scrivener has been the best $40 birthday present I've ever received. My organization is usually terrible, but, if anything, I feel like I was actually over prepared this time. I keep realizing I have too many characters or sub plots that I'll have to cut out in revision.

    Awesome tips, dude!

  2. One of my friends in my writer's group showed me a nifty idea with her outline. She puts her chronological outline (Because she has more than one outline for each story.) in the document she is writing. When she writes a scene from the outline, she erases that part of the outline. If she comes to a part in the story where she wants to skip, she leaves that part of the outline there and skips down to the next part of the outline and picks up the story there. I'm not even sure if this is making sense. You may have to see it to understand like I did! But it's brilliant! I don't have to open other documents to check my outline quickly cuz it's already there. I know the next piece in my story. And if I get stuck, I just skip and use that part of the outline as my place holder.

  3. That does make sense. And that's a good idea, if I had a detailed outline like that. I outlined for the first time ever on this NaNoWriMo project, and all I did was Dan Wells' 7 point outline.

    But if I ever get better at outlining, I will have to try this!

  4. I definitely need to buy Scrivener. Do you know if you're able to import stuff you've already written? Or should I wait until I'm on a new project.

  5. I'm honestly not sure. I started it fresh for NaNo, and it has been a dream, what with having done most of my research and basic world-building beforehand. Christmas present idea... :)

  6. These are awesome! I like your XXX ideas. (Wow, when I look at that sentence it looks really bad, LOL!) As I’ve said before, I have found that I am much more comfortable editing my stuff than writing it, so if I’m not feeling a scene I just write it anyway, and sometimes it’s like, “‘Hi,’ he said. ‘Hi,’ she said.” I mean, really, really terrible. But once I have something terrible written it is much easier to go back and pinpoint exactly WHY it is terrible and what I need to do to make it better.

    My only other thing that I love to do is SPRINTING. Just write, write, write, fast as you can for an hour. As long as I have a general idea of where the story is going, I can head there full throttle and accomplish more than if I was just following the slow-running creative juices.


    I use the #writeclub tag on twitter - it is my sprinting lifeline. They run sprints starting at 9:00 AM my time, every Friday, and they go until Darci collapses (usually around 2:00 AM Saturday morning), sprinting for 30 minutes, then taking 10 minute breaks. The camaraderie is unbeatable, and it's SO motivating. There will always be someone typing faster than me, but everyone loves and cheers for every word you get. It's amazing.

    So. Yes. Sprinting. I love it too.



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