Should You Fast-Draft Your Novel?
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Is fast-drafting the secret to finally rocking your first draft?
A few weeks ago, I hosted a poll asking if you'd prefer I continue publishing long-form content here on the blog or if you'd be happy to see a few shorter tip-packed posts thrown into the mix. Overwhelmingly, you all were up for articles of any length so long as they were full of helpful writerly advice.
This thrilled me, as fast-drafting — while not that big of a topic to discuss — has absolutely revolutionized my writing process in recent months, and I've been ever so eager to share it with you since. So, what in the world is fast-drafting? And how might it transform your writing process, too? Let's break it down, writers!
Why do writers fast-draft their novels?
If you think the term "fast-drafting" is pretty self-explanatory, you'd be correct. Fast-drafting is quite literally the process of writing the first draft of your novel (or short story, novella, etc.) as quickly as possible. No hesitation, no excuses, no editing-as-you-go.
That said, fast-drafting won't be the right technique for every writer. Fast-drafting works best for those who have a very-detailed understanding of their stories before beginning to write and who find themselves quite capable of cranking out a thousand or more words in an hour.
Of course, those words won't be the most beautiful words in the world — and they're not meant to be. Fast-drafting works off the principle that first drafts aren't meant for pretty prose, but rather for getting one's exciting mess of a story idea out of their head and down onto paper.
Why? Because so much of the magic of storytelling happens in editing. That's where plots come together and pacing evens out, where characters and themes are buffed to high shine and where each and every sentence is tailored to perfection.
Because so much changes in the subsequent drafts of a manuscript, writers who fast-draft don't consider it worth their while to pour energy into making their first drafts read beautifully. It's bare bones for them, then onto the magic of editing!
But is fast-drafting right for you?
If I've learned anything in my time as a writing blogger, it's that there's absolutely no single technique that works best for every writer. We all have different lives, different creative processes, different schedules and styles of stories to tell. As someone who loves creating detailed outlines and far prefers revising to drafting, fast-drafting my novels has worked wonders for my creative process, but the same may not hold true for you.
Is it worth giving fast-drafting a shot? In my book, absolutely. You never know what may revolutionize your writing process until you try it. But fast-drafting does take time to explore, so if you're wary of giving this technique a go, here are a few pros and cons to help you decide whether or not to commit:
The Pros of Fast-drafting Your novel:
- You complete a full first-draft in very little time.
- You don't spend precious writing time perfecting scenes you'll only cut or change in editing.
- You don't get caught up in the self-perpetuating loop of editing-as-you-go.
- You learn to push pasts doubts and fears, and get 'er done.
- You'll likely find it much easier to maintain writing momentum.
The Cons of Fast-drafting Your novel:
- You'll likely have to re-write every last line during editing.
- You may experience burnout after so many days of fast, fierce writing.
- Fast-drafting may not work well with your writing process, especially if you're a pantser.
- Fast-drafting also isn't as effective if you don't have much time to put toward writing on a frequent basis.
How can you fast-draft successfully?
Think you're ready to give fast-drafting a try? Hurray!
There is no set rule for how quickly you should fast-draft your novel. Some writers complete first drafts in as little as four or five days, whereas my own fast drafts usually take four to eight weeks to complete. To put that in context for you, my first drafts typically fall between 85k - 110k words, so I write roughly 2,300 words a day when fast-drafting.
Your schedule and writing speed will have a big impact on how quickly you're able to fast-draft your book. But what matters is not so much how quickly you fast-draft, but rather that you're maintaining writing momentum and refusing to edit as you go. If you want to make the most of your fast-drafting experience, here are a few other tips and tricks to employ:
Tip #1: Pre-write Your novel.
If you know exactly what you need to write next at any given moment, you're unlikely to run into any snags as you work to fast-draft your novel. That's why I prefer to do a lot of pre-writing before beginning to draft, going so far as to outline my book scene-by-scene.
(I've heard that some pantsers enjoy fast-drafting, but I've yet to meet any fast-drafting pantsers for myself. If that's you, give me a shoutout on Twitter @kristen_kieffer!)
Looking for a little guidance as you pre-write your next novel? You may enjoy The Pre-Write Project, our 143-page digital workbook designed to zap the overwhelm out of the pre-writing process. Click here to check it out today!
Tip #2: Be intentional.
Fast-drafting can be quite time-consuming in the sense that it's most effective if you can throw an hour or more into writing most days of the week. Knowing this, you'll want to be intentional about carving out blocks of time to write.
Let your friends and family know what you're up to. Take a day or two off work if you're able. Go on a television strike. In whatever ways you can, make your schedule work to your advantage.
Tip #3: Ditch expectations.
If you're fast-drafting a novel, your writing is going to suck. Simple as that. The best thing you can do is ditch the idea that a rough draft should be anything other than rough and write. You'll thank yourself later, when you aren't ditching an unnecessary scene you put hours of care into crafting.
Tip #4: Set goals.
If you're the type of writer who can crank out 15k or 20k in a day, I don't think you'll have any problem fast-drafting your novel. But if endless writing energy isn't on your side, setting goals can help you see your fast-drafting through.
I personally find it helpful to set a deadline for my finished draft, but you may wish to choose a daily goal instead, such as working for an hour or writing a minimum of 2,000 words each day.
When I fast-draft, I write a complete — if messy — rough draft. Some writers, however, fast-draft a little differently.
I've chatted with writers who only fast-draft their books' major scenes, preferring to fill in the gaps once those scenes have been finalized in revisions. I've also heard of writers who prefer to fast-draft only dialogue and action, saving narrative, descriptions, and other less plot-driven elements for later drafts.
How you choose to fast-draft your novel is up to you. Remember, there is no right way to write.
I would encourage every writer to give fast-drafting a try at least once in their writing lives in the hope that it may prove as helpful to them as it has to me. But if you know for certain that fast-drafting won't work well with your writing process, have no fear. Go forth and rock your novel style, writer!