10 Steps to Fast-Draft Your Novel

My writing process has changed a lot over the years. But recently, I’ve come to love fast drafting.

Fast drafting is the process of writing the first draft of your novel as fast as you can. You don’t edit as you go, you don’t look back, you just keep pushing forward. But fast drafting isn’t easy. I spend hours pumping out as many words as I can, only to have writer burnout in the end and I need to take some time to recover.

It’s definitely not a process that works for everyone, but it does for me, so I thought I’d share ten tips on how to fast draft your novel!

1.) Make an Outline

Having an outline can be a lifesaver. If you find yourself getting stuck because “you don’t know what happens next”, this is where an outline comes in. Whenever you get stuck in your writing, simply look at your outline and you’ll know where to take the story next. Even if you’re not a plotter, and hate outlining, knowing the beats of your novel can come in handy too.

2.) Do Writing Sprints

Working with my cabin mates for Camp Nano really showed how powerful writing sprints are! You set a time, say thirty minutes, and work with your writing friends (or by yourself) to write as many words in those thirty minutes. The competitive nature of seeing who can write the most really helped some of my cabin mates (and me) push ourselves to write as much as we could.

3.) Set a Scheduled Time

Similar to writing sprints, but without the “sprint” part. Set aside a time, such as an hour or two, and force yourself to write. Don’t get up from the chair until the time is up. Likewise, writing in short bursts I’ve found can be really beneficial. Sometimes when I’m waiting for dinner to finish cooking, or cleaning, I’ll sneak away to my desk and write as much as I can before getting back up to continue what other things I’m doing.

4.) Know When You’re Most Creative

All of us are most creative at different times of the day. Some of us are morning people, some of us are night owls. Finding the time when your brain is ready to go can be so beneficial. Forcing yourself to sit down and write during a time when your brain is not ready can hurt more than help. For me, I’m most creative in the morning and the evenings. I crash in the afternoon.

5.) End on a Cliffhanger

If you’re getting close to the end of a scene or a chapter, don’t finish it. Just stop. Get up and continue with your day. When you come back to write, you’ll find it’s easier for your brain to pick up the momentum from where you left off, instead of starting a whole new scene or chapter. Try it!

6.) Use Placeholders

This doesn’t work for everyone, but it can work for some! If you find yourself getting stuck on a particular scene, simply use a placeholder! Skip over that scene and come back to it later. Use whatever method you want – a specific word, brackets, a color. Something to let yourself know that you need to come back and write the scene. For some people, this can work wonders.

7.) Set a Goal

Make a goal to write a certain number of words every day, or at least when you can. It doesn’t have to be a huge number of words, but anything that you know you can feel confident about sitting down and doing. For me this means writing at least two-thousand words before getting up and doing anything else.

8.) Keep Pushing Forward

Seriously, don’t look back. I know how tempting it can be to start rereading what you wrote the previous day, and get the itch to fix it. But don’t! Just keep pushing forward.

9.) Research Later

If you reach a spot in your writing where you need to do some research, just write whatever you need to get yourself through the scene. You can research later and add it back in. It’s easy to fall down a hole of research and suddenly find yourself spending hours looking up a particular piece of information that you may only need once. (On the opposite end: do all your research before you begin writing at all! This works too.)

10.) Challenge Yourself

The most important thing you can probably do: just challenge yourself to write. When you can, as much as you can, give it a try. Fast-drafting involves a lot of word vomiting on the page, and for me, it works.

If you haven’t noticed – one of the biggest things about fast drafting is that you have to keep pushing forward. The most important thing about fast-drafting is not looking back. Don’t get caught up in some poorly constructed sentences, or crappy world-building. The important thing to do is get the words on the page. You can edit them later.

“You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

-Jodi Picoult


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