writing tips

How to draft quickly

It’s the start of a new November, which means thousands of people are participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. I adore NaNoWriMo so much, and I credit it with helping me learn to draft quickly. To date, my highest word count achievement was writing 4200 words in a single hour, but in general, I average about 3000 words an hour when writing. This is usually one chapter, although I often have shorter or longer chapters.

When I’m drafting a new novel, I sit down and tackle it one chapter at a time. I aim for writing one chapter per day, so my books are usually finished in a month since I outline using a 25-30 chapter outline.

In celebration of November 1st, I thought I’d share some of my quick drafting tips with you!

  • Use an Alphasmart. I’ve blogged at length about this, but I’m serious. This thing is probably 90% of the reason why I draft so quickly. You can’t get distracted by the internet or your computer when you’re typing on a machine like this. They are currently $35 on eBay and they run a little higher on Amazon. I recommend the Alphasmart Neo 2.0. You will NOT regret it.
  • If you don’t have mobility concerns, consider writing on a stationary bike desk or treadmill desk. I use a bike desk, and when I’m locked onto that thing, I find it so much easier to write and pedal. You don’t feel compelled to get up or move around and do something else. Focus, and butt-in-chair is how you get stuff written!
  • Turn off the Wi-Fi. This should be the first thing you do!
  • Save your research.
    • Not for the big things, of course, but for little things. If you’re writing a chapter and you need a name for a new side character, or a type of car, or you need to know the #1 hit song from 1983, DON’T stop and look it up! Nothing derails a writing sprint like Google. I use an asterisk to mark the place and then I keep going. For example, if I need a type of car, I’d put “Sally’s mom drove a *CarType that everyone in town envied.” Then, later during revisions, you can search your manuscript for all of the *’s and then fill in the missing info.
  • Outline.
    • I’m a big advocate of outlining. While there’s nothing wrong with making up your story as you go, and some people prefer that, if you want to draft quickly, an outline is the way to go. You don’t get writer’s block when you already know what’s happening in the next chapter. I tend to spend a week or so outlining a novel down to the scenes and the chapters, and then when it’s time to write it, it’s so much easier to get words on the page.
  • Don’t stress over the small stuff.
    • Tell, don’t show. Let those cliches fly! In fact, make ’em extra cliche-y. When I’m drafting, I know I want to describe the setting, or a character’s clothing, or eyes. But if I stop to think of a unique way to say something, it usually drags me out of the storyline and I’ll get stuck and waste too much time. Save it all for editing. If something great comes to me in the moment, I’ll write it, but if not, I allow myself to write the trite boring stuff in the moment, because I can easily go back and fix them later. I leave in the sighs, and smiles, and shrugs, and the overused phrases during the drafting stage because it keeps me writing faster. I actually prefer revisions, so I’ll go back and spruce up the droll language during edits. After all, it’s much easier to edit a completed draft than to edit a blank page.
  • Allow yourself the time to write.
    • This means close yourself up in a room. Tell the family to leave you alone. Turn off your cell phone. If you only have ten minutes or an hour, dedicate that time to you and your writing. Don’t let the world interfere with your writing time. Time is a precious commodity, and when you get some, make it count.

Bonus, untried tip:

  • Consider dictating
    • This isn’t something I do, but my husband and many of my writer friends swear by it. Dragon Naturally Speaking, or something similar, is a software that types what you say out loud. I’ve heard it takes a learning curve to get it to work perfectly, but that it’s very rewarding once it does. I have a friend who writes 6000 words an hour by dictation. It’s definitely something to look into, and one of these days I might consider it myself.