Fast Drafting: Crazy but doable!


Vision 77


Fast Drafting:

Crazy but doable!


Lisa Lawler

Copyright © 2014, Lisa Lawler, All Rights Reserved


Obviously feeling the need for some insanity in my life, I decided to try fast drafting for NaNo 2013. There were several reasons why (sensible ones, I think) but the main one was that I wanted to finally get my first draft finished and keep the disruption to my family to a minimum. Taking two weeks to work on my first draft instead of the four weeks of NaNo seemed like a win-win.

It was one roller coaster ride. It was a fantastic experience. It was an exhausting experience. But at the end of the 14 days, not only did I ‘win’ NaNo, I also completed a 75K first draft.

I’d like to share with you what I learned from my experiences and some tips and tricks that may help you if you decide you want to try it, too.

What is Fast Drafting?

The goal of Fast Drafting is to write a first draft in as short a time as possible. Participants of Candace Havens’s Fast Drafting workshops strive for a daily goal of 5000 words. (See the Resources section below for a link to her workshops.)

5000 words is a huge target to aim for, and this is precisely why it can mean success for writers who enjoy a challenge. It’s such a big goal you can’t think about it too much or you’d look like a rabbit in the headlights. You just have to sit down and get those words out.

What you need

Fast drafting doesn’t require very much in terms of tools. All you really need is:

• a pen and paper (for warm-ups and for brainstorming ways to get unstuck if you run into a roadblock. You can even fast draft longhand if you really want to, but I don’t recommend it.)

• a tablet or laptop (Typing is a lot quicker than fast drafting longhand.)

• Spreadsheet to record your statistics (This is a very handy way to pinpoint when and where you are the most productive so you can stick to those times and locations for future fast drafting sessions)

• Some healthy brain-food snacks and beverages near to hand (because you have to look after yourself while you let the words pour out.)

How to fast draft successfully

Both plotters and pantsers can fast draft. The only difference is in how they approach the pre-writing preparation.

The best way to fast draft is to have some sort of plan to keep you on track. At the very least, I recommend that any potential Fast Drafter takes a look at James Scott Bell’s LOCK system to nail down the protagonist, the protagonist’s goal, the conflict the character will face, and a possible ending.

Jami Gold’s Beatsheets

Not being a pure pantser myself but more of a planner, I found Jami Gold’s beatsheets an immense help. She considers herself more pantser than plotter, so her beatsheets are designed to help writers hit their story’s structural targets while also allowing room to get creative as they write. Perfect! For the plotters, those same beatsheets can be filled in with more specific details so that they know exactly what they’re going to write before they sit down to write it.

I found the beatsheet useful for a number of reasons:

1. It helped me to keep moving forward with the story and not get caught up in any one section of the novel;

2. It helped me to use my writing time wisely. For example, on Day 7, half way through my two weeks, I knew I needed to have written up as far as the midpoint and be ready to start on that milestone scene;

3. Now that I’m at the revision stage, my structure is in place and all I need to do is fill in the details and fix up any plot holes. This is making the revision process so much easier that it could have been.

So, before attempting to fast draft, I highly recommend checking out Jami’s beatsheets so that you have some idea of where your story is going. It makes fast drafting much easier and frees up your thought processes for the more enjoyable creative decisions.

If you really do not want a map and prefer to ‘discovery-write’, then I would suggest working out the four aspects of LOCK and brainstorming a list of scenes you want to include in your story and keep that list close to hand. It will help to get over any blank-page-and-outrageous-wordcount anxiety that might arise.

The next tool should also help a fast drafter cope with anxiety.

Warm-Ups à la The Accidental Novelist

Even if you’re going to fast draft using your laptop or tablet, have paper and pen to hand to do some warm-up exercises. They help to kick-start the writing session by focusing you on what you’re going to write and are actually a lot of fun. The material that emerged when I did the warm-ups was often quite startling and added a lot of depth to the scenes I wrote, even helping me uncover theme and layers of character motivation.

The exercises I recommend are from The Accidental Novelist’s blog and the one I used the most was the Super Scene Writing Formula. You can find the link in the Resource section below.

Rachel Aaron's Triangle of Productivity

Rachel Aaron wrote a wonderful post (and has also written an ebook on the subject) about how she went from writing 2000 to 10000 words per day. The three factors that had the biggest impact on her wordcount were time (and location), knowledge, and enthusiasm. (The link to her article is in the Resources section.)

This is where the spreadsheet comes in very handy. Each day, fill in the start and finish times for each writing session, and where you were when you wrote. The days where you wrote the most in the least amount of time will show you what time and place were the most productive for you.

The Knowledge and Enthusiasm factors are somewhat catered for by doing the warm-up exercises. I discovered that the days I neglected to do them were the toughest for me. It took much longer to reach my 5K wordcount and, worse, the sparkle was missing from what I produced because I didn’t know what was going to be in the scene and therefore I couldn’t get excited about writing it. Once I looked over my spreadsheet and realised just what a difference the warm-up exercises had made, I went straight back to doing them.

Anything that makes fast drafting easier is worth doing consistently.

My experiences

The Good Stuff

1. The biggest benefit of Fast Drafting was debunking my (false) belief that "Writing is difficult, it takes AGES to write a first draft, and it's all an uphill battle" etc. (Can you picture the melodramatic arm-on-brow pose?) The fact is, writing a first draft doesn't have to be soul-destroying or tedious. Writing a first draft can be fun and satisfying and yield results quickly. Until I tried fast drafting, it did not even occur to me that I could actually write a first draft in 2 weeks, or that other writers had been doing just that since Candace Havens started teaching the method;

2. There was the sheer exhilaration gained from words flowing through my fingertips that I had not consciously thought of writing. There's something about having your logical mind focus on the wordcount goal that frees up your imagination and inspiration to create without being censored. This was a big motivation in trying fast drafting; getting away from my inner critic and just letting the magic spill out;

3. The immense satisfaction of reaching the daily wordcount and of seeing the story progress. Finishing the first draft of a WIP that had been 'stuck' for several years was my Everest and I conquered it. (Yay!)

The not-so- good stuff

1. Some days I found it plain hard to get started on the writing. I had to tackle a great deal of resistance to keep myself in my chair and not give up in the face of a blank page. Some days I had no idea where to start or what to say, but I could easily find every excuse under the sun to be somewhere else doing something else. This happened at the start of the 14 days, and, inevitably, I discovered that it was those same days when I hadn't done my warm up exercises. Knowledge and Enthusiasm are powerful motivators;

2. Fast Drafting can be difficult to fit into Real Life. Some nights I fell into bed completely exhausted because I'd started writing late in the evening when I was already tired. No matter how much I prepared beforehand so I could be out of the house early, some days just didn’t unfold as I would have liked;

3. Perhaps the most emotionally-challenging aspect of fast drafting for me was the effect it had on my family. It may have only been a 14-day challenge where I was missing every afternoon/evening for about two to three hours, but for those two weeks I was spending less time with my husband and young son than usual and they noticed my absence.

Who would enjoy Fast Drafting

• Anyone wanting to get the WIP written quickly, whether because of a tight schedule or to take advantage of some free time coming up;

• Anyone who wants to bypass the internal editor and allow pure creativity to spill out onto the page;

• Any writer who is also a Scanner (as Barbara Sher has named them) so that they get their first draft written without losing the passion for it – which can happen if something is taking too long to produce.

Who wouldn’t enjoy Fast Drafting

• Anyone wanting a very clean and polished first draft with no surprises showing up, and especially if the writer is at the start of their writing journey;

• Anyone who does NOT want to cause any upset whatsoever to their family's routine, and prefers to take a slower and steadier approach. Fast Drafting requires making sacrifices and it’s up to each writer to decide if it’s worth the impact to family and/or friends;

• Anyone who doesn’t cope well with pressure and doesn't enjoy insane challenges.

I hope this has been a useful insight into Fast Drafting and I wish any potential Fast Drafters reading this article all the very best!

Resources Scroll down for the notes on Candace Haven’s tips for successful fast drafting This is a basic plot structure beat sheet and there is also a Scrivener version available This is Jami’s romance beat sheet. This is the Super Scene Writing Formula from The Accidental Novelist There are several templates to choose from with a Comments/Notes column where you can track location, knowledge, enthusiasm and anything else you’d like.