Tips for Writing Faster

Jun 26, 2012

I was once involved in an online discussion with a bunch of writers on the topic of which we enjoyed more, drafting or editing a story.  I was shocked and amazed to hear so many of my fellow writers declaring that they would rather edit any day and that drafting is a chore for them.  I love drafting!  To me it is the most fun part of writing a novel.  But apparently not everyone thinks so.

I also tend to be a fast drafter.  Some people are sprinters when it comes to drafting and others are plodders.  Some can zip out a first draft in a month or less while others take years to get that first draft done.

Honestly, I feel lucky to be one of the fast drafters.  It gives me a chance to get the whole idea down on virtual paper before it gets rusty in my imagination.  But more importantly than that, in this new era of publishing, when an author can bring a book to market in a matter of months rather than years, it pays to publish faster.  Literally.  Readers are hungry for more, and when they find an author they love they want to read a new book from them two or three times a year.

So fast drafting is becoming a skill that writers need to develop.

Great.  …  How?

Well, writing is a personal experience and everyone has their own system for doing it.  But here are a few tips from my writing routine that might possibly be helpful for those who want to learn to write faster.

1. Keep in mind that a first draft is just a first draft – You get an idea for a story.  You’re excited to write it.  In your mind it is perfect.  It is a gift from the supernatural powers beyond the imagination that enable writers to do things that no one else can do.  You want to impart that gift to the world in all its pristine glory.

It’s a wonderful thought, but it’s not going to happen.

Years ago I used to think that everything I wrote had to be awesome the first time.  I was pouring my heart and soul into it, after all, so it should be great.  But as the great Ernest Hemmingway famously said, “The first draft of anything is shit.”  And it’s okay.  Relax and go with it.  Be mindful that the important part of writing a first draft is getting the structure down.

I’m currently working on The Courageous Heart, the final book in my Noble Hearts trilogy.  I feel like I have a lot of expectations to fulfill, since this is the third book.  Am I anxious about whether I’ll be able to deliver?  You betcha!  And most mornings when I start writing I feel myself on the edge of that knife of wondering if what I’m writing is good enough.  I have to remind myself that at this point that’s not my focus.  Right now my focus is getting the story down.  That happened, then this happens, and then that is going to happen.  I’m doing the best I can to make it as three dimensional and colorful as I can right now, but I know there are bits that are going to have to be tweaked or added or taken out later.  Doesn’t matter.  Some of the things I’m writing now that I know will go bye-bye later might just end up as reminders of where I really wanted to go with the story.  It’s okay.

2.  Make notes that can serve as a map of your story (without being a strict outline) – Now that you’ve taken the burden of perfection off of your shoulders and are ready to write whatever comes out, make sure you know what that’s going to be.  I am a huge note-writer.  I usually use up an entire legal pad per novel in notes.  What do I write?  Everything.  I scribble about backstory, character, what just happened, what is going to happen next, and what scenes I would like to see before it’s all over.

The most important part of this process for me, the part that keeps me from running into writer’s block, is my recap and sneak peek.  When I am getting close to the end of what I know I’m going to write I’ll take ten or fifteen minutes to leave my computer, take my legal pad, and write down what just happened in the last chapter or two and what needs to happen in the next chapter.  Nothing complex or drastic.  The recap is just like what they show at the beginning of a tv episode when the plot continues from last week.  Then I usually start a new paragraph with the words “What needs to happen next is…”.

I do this because if I know exactly what scenes I am going to write each time I sit down at my computer I don’t have to burn time I don’t have by staring at the blank screen and wondering where I’m going.  I already know.  When do I write my notes?  Whenever I can.  Last night it was after I had changed into my jammies but before I went to bed.  Sometimes it’s at work when my computer is running a specific program.  Oh, and I keep those notes close so I can refer to them if I need to, but I don’t pour over them constantly while writing.

3.  Write more than you talk – This is not as silly as it sounds.  It’s also kind of hard to explain.  I write all the time.  I’ve been writing all the time since I was 10.  My brain thinks in the Times New Roman 12pt font.  I type faster than I talk.  I also feel like I can express my thoughts more clearly through writing than through speaking.  Maybe this is because I think with some strange part of my brain that other people don’t, or maybe it can be trained.

The point is, because I write all the time, letters, blog posts, comments on Facebook and other online groups, stuff at work, and oh yeah, novels, my thoughts translate easily to my fingertips.  At some point I stopped consciously thinking about writing or typing and just started doing it as an extension of the ideas in my head.

My theory is that this is part of what makes it easy for me to lay down a first draft lightning fast.  I don’t have to consciously think about the mechanics of what I’m doing.  I’m so used to it that it just happens.  I don’t know how it happens with other people, but for me the act of not thinking about what I’m doing enables me to do it much faster.

4.  Make time to write, no matter what – Kind of self-explanatory.  It’s hard, but you have to do it.  I stopped watching tv on December 21, 2007.  I wrote the first draft of The Loyal Heart in January 2008.  It was 250,000 words long, by the way.  The only way I was able to write so much so fast was because I didn’t do anything else.  Of course, there wasn’t anything else I wanted to do at the time.  Nowadays I do have other things I want to be doing, but I’m also trying to build a career.  I wake up at 5:30am these days to write for an hour before breakfast.  I do it because I want to write, I have to write!  It also helps not to have a husband and children to split my loyalties.  Although I do have a cricket team and some friends that occasionally like to see me.

So there are my tips.  They work for me, they might work for you too.  I’d be interested to hear if anyone gives them a try and if they are effective for you.  I’d also love to hear what other fast drafters do to get those words out.  What are your tips and techniques?

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  1. William Knight

    I enjoyed this post a lot. But crikey, 250,000 words in a month is exceptional.

    I manage about 4000 words a day when drafting. I do it by targeting 100 words per ten minutes, and when I find it hard going I force that target on myself. When things are going well, there’s not much need for it.

    Reply
    1. merryfarmer

      4000 words a day is fantastic! I’m shooting for 2500 on my current WiP just because I have so much else going on in life. The only way I was able to write 250,000 in one month was because I had NO life. :P I had just been through a bad break-up and wanted nothing to do with the world. Don’t think I could ever manage that again.

      Reply
  2. J.D.

    250k is awesome! I did that once, eons ago. I got a draft out of it, and then found out–eep! Too long for the publishers, at the time. I also got carpal tunnel out of it. I haven’t written anything so long since. I learned I was pushing too hard if I did more than 1000 a day. Maybe it’s the carpal tunnel, maybe it’s the audience I started trying to court, but I’m lucky these days if I can make 40k. That part leaves me with a little remorse. I’d love to look back and say I was able to write another 250k book. So I guess my question would be, how are your wrists, Merry? and how do you do the 250k without wanting to cut your hands off at the end of the manuscript?

    Reply
    1. merryfarmer

      I only have problems with my wrists once in a blue, blue moon. I wonder if it’s because I have nowhere to rest my wrists, seeing as my “desk” is technically an antique sewing table that barely fits my keyboard. I wonder if that’s helped me to keep my wrists at the angle you’re supposed to keep them at to not get carpal tunnel. Hmm… Maybe that should be tip 5: adjust your keyboard/wrist angle to avoid carpal tunnel. :P

      Reply
  3. J.D.

    I try to use my wrist rest, you’re right. Sometimes it does help. There are some yoga moves I’ve discovered that help too. I wish I’d known them back when I wrote that monster manuscript! ;)

    Reply