Can You “Fast Draft”?

by Jami Gold on November 8, 2011

in Writing Stuff

Draft stamp

Several writers I know have recently tried the “Fast Draft” method.  What is the Fast Draft method?  Fast drafting entails getting the framework of our stories down as fast as possible—without worrying what that draft looks like.

Author Candace Havens says it’s possible to complete a first draft in two weeks.  *mind boggles*  Two weeks is even faster than the 50K-words-in-a-month schedule of National Novel Writing Month.

We’ve heard the advice to “write sh*tty first drafts,” and this method embraces that advice to the fullest.  After all, we can’t edit a blank page.

Author Roxanne St. Claire wrote a great blog post a few weeks ago about why she finally made the effort to learn how to Fast Draft.  Her husband made the brilliant analogy that editing as we go or worrying about the details of word choice and whatnot in a first draft is like decorating a skyscraper before construction is done.

“What you need to do … [i]s frame the building with rebar.  Lay down the floors.  Leave holes for stairwells and elevators and windows.  Build the exoskeleton in 60,000 words, then go back and start filling in each floor.  And after the floors are done, then you can paint, hang curtains, and put your precious plants around.”

After her husband’s speech, Roxanne attended Candace’s Fast Draft workshop and made herself try the method.  Three weeks and 53K words later, she’s “discovered the key turning points, the emotional arc, the outcome of the subplots, and the “beats” of the story.”

She admits that her story building has a lot of holes.  She still needs to:

“…build the missing stairwells (transition scenes!) and carpet every room (five senses!) and hang a few pictures (emotional introspection!) and, of course, arrange my precious plants (power verbs!).”

But she has a starting point, and more importantly, she isn’t spending weeks editing/revising/rewriting thousands of words to get them perfect—only to rip them out when she discovers the plot needs serious adjustment.

Sounds Great!  How Do I Do It?

Candace offers her workshops on her website, as well as at writing conferences and chapter meetings.  An extremely generous author, she shared tips from her workshop at the 2011 RWA National Conference.

This handout includes the “rules” for fast drafting, which include:

  • No editing (don’t even read previous paragraphs to remember where you left off)
  • No distractions
  • No excuses

Whether we Fast Draft or not, those rules sound pretty good for making us focus on what it takes to finish a draft.

Will Fast Drafting Work for Everyone?

That’s a good question.  I’ve heard that both plotters and pantsers can succeed with fast drafting.  But I’d guess the types of edits they have to make after the fact would be different.

A pantser might discover that the plot of their book is completely different from when they first started.  And with the “no editing” rule, there’s a good chance the beginning would need to be rewritten from scratch.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the editing-as-you-go approach could result in several “beginnings from scratch” while discovering where the plot wants to go.

A plotter might think they have everything organized just so before starting, but the requirement of turning off the internal editor might make the story veer into uncharted territory.  Again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as when stories go where they want, the result can be a more naturally flowing plot.

In other words, the Fast Draft method can play to the strengths of both plotters and pantsers, while also removing some of the weaknesses.  That’s an intriguing thought.

My Experiment with Fast Drafting

I have never been a fast drafter.  While I’m able to settle on a word that I know isn’t perfect and move on, I’m a perfectionist in general.

Some of that reluctance to embrace imperfection is because I know the things I tend to miss in editing, and I’d rather get it right the first time.  Once I write something, I have a hard time seeing how it could be changed until someone points it out.

Luckily, my first drafts are fairly clean.  (I’ve mentioned before that my blog posts are near first draft quality.)  However, my first drafts definitely aren’t fast.  I probably average about 400-500 words an hour for that “clean” draft.  And even then, they still need some editing.

So when some of my friends, Kerry Meacham and Gene Lempp, organized two writing sprints on Twitter this past weekend, I decided to give it a try.  Similar to the #1k1hr hashtag on Twitter, writing sprints are about spending a set amount of time typing as fast as you can.

We set each of our writing sprints for an hour, and at the tweet of “Go!”, we all went “dark” (no Twitter, email, etc.).  An hour later we reported our word count.  I wrote 900 words for the first one and 1K words for the second.

I was still the slowest of the bunch even though I’m a good typist.  (Gene wrote 1186 and 1177, and Kerry wrote 2061 and 1369.  @albrtwhite joined us for 1200, and @laurengarafalo came in late and still managed 1044.)  But my 900-1000 words were double my usual, so I’ll take it.  *smile*

Only time will tell if that “messier” section of my draft ends up helping or just taking more time to edit.  Kerry admits his drafts are near stream-of-consciousness.  So I have to wonder if a higher word count is always a good thing.

A part of me still wants to protest.  What if the need for more editing takes up more time than it would have taken to write a cleaner draft to begin with?  Haven’t we all heard the saying, “If you’re going to take the time to do something, do it right”?

Obviously, I’m still conflicted about this.  I love the idea of fast drafting, and I definitely think we should limit the amount of editing we do while in the drafting stage.  But I’ll be looking at my word sprint scene very closely when it comes to editing time to see if the method actually saved time or just shifted it from one phase to another.

For me, I think the real benefit of word sprints, #1k1hr, or fast drafting comes from the sense of commitment during writing time.  It means not letting ourselves get distracted, it means not using any excuses like “my muse isn’t speaking to me,” and it means that we have others holding us accountable for our results.  For that reason alone, I’ll try word sprints again.

Have you tried fast drafting?  How did it work for you?  How does your editing change when you fast draft?  Do you think fast drafting saves you time and/or effort?  Do you write more when you feel accountable for your word count?

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92 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Elizabeth Arroyo November 8, 2011 at 7:06 am

I find fast drafting easier when you know your main arcs. It allows you to get there and then fill in the blanks later. I’ve done it, but it took longer than two weeks. =)

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 7:47 am

Hi Elizabeth,

Yes, I think fast drafting would be “easier” in some respects if the author knows the basic arc already, but I could say that about pantsing in general. :)

According to Roxanne’s post, it looks like she’s a pure pantser, in that she discovers the main plot as she writes. Even with my most pantsingest (yes, I know that’s not a word, but you know what I mean, right? :) ) story, I still knew the gist of the main obstacle the protagonists would have to overcome. So for writers like Roxanne, the big thing is the no-editing rule that makes them finish the discovery phase before moving on to anything else. Thanks for the comment!

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Gabriella Hewitt November 8, 2011 at 7:08 am

Fascinating post. I’ve never heard of this method. I get the analogy but I don’t think I could do it. I like to get things right as I go. I find that getting a scene the way I want enables me to move forward. I’m not sure I’d like to have the framework and then have to go back after I finished to fill it in. But I’m also a big believer in people finding the method that works best for them. We’re all under pressure to get books out and the more we can get out the better. If this system works, go for it. ( :

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 8:06 am

Hi Gabriella,

There are certain aspects of the story I can see leaving blank during the first draft phase: transition scenes and transitions at the start of scenes being two big ones. I could also see being able to add in action beats and/or interiority (internal monologue stuff) later. Other things I want to get close to right from the beginning because that’s what’s driving the scene, like dialogue.

Before these writing sprints, I’d mentioned to Kerry that I’d have to do my research for the sprint scene ahead of time. He talked about leaving research for filling in later too. I think it depends on the type of research, as some research is for details and some will hugely influence the plot. That’s “what kind of car are they driving?” vs. “are they overcoming obstacles while flying or driving?” An airport-delay scene is completely different than a broken-down-in-the-desert scene, so that would need to be decided on before writing. :)

But as you said, it really comes down to finding what will work for us. The only question is–like Roxanne and her 15 starting-from-scratch drafts before discovering the plot–is our method the most efficient and effective way that will work for us? :) Thanks for the comment!

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ScottTheWriter November 8, 2011 at 7:17 am

Great post. I remember reading Roxanne St. Claire’s post about decorating the unfinished skyscraper a few weeks ago.

I believe in this post. I’ve never read the “Fast Draft” articles, but this more or less fits what I’ve been doing. Yes, I can probably write 1000 words an hour, or maybe 500, but only after I have either written down an outline, or at least made it clear in my mind. “Who is going where? With whom? What happens? What happens next?”

I am now reading something that was obviously written without any clear story arc, and the prose meanders all over the place. I have no idea where the author is going, and I don’t really care. I probably will not get to the end.

So, Jami, thanks for supporting my model of writing!

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 8:10 am

Hi Scott,

Yes, I don’t need (or usually even want) to know the details of how a scene will play out while I’m writing it, but I do like knowing what “point B” I’m aiming for. If I didn’t have a goal in mind, I’d wander aimlessly too. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Jill Kemerer November 8, 2011 at 7:46 am

I use my own fast draft method. I’m an extreme plotter. Once I know the main story points and how I will connect them, I write fast. However, I do review and do light edits as I go. I still end up revising for weeks, but overall, my method keeps me sane and allows me to be prolific. I’m keeping it!

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 8:14 am

Hi Jill,

Woo hoo! That sounds like that works for you. :)

Yes, I think I incorporate some aspects of the fast draft method (limiting editing of prior writing, forcing dedicated writing time, etc.). One thing I’ll do more of is using sprints or #1k1hr or something when I’m stuck or not feeling in a groove. I think forcing myself to write anyway will help get me past that point. Thanks for the comment!

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Shellie Sakai November 8, 2011 at 8:39 am

Hey Jami!

I took Candace’s class and loved it. I have been a follower of her’s for quite sometime. I love fast draft. It works great for me, especially the no edit as you go. I fast draft with pencil and paper then transcribe/edit onto the computer.

When I do it with pencil and paper there are no annoying red or green lines underscoring an error. When I am writing on the computer I see these errors and immediately stop to fix them, which stops my writing.

Great post and I think everyone should try fast draft at least once in their writing career. :-)

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 9:26 am

Hi Shellie,

I think everyone should try fast draft at least once in their writing career.

That’s really good advice. How do we know if a method (any method) will work for us or not unless we’ve tried it once. As I mentioned in a comment above, just because what we’re doing now is working, that doesn’t mean another method might not work better. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Susan Sipal November 8, 2011 at 9:34 am

What a great analysis, Jami. And thanks for providing the links to Candace’s workshop. I’d not heard of it.

I think with all things, this is a process that will work for some writers with some stories. I definitely get and agree with the idea of separating out the creative and editing minds and letting each do their jobs.

My concern for myself with the process is very similar to what you stated here: “Once I write something, I have a hard time seeing how it could be changed until someone points it out.”

I’m EXACTLY like this. Changing major ideas I’ve written is much more difficult than changing them when they are still in idea stage. Therefore, I’d have to have thought out my story very well before I could commit to just writing a draft as fast as I can, because I know it will be harder for me to change it once written.

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 9:47 am

Hi Susan,

Why am I not surprised that you and I are the same in that regard? :) Maybe we’re long-lost sisters. LOL!

Yes, for me, the words in a sentence or paragraph or scene are like a puzzle. Once they fit together, I think they must be “right” because they fit. It takes someone pointing out to me that these other bits would fit together too–and usually fit even better–for me to reassemble the puzzle. I’m great with adjusting things once I see them (which makes it easy to have a thick skin for critiques), but I need someone’s help to identify the possibilities. Beta readers for the win! :) Thanks for the comment!

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Raelyn Barclay November 8, 2011 at 9:41 am

I love the skyscraper analogy!

Hmm…once again I think I fall somewhere in between. I don’t edit during the first draft aside from little tweaks I make re-reading what I wrote the day before, even then I only allow myself to add, I can’t cut until the revision stage. I’ve tried a couple different “fast draft” methods but none has really resonated with me. I’ll definitely check out Candace Havens.

Great post Jami!

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 9:49 am

Hi Raelyn,

Yes, I think I’ll probably end up falling somewhere in the middle too. Limiting my editing as I go, fast drafting when I need to kick start my muse, but still trying to get it close to “right” during the first draft. Thanks for the comment!

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Brooke Johnson November 8, 2011 at 10:01 am

I fast-drafted my first novel. Even going to school, I finished it in six months roughly. I also pantsed it the entire way through.

When it came to revisions. I spent nine months revising, and I only got about halfway through the third draft before giving up. I just couldn’t figure out how to take the crap I had written and turn it into something better.

So for my second novel, the one that’s releasing next month, I spent two weeks plotting the story, and roughly four months writing the first draft, editing as I went. When I started the novel, I wanted to do the opposite of what I did with the first. Because I really wanted this book to work, and I didn’t want to spend more time revising than it took to write the book. So I deliberately stifled my wordcount. I didn’t worry about how many words I got down each day. I just made sure that the words I did write, were as good as I could make them, without of course, becoming a perfectionist. On a good day, I got 500 words an hour. On a bad day, 100 words an hour. I spent four months writing that draft. And I maybe got 1500 words a day in the beginning. I ended writing about 3500 words a day, but I also had to do the most editing on those final chapters. Four months writing, and only a few weeks of revision (taking out all the waiting time of hearing back from betas and an agent).

And I can honestly say that my steampunk novel is the best thing that I’ve ever written. I know that when I start the sequel, I’ll use the same method. It’s what works for me. I learned with my first novel that by not plotting and just writing as much as absolutely possible each day, I had a lot more work to do after the fact. I avoided that with my steampunk novel, and I doubt I will ever write a novel any other way.

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 10:14 am

Hi Brooke,

Thank you so much for sharing your experience! Yes, for a pure pantser who has no idea where the main conflict will go, I think the main benefit is not spending too much time on this “discovery” draft. It seems almost like a really long synopsis or outline to work from when writing (revising) the real thing. :)

Some people might naturally be good at constructing plot points, turning points, reversals, and whatnot even while pantsing, or maybe after completing so many novels, they learn structure by instinct. But for those pantsers who don’t have structure down, fast drafting might only encourage randomness. :) Great insight and thanks for the comment!

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Laura Pauling November 8, 2011 at 10:11 am

Over the past few years, I’ve definitely written faster, or more per day. Some scenes go faster than others. But I don’t feel the pressure to have to finish my first draft in 3 weeks. I finish mine in under 3 months, which is fine for me.

And I love first drafts! I love writing them, the creativity, the flow, the not editing. Why would I want to push through it in a couple weeks? No thanks.

I can see if people really struggle with editing all the time, which I don’t. I just make notes. That this process would be a benefit. It might be fun to try though. Every time I try pantsing for fun though, I end up scrapping the entire story and idea.

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 10:19 am

Hi Laura,

I love first drafts! … Why would I want to push through it in a couple weeks?

LOL! Good point. And this goes along with another thought I had. Some people hate editing and some don’t mind it (or even love it!). It seems like that difference would impact how well this method will work for someone. I could see someone fast drafting a story in a few weeks, but then giving up because they can’t stand the thought of editing it.

This is why we all have to find the method that works for us. As with all things, take what works for you and forget the rest. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Kathrine Roid November 8, 2011 at 10:14 am

I use this method! Outlining is for freethinking and creativity. The first draft is for giving me something to use magic on. Editing is for magic. Naturally, with this method, I am a fan of NaNoWriMo and the many, many other WriMos out there for different months.

My first drafts are very bare and ugly. Just as how my outline is a bunch of scribbles phrases that basically remind me of what is supposed to happen, the first draft is a bunch of scribbled phrases that just get everything and everyone into place, a reminder of what the final product should look like. There is little if any description, the dialogue will probably need to be completely rewritten, and character development moves at funny paces. When I edit, I first make sure this is the final form I want for my novel: there are no plots holes, no unnecessary scenes, the story starts and ends at the proper places, and the remaining scenes are in proper order. Then I go through with my magic wand (a pen that can write in both normal and red ink ;) ) scene by scene.

That first draft where I’m trying to give pretty phrases on an outline a novelish-like shape is hard and difficult. However, I find editing to be fun. It was only natural for me to find a method that squashed the amount of time spent on what I didn’t like: the first draft.

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 10:45 am

Hi Kathrine,

Thank you so much for sharing your experience. And if you enjoy editing, I can see how this method works great for you.

When I edit, I first make sure this is the final form I want for my novel: there are no plots holes, no unnecessary scenes, the story starts and ends at the proper places, and the remaining scenes are in proper order.

Interesting! So you use your first draft to step back and take the 10,000 foot view of plot beats and whatnot. Maybe that’s another reason why I don’t think I’d need to embrace this method 100%. I’m one of those who knows structure on an instinctual level (so I don’t have issues with those things you mentioned), but I know that’s not the norm. :)

And your magic wand sounds awesome. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Roxanne St. Claire November 8, 2011 at 11:27 am

Hi Jami – Thanks for linking to my blog and for giving my awesome husband the credit he deserves for a world-class analogy. This is a GREAT discussion of fast drafting!

I didn’t used to be a pantzer, honest! I actually gave workshops on how to create a Plot Board! But over the course of almost thirty books, my approach has changed and now I work from a “story plan” – and call myself a Plantzer. :-) The story plan starts as one page of a simple arc, major scenes, turning points, black moment (if I think I know it) and climax. It grows to many, many pages by the end of the book.

As an update, I finished that fast draft (had to take a few weeks off to do a revision and some galleys for other books) at about 60K words, so it’s easily 30K short of a full book. Then I went through scene by scene and wrote a document that outlines what’s missing, what the scene needs, where else it might go — in essence, I wrote myself a ten page revision letter. I also wrote a lot about characters and their backstory — it really took the whole 60K fast draft to figure that all out. Next week, I’m starting the “revisions” and hope to turn in a book by December 15.

So far, I’ve loved this new method. Now, this is the second book in a series, so all the “heavy lifting” of world-building was more or less done in the (extremely long and painful) process of writing the first book. Three complete times.

Also, I love to revise much more than I love to write. I actually hate to write. So, this has been an exciting new approach for me. Hope it continues!

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Hi Roxanne,

Thank you so much for stopping by and giving us the update! I love the concept of giving yourself a revision letter. I want to learn how to do that, but so far (as I mentioned in another comment) I have problems seeing what needs to change in my work.

And thanks for the background information about how and why this worked for you. Knowing the basic story plan and the rules of your world gave boundaries to your discovery phase. That’s a great–and important–point that answers some of the concerns people have brought up in the comments.

In other words, the discovery draft isn’t literally a willy-nilly, going-in-random-directions mess of words. :) You’re discovering how the pieces fit together within the boundaries you’ve already set. To continue your husband’s skyscraper analogy, you’ve already decided on the building’s footprint, setback, and about how many stories (length) it will have, and you’ve already filled out the paperwork for building permits. :)

That makes total sense–thank you so much for the comment!

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Kerry Meacham November 8, 2011 at 11:36 am

Thanks for the shout out. I had a great time with our sprint on Sunday.

I can’t remember if we discussed it or not, but I took an online NaNo Road Map class in October. It basically helped me come up with the log-line, then characters, then plot/pinch points (see Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering), and finally a beat sheet or scene list (depending on how detailed you want to get). So I have my entire story plotted with what each scene is supposed to do (not WWBC story BTW).

This was finished prior to starting NaNo, and I can say without hesitation that it has helped me get way ahead of the 1,667 words/day curve (currently 22,459 as of this morning, or about 2,800 words/day for me). I’ve tried NaNo twice pantsing, and both times I quit because I kept running down rabbit trails where I would become lost. The one time I hit 50,000 was a book I had outlined to a certain degree, but it still wasn’t structured properly. I wanted to give myself the best chance of a sound structure on this one, so I did the class and I’m glad I did.

One other thing I hadn’t noticed, until you pointed it out, was the word count disparity in my two one hour sprints. I went back and looked at what I wrote, and it occured to me that the 2,061 words in an hour is the First Plot Point scene, and the 1,369 was the following scene where the heroine is contemplating how to go forward. The FPP was something I had played over and over again in my head while driving to work and back, so I knew exactly how I wanted it to work, and the words just flowed. The next scene was one that I hadn’t played out in my mind, so it was slower. Interesting.

I’m in agreement with everyone that at the end of the day different things work for different people. I’m going to have to check out the “Fast Draft” method and give it some serious thought.

~clink~

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Hi Kerry,

And here I though you were just an overachiever. ;) Thanks for letting us in on the secret. LOL!

So it definitely seems like this method works best if you already have some idea of where the story is going. Hmm, I usually know, so I can see how this could work for me. Thanks for the comment!

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Nancy S. Thompson November 8, 2011 at 12:06 pm

This was exactly how I wrote my first novel, The Mistaken. At the time, I knew nothing about writing or publishing so I didn’t realize it was an unusual way to bang out a first draft. But now that I’ve done it that way, I think it’ll be the only way that works for me.

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Hi Nancy,

Interesting! So from the very beginning, you avoided the edit-as-you-go issue. Great job and thanks for the comment!

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Laurie London November 8, 2011 at 12:36 pm

I remember reading Roxanne’s post when it came out and it made me wonder if I could do it too. Like you, Jami, I’m a fairly clean writer, but the process is slow. I’ve got it in my head that if I don’t understand things at the beginning, how will I know what is in keeping with the story and the characters down the line? Using the building analogy, if the foundation is weak, then the whole thing could topple.

Then again, my last book I turned in had a fairly tight turnaround and I had to really push myself. I discovered secrets about my characters and had some really interesting story twists that were fun to explore. Sometimes our subconscious is more powerful that we give it credit for and fast drafting helps get it down on paper. I can agonize ad nauseam over the littlest things when most of the time, I just need to keep pushing forward.

Thanks for a great post!

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Hi Laurie,

Ooo, yes, I agree that our subconscious is more powerful than we realize. My subconscious is responsible for 90% of my characters’ development as far as weakness, psychological issues, etc. I regularly type something and say, “Really, muse? I had no idea!” LOL! Thanks for the comment!

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Gene Lempp November 8, 2011 at 12:57 pm

You mentioned me! I am printing this post out and keeping it forever. *grins* Seriously, thanks for the mention, sprints were a lot of fun.

Since Kerry gave up his secrets I’ll give up a couple of mine. While I didn’t take the same NaNo prep course as Kerry, I did use Brook’s Story Engineering and had a formed plot, logline, characters, main plot points and scene listing by the start of NaNo. The outline is a definite benefit.

The main benefit I found for the sprint was in shutting off my internal editor and just letting the muse go with it. I’m horrible about editing, wanting to fact check myself, wandering off for a minute or ten, etc., while I write. The sprints keep me locked in my seat, moving along without the time to edit (because the time pressure is on word count).

While I didn’t join in yesterday, I wrote in two hour long shifts and put in another 2309 words. The system seems to work for me. However, like you, I’m not sure how much that will save me on the revision end of things. Personally, I enjoy designing and revising far more then I enjoy the actual writing (I was a total pantser until a year ago so this is really no surprise).

I’m going to take a look at the “Fast Draft” method and see if it offers ways to refine what it already working for me. Thanks for pointing it out.

Peace Jami :D

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Hi Gene,

*rubs hands together* Oo, yes, more secrets. :)

Yes, so far in the comments, those who have succeeded had a basic plan before starting. Those without a plan just ended up with a mess. :) Whether or not pure pantsers could be successful with Candace’s method, I’m not sure and I’ll be keeping an eye on the comments.

And like you, I think the real benefit is forcing ourselves into writing mode (even when we don’t “feel” like it) and turning off the editor (that part I still have trouble with :) ). Thanks for the comment!

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Candace Havens November 8, 2011 at 1:18 pm

There’s more to Fast Draft than just getting the guts of the story on the page. What you find is when you eat, sleep and drink your story like this, your subconscious, which is a much better writer than you are, takes over. There will be more continuity and usually, though you’ll need to fluff during revisions, your characters and story will be more cohesive.

And it doesn’t matter how you’ve written before, or what you “think” your limitations are, everyone can do Fast Draft. :)

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Hi Candace,

Thanks so much for stopping by and providing more details! And oh yes–I think I see what you’re saying. That if we push ourselves to finish a draft quickly, we must be “living” the story, as we’re working on it every spare moment. And in that zone, our subconscious is able to speak up and lead us through the story.

Thank you so much for the insight! :)

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Tamara LeBlanc November 8, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Wow!
This is one of those posts I’ll have to bookmark and refer back to on a regular basis, loved it!
I have never fast drafted, have never done any writing challenges for word count, never participated in anything remotely like either of those…but hell, it’s definitely time. I need something like this. I need to push myself, to stop trying to be perfect which is ridiculous because nobody is perfect) I need to just write.
I would love to participate in that Twitter #1k1hr thing. Do I just do a search for the hashtag to learn more, or…
I haven’t written anything in a few days now and I really need to get going. Like you said, I can’t edit a blank page so if writing as much as I can in a specific amount of times gets words on the page, then I’m in.
What a fantastic post Jami!
Thank you so much and have a great evening,
Tamara

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Hi Tamara,

I’m not sure how people usually kick off #1k1hr sessions. Some probably search in the hashtag, others just announce it (with the hashtag) to see if others want to join in, and others probably did what Kerry did this past weekend with the sprints, inviting those who might be interested.

I’ll just say here that I do want to do sprints again, so anyone can feel free to invite me if they wish. Just tweet me at @JamiGold . :) (And Tamara, I’ll invite you the next time I do one.) Thanks for the comment!

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Candace Havens November 8, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Hey Tamara,
I do #1k1hr all the time. I’m out of town this week but will be hitting it hard next week. You can follow me at @candacehavens

:) -Candy

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Hi Candace,

Oh, I know I’ll be keeping my eyes open for that. Thanks again for everything you do! :)

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Roxanne Skelly November 8, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Ah nano… I’m about 2 days behind, which is ok by me as I’d spent the first 4 days partying in New Orleans, hence my lack of focus. Overall, I’m bringing in about 1000 words an hour.

I did some prep work…specifically I wrote out a synopsis for about the first third, which is basically my outline. After that, I’ll probably fall into pantser territory, but I think I’ll have enough story and momentum to push me through to my 50k goal.

I also did some work ahead of time fleshing out the primary characters, which is helping bunches.

I do find that I spew the best when I don’t worry too much about clean, interesting dialog, and I’m leaving some details out of my character and setting development. Basically, I’m focusing on plot, with a framework for the other stuff. And I’m definitely not focusing on word choice, sentence structure and the like.

We’ll se if my plot-first methodology works. I’m assuming my characters will show themselves organically as I write.

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Hi Roxanne,

I’m assuming my characters will show themselves organically as I write.

I think this goes back to what Candace mentioned in her comment above, that when we fast draft, we’re not consciously second-guessing ourselves, so our subconscious has a stronger voice. I naturally draft faster for dialogue-heavy sections for exactly this reason, as my subconscious 100% directs the dialogue. So yes, I think many things about characters will come out naturally as we write, and then revising is often refining and bringing those qualities into the light more. :) Thanks for the comment and good luck in Nano!

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Jen J. Danna November 8, 2011 at 2:57 pm

As much as I love the idea of fast drafting, I know it’s not for me. Part of it is likely because I write with a partner, so we go a chapter at a time, edit and then move on. I like the idea of word sprints, but I’ll always go back to tweak a chapter before moving forward. I think I’d find it distracting to know there’s a bunch of flotsam behind me that needs fixing. So, our way works for us, but for those that can fast draft, more power to you!

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Hi Jen,

Great points! Yes, when you’re writing with a partner, there’s a different flow of drafting/editing phases. Like you, I have a hard time not doing little tweaks, but I’ve gotten much better about that as I’ve seen how much our stories throughout the process. We all have to know what works for us. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Brooklyn Ann November 8, 2011 at 3:07 pm

For me, it depends on the project. Fast drafting worked great for my historical paranormal and my contemporary rock star romances. But with my urban fantasy series it failed. I think it’s the subplots that got me there. Effective subplots really need a writer to take more time and ponder how to get them working their best.

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Hi Brooklyn Ann,

It might also be the fact that it’s a series, and details need to be thought out so that you’re not writing yourself into a corner. Most UF series have an overall series arc that needs to be consistent. As you mentioned, the subplot issue probably ties into that as well, as it’s often the subplots that are left as hanging threads to carry into the next book. Fast drafting a series with an overall arc would take a lot of thought ahead of time. Thanks for the comment!

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KarenG November 8, 2011 at 3:16 pm

I’ve written two novels this way, but I don’t get close to 50K words in the first draft, more like half that. But by the time I fill in the gaps and such it ends around 60K words. I like the skyscraper analogy!

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Hi Karen,

Thanks for sharing your experience! Isn’t that a great analogy? :)

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Teresa Robeson November 8, 2011 at 3:21 pm

I am incredibly impressed that your blog posts are mostly first drafts. I think my 10th edits don’t read as well as your first draft!

I can barely do NaNoWriMo, I doubt I’ll ever be able to do Fast Draft. Interesting idea though. :)

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Hi Teresa,

LOL! I didn’t start off this way. I did a post months ago about how we all progress from knowing things at the conscious level to the unconscious level. And luckily, most of the grammatical and structural things have settled into my subconscious. :)

If you’re on Twitter, let me know if you ever want to try a word sprint. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Ava Jae November 8, 2011 at 3:35 pm

I’ve never tried fast drafting, but it sounds like something I may want to try out in the future. I know I definitely write more when I hold myself accountable to a word count–in fact, having a daily word quota not only keeps me writing, but keeps me from wondering whether I wrote enough for that day.

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Hi Ava,

Yes, that accountability along with dedicated writing time is a big one for me. (She says as she juggles day job, replying to comments, and a Twitter chat. :) ) Thanks for the comment!

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sharon k owen November 8, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Thank you for the reminder of fast drafting. I’ve tried the technique before with limited success. But you’ve talked me into trying again.

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Hi Sharon,

Let me know how it works for you. :) Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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Stacy Green November 8, 2011 at 5:39 pm

I think Fast Drafting could work for me. I tend to write the best when I have the scene figured out and then make myself sit down at write it. That’s always my challenge. But like you, I like to edit as I go. I always read the last scene that I wrote before starting a new one. I think in the end, it takes about the same about of time to come up with a finished, publishable product. There are a just many different ways to get there:)

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Jami Gold November 8, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Hi Stacy,

Yes, I try not to edit the previous scene, but I do read it to get back “into character” and remember tone, where I left off, etc. As you said, there are many different ways to get to a finished product. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Sarah Pearson November 9, 2011 at 12:09 am

This is how I write. The problem is, I really really struggle on the editing. I don’t know if I’m just not very good at editing yet or if I need to change the way I write my first draft :-)

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Jami Gold November 9, 2011 at 8:07 am

Hi Sarah,

I understand. Editing can be so hard. We can check only the problems we’ve learned about, and even then, it can be hard to recognize those same problems in our own work. We all know the feeling of thinking that we have something edited well, and then we pass it off to a critique partner or beta reader only to do a *head slap* when we see everything we missed. Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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Roni Loren November 9, 2011 at 10:46 am

Love Candace, she’s in my local chapter and is a fabulous mentor to writers. :) I haven’t tried her Fast Draft, though I’ve been tempted lately. I’m a slow, perfectionist writer like you.

Good news is that usually means one revision after a draft and I’m done. But bad news is I take forever. And my new deadlines will probably not be as generous as my first. So I’m working on getting faster.

I do the occasional 1k1hr sprints and usually get somewhere between 800-1000 words, and they don’t feel like particularly messy words. So I think that’s a good thing to do. I think for me, moderation is going to be key. Learn to write faster and hush the internal editor, but not try to go totally against my nature either. Somewhere in between is probably my happy spot. :)

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Jami Gold November 9, 2011 at 11:27 am

Hi Roni,

Yes, that middle happy spot is where I’m aiming for too. :)

The results of my sprints weren’t bad by any means. My perfectionism didn’t let me pass by typos or bad grammar. :) But motivations/reactions were rougher and action beats were more cliche. As long as I know that, I can clean it up though. And lucky you for having Candace in your local chapter! Thanks for the comment!

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Jenny Hansen November 9, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Jami,

Love this post! I’ve been thinking about Candace Haven’s Fast Draft for a long time. Especially after reading the comments here, I’m much more open to trying it, but I’m saving it for when Baby Girl goes to school.

I’ll be joining all of you in word sprints next weekend. Scrivener is becoming my secret NaNo weapon. Because you can set up scene cards and such, I can get right to it without getting lost. :-)

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Jami Gold November 9, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Hi Jenny,

Yes, with Candace talking in her comment above about how living and breathing the story during drafting will let our subconscious take over, I wonder how day jobs and the like affect results. I’d like to hear from others who have just a few hours a day for drafting what their results and success was as far as “writing in the subconscious zone.” :)

And that’s cool to hear about Scrivener. I keep thinking of doing something like that, but silly me just keeps it all in my head and then wonders why my brain gets full. :) Thanks for the comment!

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PW Creighton November 9, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Jami, that is a novel idea ;-) but it is certainly beyond me. I need my rigid structure and plan before I just let it flow. Forcing myself under something like ‘fast drafting’ would only make me feel like the slowest most writers blocked writer in the universe. It never works for me. I salute those who can push like that and get something quality to work with but it certainly will never be me.

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Jami Gold November 9, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Hi PW,

Oh, believe me, I felt slow compared to the others doing the sprints. :)

With everything, we have to do what works for us and ignore the rest. For those who don’t/can’t do fast drafting, I think the good lessons to take away from the method are being disciplined about writing time, limiting editing during drafting, etc. But you’ve probably got those down already. ;) Thanks for the comment!

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Lynn Kelley November 9, 2011 at 10:30 pm

I like the idea of fast drafting. I’m like you as far as getting stuck on the “perfect” word and letting it slow me down. I need to learn to move on and come back to those words. I do think there’s a lot of merit to fast drafting. Now I need to practice doing it!

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Jami Gold November 9, 2011 at 10:47 pm

Hi Lynn,

Yes, and little things like word choice are easy enough to flag so we remember to revisit them later. Those are the things I have to train myself to not get hung up on. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Catie Rhodes November 11, 2011 at 10:09 am

I suppose I do a version of fast drafting. I don’t worry much about word choices. My first drafts generally consist of ~80K words in approximately 40 days.

What I have at the end of this is one version of how the story could go. I have extensive rewriting to do, often rebuilding the plot from scratch. Many chapters consist of forward march material–which means just shoving the characters around to keep the story going. It’s a mess.

I find, however, that no matter how much pre-planning I do, I never really discover my characters–or my story–until I’ve written a good 40K words. :D

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Jami Gold November 11, 2011 at 11:09 am

Hi Catie,

I find, however, that no matter how much pre-planning I do, I never really discover my characters–or my story–until I’ve written a good 40K words.

That’s a good point. Even with my story that I plotted out extensively and did full character sheets, I still to this day discover new things my subconscious layered in there. There’s a reason we say that writing is rewriting. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Michael Haynes November 14, 2011 at 7:54 pm

I’m just now reading this and WOW! This pretty much exactly describes how I’m approaching NaNoWriMo this year. I wrote up about 2200 words of notes with the general story arc including key plot points and some general notes about filler. That and a family tree for my MC were what I had as “prework.” Then, this month, I’ve just been plowing through the story. I’ve had some developments that have come up along the way that felt really cool when they showed up, things I wasn’t expecting at all. But the general direction of the story is still strong, and I’ve written 27000 words in 14 days, making this by FAR the longest thing I’ve ever written. (Though it’s obviously still far from complete.)

I know I’ll have a lot of editing work in front of me when I’m done, but that’s fine with me. Because, you know, I’ll be “done.” There will be a novel there to edit. And since I feel like the underlying story idea is entertaining, that gives me some measure of hope.

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Jami Gold November 14, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Hi Michael,

27K in 14 days? That’s awesome–congratulations! I’m happy this method is working for you. As you said, it will need editing, but you’ll have an accomplishment to show for all your work no matter what. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Michael Haynes November 15, 2011 at 9:02 am

Thanks! If nothing else, I think this may help me get past the “I can’t write something longer than a short story” quasi-block I seem to have had in my brain.

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Jami Gold November 15, 2011 at 11:49 am

Hi Michael,

Oh that’s great! :) Good luck!

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Lora Rivera (@lroseriver) November 20, 2011 at 11:34 am

I’ve been thinking a lot about this writing tool. “Laying the tracks” is what I’ve heard it called, and my crit group partners are pros at this.

I just can’t. I absolutely can’t fast draft. I tried this month during NaNo and quit. Don’t get me wrong. I can write really quickly, even up to 5k+ a day for short intervals if I know the story and where I want to go. And those drafts will be nearly perfect. I don’t plot in any systematic way, but if I can’t see the story in my mind, I just can’t write. And it’s a prerequisite in fast drafting that you write regardless.

This tool doesn’t work for me. That’s what I discovered after trying it out.
–Lora

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Jami Gold November 20, 2011 at 11:46 am

Hi Lora,

I understand. I can do short (one hour) writing sprints because I can think about that specific scene and have an idea of where the story needs to go. A longer sprint (3 hours up to all day) would be very difficult if I didn’t have it planned out. If you saw Candace’s and Roxanne’s comments above, they agree and say that this takes planning. For some people and stories, that planning in advance would be tricky. :) Thanks for sharing your experience!

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Kyla November 24, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Well, I usually average around 1000 words my first hour of work and 2000 my second, if I work those hours without interruption (a luxury I rarely get). So, if I’d only write 2 hours each day, I’d average 3000 words a day. Wouldn’t that be nice?

But I can’t see myself doing a “fast draft”. I like editing as I go along. If I’m dissatisfied with my work, I get depressed and start doubting my skills as a writer. I take pride in my work, even as it may need editing, it still must be excellent craftsmanship for what it is. As you say, I write a very clean first draft, partially because once I write something, it feels to me as though it were written in stone. I resent each changed word, each sentence deleted.

I’ll have to get over that, but it’s still an issue I suffer with. I can’t see myself handling this “fast draft” at all well. But it is an interesting concept. It sounds a lot like my outline. I outline the entire story, scene by scene, using a bulleted list format. Each important moment of a general scene is written in a grammatically incorrect list, with little notes off to the sides of the pages, to remind me of certain key points to the story. That’s my foundation, and the 1st draft is building stairs, floors, walls, and other such important necessities to the story. Then, I’ll edit and do my decorating.

In general, building a good foundation and framework for a story is a necessity for all of us. The question really is: how do you, yourself, go about doing it? What method do you prefer to use? I like outlining, and it’s worked well for me so far (hasn’t stunted my creativity at all like they say it does). Maybe some day I’ll be brave enough to try this “fast draft”. But not on this story.

Thanks for sharing, and have a great day! Happy writing!

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Jami Gold November 25, 2011 at 9:34 am

Hi Kyla,

Wow, I’d consider those numbers fast draft speed. :) I have to push myself to get 1K an hour.

And that “written in stone” is exactly my issue. I don’t resent changing things, but I do have a hard time finding what to change (that’s what beta readers are for). :) So it sounds to me like you’re already doing many aspects of the fast draft approach. And if it works for you, I don’t know that you need to change too much unless you suddenly find yourself with more than 2 hours a day of writing time. Thanks for the comment!

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Sophia Chang December 5, 2011 at 1:36 am

I love hearing about your POV on all these topics because I’m also a perfectionist (Virgo moon).

New subscriber to your blog and getting high off all the good posts.

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Jami Gold December 5, 2011 at 8:14 am

Hi Sophia,

Aww, thank you! I really did see a lot of benefits from fast drafting, even for perfectionists. It’s a great way to kick us into gear and get us past the “if I can’t get it right the first time, I won’t type anything” hurdle. And it forces our subconscious/muse to take over the storytelling, and sometimes that’s exactly what we need. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Becca October 16, 2013 at 10:52 am

Hey Jami!
Just curious, looking back from now, was that fast drafting worth it? Or did it take you more time to edit than it would have to slow draft that scene? Or did it end up being about equal?
Thanks,
Becca

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Jami Gold October 16, 2013 at 11:02 am

Hi Becca,

I should revisit that concept, shouldn’t I? :) I’ve talked about it in various formats but never did a post update. *adds to list of things to do*

Anyway, to answer your question, as I mentioned in the details of my words/hour, I’m a “slow” fast-drafter because it’s mentally impossible for me to leave a typo in place and not go back and fix it. (There’s an online app that buzzes you if you don’t type X something every second. Yeah, that thing stresses me out. ;) )

So even though I was fast-drafting, it turned out fairly clean compared to what we might expect. I might have had a few more missing words than usual (missing words are always my issue–that, and homonyms). But in general, I was more surprised by what was there. I had more layering, sensory and setting details, and non-cliche stuff than I’d expected.

In other words, I didn’t notice a significant increase in the editing required. In fact, it might have been less. I’ll see about doing a follow-up post to go into why that might be the case. :) Thanks for reminding me of that post idea and for the comment!

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Becca October 16, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Awesome! Thanks, Jami!

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