October 17, 2013

Does Fast Drafting Create Editing Nightmares?

Metal letters jumbled together with text: Does Fast Drafting Create Editing Nightmares?

Last week, we discussed how we can plan our story and avoid writing a “hot mess.” With NaNoWriMo almost upon us, now is the time to think about basic planning for plot and character arcs so we end up with a coherent story.

But what about the writing quality itself? NaNo writing—where we have the pressure to write 50K words in 30 days—is similar to fast drafting or word sprinting, like on Twitter’s #1k1hr hashtag.

I first heard of fast drafting two years ago. At the time, I was intrigued enough to try sprinting but worried the technique would create an editing nightmare:

“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.”

Yesterday, Rebecca Barray commented on that old post:

“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?”

That’s a great question and one I meant to revisit, so I thank Becca for reminding me of the topic. *smile*

How Messy Is Messy?

I have no way to know for sure, but I suspect we’ll all have different results. Some of us might have unintelligible typos and some won’t notice much of a difference. Other aspects of our writing process might greatly influence what we end up with.

What’s our natural drafting style? How hastily are we typing? How deep in the “writing zone” are we as we’re writing? The answers to these questions might change everything.

What’s Our Natural Drafting Style?

In that post about fast drafting, I noted that I was the slowest of the word sprinting group, and I mentioned after last year’s NaNo that I’m a slow writer. For me, 800-1000 words per hour is “fast.”

But I’m okay with that because I’m a “clean” writer. My blog posts are near-first-draft quality, and a project I completed last week required only minimal revisions based on beta-reader feedback.

Although I don’t edit when I’m supposed to be drafting, I do fix typos and how sentences are worded. I’m a perfectionist and little things like that nag at me once I notice them. I’ve accepted my writing productivity, and being a slow-but-clean writer works for me.

How Fast Are We Typing?

The typo-style mistakes I don’t catch right away are missing words and homonyms. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve messed up “compliment” and “complement,” even though I know the difference. *sigh*) Those problems increase when I’m trying to type faster than normal.

Programs like Write or Die, which promise “punishment” if we don’t build up word count, stress me out because I’m mentally incapable of not going back to correct a typo. (Perfectionist, remember?) Worse, the time pressure increases my typos.

(I prefer simple distraction-free writing programs, like Scrivener’s full screen setting (for Windows and Mac). But Written? Kitten!, which displays a cute kitten picture every X number of words, might be tempting. *snicker*)

My point is that while time pressure can help force us into a writing mood, it might also increase our typos. Or we might be tempted to just write the “easy” stuff (however we define easy).

Typos? That’s Minor Stuff, What about Writing Quality?

The real issue I worried about was how “fleshed out” the results of my word sprints were. I wondered how much was I going to have to layer in and fix later as far as:

  • Was I skipping over everything but the (easy) dialogue?
  • Was I missing sensory and setting details?
  • Was the writing more clichéd?
  • Was I missing emotional reactions?
  • Was I missing character reactions or motivations?

We probably all need to do some amount of layering in later drafts. But I was curious about whether fast drafting would change my first-draft results from the norm. That brings me to the last question…

How Deep in the “Writing Zone” Are We?

Surprisingly, I wasn’t missing any of those elements in my fast-draft section. If anything, other than a few more missing words than usual, that scene required less editing than other scenes.

I was so deep into writing that scene that I was breathing and experiencing the details right along with my character. So the layers of setting and sensory, reactions and motivations, emotional responses, etc. were there because they were at the surface of my mind while drafting.

This goes back to what Candace Havens, the queen of fast drafting, says about its benefits:

“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.”

Since I wrote that post two years ago, I’ve had the opportunity to chat more with Candace about this idea. Now that I’m paying attention, I’ve discovered she’s right. Even before I’d ever heard of fast drafting, I referred to sometimes being in a “groove” or “writing zone,” where scenes flow smoother and we’re “living” the scene.

The Benefits of Writing in “The Zone”

Forcing our internal editor off the page (or at least off to the side) and just writing without thinking—especially when we write in longer chunks and/or on a frequent basis—taps into our subconscious. In my experience, my voice is stronger, continuity is better, themes are more consistent, I write faster, I’m showing more, etc.

From a brain perspective, this makes sense. Our subconscious develops a story from elements beyond our awareness.

That means our subconscious is juggling things like character arc, character attitude/voice, theme, foreshadowing, etc. down where we don’t see it. If our writing is too interrupted, if our writing schedule is inconsistent, or if we never go long enough or fast enough to get into the zone, our subconscious loses those threads and our story loses coherence.

Learn How to Find Your Writing Zone

That said, life happens. Sometimes we might get the chance to write only in short chunks, or we’re frequently interrupted, or a day job project eats up all our time for a couple of weeks.

When that happens, what works for me is something that goes against Candace’s advice. *smile* I reread a portion of my story to let my subconscious pick up those threads again. Fifteen minutes to read the previous chapter is a small price to pay to make sure my character’s voice is consistent from where I left off last week.

What works for you might be something different. Maybe listening to the same music will trigger those threads. Maybe free-writing a paragraph as the point-of-view character. Maybe just writing forward to the next story goal and not worrying about it.

In a situation like NaNo, where you’re trying to write everyday (and yeah, here’s yet another reason why that’s really good advice), you probably won’t have to reread. Drafting a novel over a month will keep those threads fresh enough that your subconscious will be able to pick up where it left off.

So while fast drafting might create more (easily fixed) typos and—depending on our style and methods—might result in thin writing, by no means is that a given. As with most things in writing, we should try it to see if it works for us. Personally, I try to reach this “zone” every time I write now (but I don’t always succeed). *smile*

Have you tried a style of fast drafting? How did it work for you? What was worse about the writing quality? What was better? Did those sections require more edits or revisions than normal drafting, or less?

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Comments — What do you think?

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Angela Quarles

Well you know I’m an advocate. I found that when I’m doing it this way, my characters tend to take over more (in a good way) and say things that surprise me, but that TOTALLY fit their character, because I’m not allowing myself time to mull and over think. I think the trick for me is to plan a little more than I would if I was slow drafting. I’ve only slow drafted once (when I first started writing) and it was so painful because my inner editor was crippling me, not allowing me the freedom to just get it down. However when I first tried fastdrafting without a knowledge of the main plot points, I ended up with a lot more story editing. Typos are easy to fix, but fixing huge plot holes and story problems take waaaay more time. So when I tried fastdrafting again (this time under Havens and in 14 days) I had a pretty solid idea of where the story was going and it allowed me the freedom to let ‘er rip and get into the scenes and the characters. When I went to revise it this summer, it went a lot faster as I wasn’t having to tackle as many huge story issues…

Jordan McCollum

In the last two years, I’ve fast drafted three novels, edited two of them, and published one. I’ve also “slow drafted” one novel, and subsequently edited it. It was torture—not just because progress was so slow, but because it just wasn’t working. I couldn’t connect with the voice, the story arcs weren’t working, I kept repeating the same words and ideas (I found an identical concept in six places in my MS during editing). It was a BEAST to edit.

Guess what I had after fast drafting a novel? A messy but solid rough draft. Guess what I had after slow drafting a novel? A messy and shaky rough draft that I wrestled with for months to get it almost as good as the fast drafted ones.

Yeah, I’mma fast draft the next one. I’m brainstorming plot ideas and character arcs now!

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Hmm well I can write (type) over 1700 words an hour most of the time. Would I be counted as a “fast” writer? Lol. But for typos, spelling, and grammatical errors, I usually don’t make these because like you, I have a habit of correcting these things right after seeing that I’ve made them. Interesting point about fast drafting possibly making you skip important things. Interestingly when I fast draft, I tend to NOT skip these developmental elements as my mind automatically goes into emotional reactions, motivations, backstory, etc. It’s actually when I SLOW draft that I more likely skip these things, because in slow drafting I’m often very impatient and just jump to the actions and dialogue, lol. And like you said, I manage to get very steeped into the story and living it in my character’s POV, so the motivations, emotional reactions, etc. automatically come. And, like you, I find my voice much stronger when I write fast, probably because my writing is more confident. My writing also feels more fluent and eloquent during fast writing, or has a sort of “easy flair” to it that I like. Of course, this flair can often be improved even more when I edit the writing later. It seems that my writing feels more coherent too. My themes–I wouldn’t say are more consistent, but they emerge naturally when I fast-write. Fast-writing often helps me DISCOVER new themes, or make me realize that a particular theme is more important or more interesting…  — Read More »

Pauline Baird Jones

As soon as I “have” to do something, my brain puts on the big brakes. I kind of have to sneak up on myself. LOL And my “fast drafting” involves a lot of thinking. If I try to write before I’m ready, crap happens. Or nothing. After 13 novels and other projects, I have my writing process pretty well worked out. It allows me to produce and for Life to happen without the stress of not making my writing goals.

I log it under the heading of “managing my creative talent” part of my business. Once I pushed my creative to finish a contracted book. I did it. I turned it in on time, but the recovery time after wasn’t worth it, IMHO. And the book was not my best work. It still bugs me in fact. LOL Because I know I could have done better.

One of the great things about being indie now, I can give my creative side permission to be late on a deadline because I know it is also best for my business. 🙂

Aleta Brooks
Aleta Brooks

“If I try to write before I’m ready, crap happens. Or nothing. ”

This! I generally have to read a bit of what I wrote last session before the brain will consent to planning out the next bit. I did find one tip that helps me write “faster”. Before the writing session I take five minutes and scribble down what I intend to write for the period. This happens and then this happens and then this happens, etc. And maybe bits of dialog. Helps keep me on track. And move along a little faster.


This is exactly what I was looking for. I am also a *perfectionist* when it comes to my writing and during 30 min word sprints last NaNo, I was averaging about 300-400 words. UGH! I’m so slow because I can’t just leave misspelled words or awkward wording. And that project was completely pantsed. I did not finish, and only had about 10K words by the end of Nov.
This year, I’m trying to plan *some*. I’m using what I’m learning from your planning class on, as well as your beat sheets and worksheets to get the ideas of the main plot points and such. And I’m getting so excited about writing the story, I can barely wait for November to start.
Thanks so much for all your tips and resources. You are priceless!

Linda Maye Adams

I do fast drafting all the time — I did a short story a week “marathon” for 10 weeks — and it’s remarkably freeing. But I had to toss out a piece of common writing advice: “Give yourself permission to write crap.” I think that’s a horrendous piece of writing advice. Yeah, I get the principle, but leaving something for later means more work because now it affects the entire story and not just the scene. More revision, and maybe unnecessary revision.

Since I’m terrible with details and I know the impact on my story if I just write entirely to the muse (no details at all and lots of painful, time consuming revision to get them in), I write first to the muse. I try to get some details in, and for others, I make notes like DESCRIBE TOWN. Then I go back later in the day and work just on getting those in. That way, I don’t get too far into the story before I tackle them.

tam francis

This was great to read. As I approach my first NaNoWriMo I was wondering all of these thing. Thank you for allaying some of my fears 😉 I think with a good outline it will be okay.


I write better in the zone then I do spaceing it out.

Rinelle Grey

I also find that I write better and more smoothly when I’m writing fast. On a good day (without interruptions!) I can do about 2,500 words in two hours. I do have to fix typos though! Especially if they have that red underline.

I do re-read what I’ve written previously when starting over (sometimes only a paragraph, sometimes a few pages), but I seem to have a pretty quiet inner editor, and other than a word or two here or there, I rarely change anything.


[…] Gold: Does Fast Drafting Create Editing Nightmares? “Last week, we discussed how we can plan our story and avoid writing a “hot mess.” With […]


This is an interesting blog topic.

I find that if I write fast, I don’t really miss out on the details and such. I do have to stop and fix the typos, mostly because they bug me like police sirens when one is trying to sleep. The downside of this is that I will end up writing myself in a corner. I don’t like breaking the fourth wall so that would be usually where my story stops. It’s ok.

I work out most of the kinks on my next writing session. It also gives me a chance to refresh my memory on why it was a good idea that the character needs to stick a fork in the electrical socket.


[…] Whether you’re doing NaNo or just want to write faster, Ava Jae explains how to fast draft. Jami Gold looks back on her fast-drafting experience and see if fast drafting really saved time or simply created more editing at the back end. […]


[…] (including me) usually point to fast drafting as a good way to force our subconscious to take over. We can get into a writing zone where we’re listening only to that internal narration and not to our conscious thoughts of […]


[…] written before about how fast drafting—which is what NaNo often requires to win—doesn’t have to create editing nigh…. In fact, fast drafting can encourage us to tap into our subconscious and improve our […]

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