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?Pin It