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November 7, 2019

What Styles of Drafting Work for You?

Eraser on a brainstorming sketch book with text: How Do We Draft Our Story?

With the month of NaNoWriMo upon us, we might wonder about the value and difficulty of various styles of drafting. For example, some might see NaNo’s goals—where we try to write 50K words in 30 days—and think about “fast drafting” or word sprinting, like on Twitter’s #1k1hr hashtag.

But we all have different writing processes, and what works for one might not work for another. Or more frustratingly, just because something works for us one time doesn’t mean it will work for us all the time. Our process might evolve with more experience, or adjust as our situation, our mood, or our connection with the story itself changes.

However, NaNo can be a great time to experiment and see what works for us and our writing process. So let’s take a look at some of our options for how we get our first draft down on the page.

There’s No “One Right Way” to Draft

Everyone’s brain is different: what we notice, how we process information, what gets us stuck or unstuck, what motivates us, what helps us connect to our characters, etc.

There's no “one right way” to draft our story, so we need to discover what works for us Click To TweetOur situations are different: our free hours in a day, the distractions or other obligations in our lives, our support system, etc.

Our goals are different: the types of stories we want to write, the sacrifices we’re willing (and able) to make while in draft mode, what we want out of the NaNo (or any) drafting experience, etc.

I call myself a pantser (as in, writing by the seat of my pants), but for some stories, I’m pantsier than others—and that’s okay. The point is to find—and use—whatever works for us. In the end, there’s only one thing that matters: the finished story.

What Kinds of Options Do We Have?

Whether we’re just starting off and trying to discover what works for us or we’re struggling with how to adjust a process that’s not currently working, let’s look at some of the options we can try:

  • researching in advance vs. researching as the story calls for it
  • outlining in advance vs. beat sheets vs. pantsing (or anything in between)
  • writing linearly vs. jumping from scene to scene
  • focusing only on dialogue (or whatever) in the first draft vs. writing a fully layered draft
  • thinking of each scene as a short story (beginning to end and an arc of change) vs. keeping the threads of the overall story in mind
  • editing as we go vs. only going forward during drafting
  • fast-drafting vs. taking as long as we need
  • working on one project at a time vs. bouncing between projects as needed for writer’s block or other reasons
  • knowing how the story’s going to end ahead of time vs. figuring it out when we get there
  • setting a story aside for a different idea when it’s not working vs. putting in the work to make it come together

What Motivates Us to Write?

In addition, our writing process also encompasses the tricks or habits we use to motivate ourselves to write:

  • writing in the morning vs. at night
  • using music vs. silence
  • setting deadlines vs. not
  • seeking support from other writers (NaNoWriMo, writing sprints, etc.) vs. answerable only to ourselves
  • writing only when we have big chunks of time vs. writing in stolen moments
  • aiming for a certain number of pages or words or hours a day

What Does All That Even Mean?

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all those options, and we might not know what some of those descriptions mean. For example, while some use the terms fast drafting and word sprinting interchangeably, technically, they’re different:

  • What Is Fast Drafting? Fast drafting is getting the framework of our stories down as fast as possible without worrying what that draft looks like. The idea is to “discover” our first draft as roughly and quickly as possible by not letting our internal editor get in the way.
  • What Is Word Sprinting? Word sprinting, whether with friends in a chat, on Twitter, or in a dedicated sprinting forum, simply refers to focused time for writing. The idea is that even when we’re struggling with distractions or procrastination, we might be able to deeply focus on writing for 30 or 60 minutes at a time.

Help! Which Options Should We Try?

Which approaches work better for us might depend on our strengths and weaknesses (in addition to the goal and situation variables mentioned earlier). Those who write by the seat of their pants wouldn’t want to use an outlining-style of writing process.

So we might want to think about what we know about our natural drafting style: How hastily are we typing? How deep in the “writing zone” are we as we’re writing? How well do we capture our voice? What’s our editing style? The answers to these questions might change everything.

How do we know what drafting style works best for us? Click To TweetI’ve noted before that I’m a slow writer. For me, 800-1000 words per hour is “fast.” But I’m okay with that because I’m also a “clean” writer. As I’ve analyzed before, sprinting/fast drafting doesn’t create an editing mess for me, which is good news for how my near-photographic memory complicates my editing process.

But what works for me is unique. Others might write a lot of garbage in with the good stuff that later needs to be heavily edited. Or drafting quickly might mean that we write bare bones and need to spend time later layering in setting, sensory information, and/or emotional responses.

Forget the Advice—Find What Works for You

There’s nothing wrong with any of those options. Maybe we’re really good at editing later, so a bunch of word vomit as we figure out what we really want to say works for us. Our personality can influence which drafting processes work best for us as well.

No matter what we decide, it’s important to listen to our own insights and not just follow what “others” say to do. Some might look down on “word vomit” or other approaches as being inefficient, but if a method isn’t causing us trouble, there’s no reason to fight it in our process—even if advice tells us otherwise. *smile*

How well does your drafting process work for you? Have you tried other options? If so, what made those options work or not work for you? Have you run into issues with the usual drafting advice? Does this post give you other ideas to try?

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Sharon Hughson

Love this!
I’m a fast drafter who relies on a beat sheet and fairly descriptive character worksheets. I average 1000 words per hour but have been known to top that when the story is truly flowing.
My inner critic can be a REAL troublemaker, so I have to lock her up and just draft my stories. The more I write, the better these drafts are, but they’ll always need more emotional depth and description, so I expect to add between 10 and 20 percent in my first round of rewriting.
On a side note, this is the first time in six years I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo. Instead, I’m getting an indie title out to the formatter, getting another manuscript revised and out to beta readers and polishing a third indie title for it’s deadline with the editor in early December.
I’d rather be writing.

Star Ostgard
Star Ostgard

Thank you so much for this! So often people have told me that the way I write “can’t work”. That people who don’t write drafts, who research as needed, who edit as they go, will end up with a hot mess. The fact that that doesn’t happen when I write that way doesn’t matter one whit to them – I’m doomed.

Every writer has to figure out the best way for them to write that particular story. So far, my method has worked for all my stories. The one that I changed up methods is getting written, but it is sooooo much harder to do (but I’m determined to finish it anyway!). The most important thing to remember is that if something isn’t working for you, be flexible enough to try something else.

Julie Belmont

Wow! Perfect timing–Thank you for this very informative and insightful post. Just finished a course in Digital Design Certification–Now, I’ll be going back to my first love, writing and integrating what I’ve learned along the way. I have a draft a very, very rough draft of a novel I started writing in 1997. I will embark on it and finish it this time. Your article both inspired me and put a lot of what I’ve done along the years in perspective. It allowed me to see that there are many ways to go about the process. With this in mind, it has freed me to continue my novel writing journey. By the way, it is in the Paranormal Romance genre. Thank you for your experience which you share so readily and your wisdom. Stay Creative!

Lia
Lia

Oh, you’ve hit the nail on the head, again! 🙂 I’m slowly coming around to the fact that I might be a pantser after all. Last year, I pantsed a paranormal romance on Wattpad and I got so stuck that it really knocked my confidence in my abilities as a writer. In hindsight, I might’ve been way too hard on myself, because most people seem to like the story and the characters just fine, even though it wasn’t perfect, but at that time, it just felt like I’d managed to write the Crappiest Book in the History of Crappy Books. Anyway, after that debacle, I pledged to never write anything without an outline ever again, which resulted in just not writing at all, ever again. Because an outline, I just couldn’t get it to work. I saved cats, romanced by beats and wired my stories, but… nothing (that’s not to say these aren’t good craft books–they are great and I’ve learned a ton from them, especially Save the Cat Writes A Novel). Just before Nanowrimo, I found an old note book with story ideas scribbled into it and that served as a launching pad for my Nanowrimo-project. I was going to create an outline for Nanowrimo, but that never happened, because reasons (I even haven’t had the time yet to finish Between the Sheets), and then 1 November arrived and I just started writing with only a hint of who my H/h were. I figured if I wasn’t going to…  — Read More »

Sieran

Hey Jami, You’re right that not only do different people have different drafting methods, we ourselves might have different drafting styles over the course of our life, which can be complicated and frustrating. I used to be able to write at least 1,000 words in an hour, but now I’ve slowed down a lot, and don’t even write nearly as much as I did before. This isn’t because I’ve lost interest in writing, but because my life circumstances have changed, and my goals and priorities are different too. Nowadays, (indie) publishing has become of secondary importance to me, though it’s still desirable. I now care most about self-expression, having a space to say whatever I want to say, air my secret thoughts and feelings, without fear of judgment from others. In pretty much all aspects of my life, I do a lot of filtering, where I try to only show my socially desirable sides to others, and hide the less desirable sides. So it’s very, very pleasant for me to have a place to express that “darker side of me”. Maybe this darker side isn’t even that scary, but I still don’t feel comfortable showing other people this side of myself, and so I write about it in my story—which I don’t show others, lol. Later on, I could make a separate version to show interested readers, but I’ll keep the draft to myself. So you could say I’m writing mostly for my emotional health and wellbeing now. Aside from…  — Read More »

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