Tuesday, September 8

Top Five Fast-Drafting Tips

By Ava Jae, @Ava_Jae

Part of the How They Do It Series

Please help me welcome Ava Jae back to the lecture hall today. November is fast approaching, and for some, that means NaNo! So if you want to get a jump start on this years race to 50K, Ava has some great tips on fast drafting to share. And for those who aren't interested in NaNo, but would like to write a first draft a little faster, these tips cams work for you, too.

Ava is a YA and NA writer, an Assistant Editor at Entangled Publishing, and is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency. Her YA Sci-Fi debut, BEYOND THE RED, is releasing March 2016 from Sky Pony Press. When she’s not writing about kissing, superpowers, explosions, and aliens, you can find her with her nose buried in a book, nerding out over the latest X-Men news, or hanging out on her social media sites.

Blog | Twitter | Facebook | tumblr | Goodreads | Instagram | YouTube channel

Take it away Ava...

So I don’t quite understand how this year has gone by so quickly, but in two short months, every fast-drafters favorite month will be here.

That’s right. I’m talking about NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo is equal parts exciting and scary. Exciting because it’s an event that often gives writers the boost they need to finish, or get started, or make major progress on their book. Scary because the prospect of writing 50,000 words in a month can sound pretty daunting, especially if you haven’t done it before.

But not to worry! NaNoWriMo can actually be a really motivating and fun experience if you remember a few basic tenants.

As a permanent fast-drafter, I’m going to share some of my top fast-drafting tips, that should prove useful during the upcoming ready, set, write event. But of course, they can be used in any month, if you ever feel like giving fast-drafting a try.

1. Set a goal.

For me, at least, this is easily the most important part of fast-drafting. For NaNoWriMo, in order to reach 50,000 words in a month, you need to write 1,667 words a day. Whether I’m NaNoWriMo-ing or not, I usually aim for 2,000 words a day, which during NaNo, gives me a little extra buffer for those days I’m struggling. But having a daily goal, especially for an event like NaNo is key, because keeping on target helps tremendously in terms of keeping motivated to write.

Your goal doesn’t necessarily have to be daily, however. Maybe you know you can only write on weekdays, so for this month that means you have twenty-one days, which means you’ll need to write 2,381 words five days a week in order to hit your NaNo goal. Whatever you do, just make sure you set some kind of plan for yourself so that you can keep organized throughout the month.

2. Know (and accept) the writing might not be your best.

While writing quickly certainly doesn’t mean the quality is going to suffer—it can mean that sometimes what you write isn’t going to be fantastic. You might even glance back and hate it, but the truth is, when you’re fast-drafting, none of that matters. The point of getting a first draft down quickly is to get the story down so that you can then work with what you have to make it better. There are days when you might think what you’re writing is complete trash, but it’s okay. You can fix all of that later—what you want to focus on now is getting the story out of your head and onto the page.

3. Get ahead when you have the energy.

There will be some days when you hit your writing goal quickly and you still have energy to keep going. When you’re doing a marathon like NaNoWriMo, it’s in your best interest to take advantage of those days to get ahead while you can. Why? Because conversely, there will be days when every word struggles to get out and you’re halfway to your goal and utterly exhausted—and on those days you’ll be glad you got ahead early on so you don’t fall behind if you don’t hit your goal that day.

4. Keep your momentum.

Back in 2013, I won NaNoWriMo in nine days. This was not a normal pace for me, and it’s not a pace I’ve matched since, but the reason I was able to do it was momentum. I way surpassed my 2,000 words a day goal on the first two days of NaNo and I got competitive with myself and kept going without a break until it was done.

The key here is momentum—the more consistently you hit your goal and you get used to writing that amount every day, the easier it becomes. But if you break your streak or write inconsistently, it can be much more difficult to motivate yourself to get back to work. That being said…

5. It’s okay to take a (short) break.

Remember what I said about writing extra on days that you have the energy? Doing so allows you a day off, which you may find that you need partway through the month. Even if you don’t get ahead, however, if you find that you really need a day to rest, that’s okay too. Just make sure you get back to work the next day, and recalculate your goal to see what you’ll need to write every day to make up the difference (in fact, the NaNoWriMo site does this for you). Remember, it’s okay (and sometimes necessary) to adjust your daily writing goal day to day so that you hit 50,000 words at the end of the month. Just do your best to take care of yourself while making as much progress as you can.

6. Bonus: Have an outline ready.

While I’m not going to say it’s impossible to fast-draft without a pre-determined outline, I will say that in my experience at least, it is much easier to write quickly when you have a direction already set out. During NaNoWriMo, you don’t have the time to get stuck because you don’t know where you’re going, which is a big part of the reason so many NaNoers encourage each other to at least set down a loose outline before they dive in. Your outline can be flexible and you’re more than welcome to deviate from it (I always consider my outline more of a guideline rather than a rulebook), but having one can definitely help speed up the process and avoid writer’s block partway through the month.

So those are my top fast-drafting tips! Ultimately, if you hold yourself accountable and keep at it, you’d be amazed what you can complete in a month. Good luck!

About Beyond the Red

Alien queen Kora has a problem as vast as the endless crimson deserts. She’s the first female ruler of her territory in generations, but her people are rioting and call for her violent younger twin brother to take the throne. Despite assassination attempts, a mounting uprising of nomadic human rebels, and pressure to find a mate to help her rule, she’s determined to protect her people from her brother’s would-be tyrannical rule.

Eros is a rebel soldier hated by aliens and human alike for being a half-blood. Yet that doesn’t top him from defending his people, at least until Kora’s soldiers raze his camp and take him captive. He’s given an ultimatum: be an enslaved bodyguard to Kora, or be executed for his true identity—a secret kept even from him.

When Kora and Eros are framed for the attempted assassination of her betrothed, they flee. Their only chance of survival is to turn themselves in to the high court, where revealing Eros’s secret could mean a swift public execution. But when they uncover a violent plot to end the human insurgency, they must find a way to work together to prevent genocide.


  1. I haven't yet made the plunge into NaNo. I intended to last year, and a family emergency a few days before November derailed my plans. I'm tentatively considering it this year again.

    1. Ah, well, family emergencies and other life things definitely take a priority over NaNo. But I do hope you get to try it! It can be a great experience if you think fast-drafting might work well for you. :)

  2. I have done Nano a few times and I have not won! 2 out of the 3 times I quit and was focused on working and school. This year I am going to be writing a non-fiction book, so I am very excited.

    1. Third time's a charm, right? :) Good luck with NaNo this year!

  3. Thanks for the lesson, Ms Jay! I have some questions, if you don't mind.

    Do you fast-draft every draft or just the first (or first few) drafts?

    Do you find that fast-drafting helps you work out the weaker parts of a story? Or is fast-drafting more of a way to move past those parts without getting hung up on them, to get the framework down so you can work through those issues later?


    1. Hey Matt!

      While I always fast-draft my first drafts, I don't fast-revise when doing my second/third/etc. draft—in fact, I think it'd be pretty impossible to speed through revisions and do a halfway decent job. Revisions take a lot of careful thinking over and working, and while I DO generally get through revision rounds quickly, it's more because I binge revise and use just about every spare hour I have until the revisions are over. Which isn't really speeding as much as it is hyperfocusing.

      As for your second set of questions, definitely the latter. Fast-drafting allows me to get the story down without worrying about any part of the writing process or getting hung up on any issues so that I can then later fix them—after all, you can't edit what you haven't written. :)

      Hope that helps! Good luck with your writing!

    2. That helps a lot! Thanks!

  4. Replies
    1. You're welcome! Thanks for reading. :)

  5. I love Nano and fast-draft several books each year. #1, 5, 6 are the biggies for me. Like you, I build a buffer into my word goal. There are going to be some days that I fall short, so I make sure that if I meet my goal most days, I am going to be able to finish the novel on schedule. My goal for fast-drafting months is always 100,000 words rather than 50,000 words, because my completed novels run 75,000-100,000 words.

    I take every Sunday off of writing, so that is figured into my goal number and provides a built-in rest-and-recover day each week. Mondays I hit the ground running, feeling refreshed and eager to go.

    After a couple of Nanos, I figured out that I really did need some kind of outline if I was going to avoid getting bogged down or blocked mid-month. So I learned how to outline!

    1. That's great! Sounds like you've definitely figured out a system that works well for you, which is awesome. I also like to aim for more than 50,000 words when I suspect my first draft is going to go over that (which is increasingly, but not always the case for me.) Not sure if you intend to participate this year, but if so, good luck with this year's NaNoWriMo! :)

  6. I have a different way of writing. A chapter that might end up at 2000 or 2500 words will only be 700 to 1000 at the end of the first past. I call this the bones. The another pass to add muscle and sinew. Yet another pass adds the skin and color. So my first draft consists of a minimum of three passes.

    So blind, fast writing doesn't work for me. I did finish NANO in 21 days but the result was almost useable.

    Each of us has our own way. The more I write, the more complete my outlines become. For other plotters, I suggest the blog The Story Grid and the book Story by Robert McGee.

    The suggestions from Ms. Jae are all good. I would encourage other writers to adopt those that improve your process and not worry about the others.

    1. That's very true! I definitely agree that everyone works differently, and fast-drafting is absolutely not a one-size-fits-all method. For some people it works great and for others not so much, and that's okay too.

  7. I'm still debating whether or not I'm going to do NaNo this year, which would be my first. I fast draft already, and I actually dictate my first drafts. I've already been diagnosed with CTS in both wrists, and I'm incapable of editing by dictation, so that's a lot of typing for me at that stage.

    For me, I don't tend to have an outline, but I have to have a story beat that I'm working from. If I don't have a beat, I can probably type 500-600 words/half hour. With a beat, I can hit over 1,000 words in ten minutes (dictating). And then I only have to figure out "what comes next?" instead of "what's going to happen from now until the end" which I don't always know.

    For me, the first draft is for me. It's to get the words out on the page. Then the editing kicks in and I can make it pretty then.

    1. I hope you try out NaNo! It's a great experience and it sounds like you're already well equipped for it. :)

      That's so interesting about the beats! Cool idea. I've never been good at dictating stories (I stumble way too much over my words), but I think it's awesome that you've figured out a way that works so well for you. 1,000 words in ten minutes is super impressive. "What comes next?" is how I like to plot, so I definitely get that.

      And finally, that's a fantastic way to look at a first draft—and is also how I like to handle it. It takes a lot of the pressure off and makes the whole experience much more enjoyable.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  8. I absolutely agree with all these reasons. i did nano for the first time last year and have learned a lot of these similar concepts. especially numbers one and two. these are fantastic tips, especially anyone who is going to participate for the first time.


    1. Thank you! I hope NaNo goes well for you, should you decide to participate this year! :)

  9. I completely agree, Ava. I won Nano in 24 days in 2013, and that included a full life, too. But my advice to any writer or any creative is that it's okay to say "no, I can't make it, I'm writing." I do that a lot unless an event is super important. Your friends and family will understand!