I used to be wary of all write-your-book-fast programs. I’m sure you’ve seen them—write your book in a month; write your book in a weekend; write your book in one hour. They promise you can write a book in no time at all. As a person who writes books for a living, and definitely can’t finish a book in a month, I thought anyone who made promises like these was setting people up for failure.
Writing a book is a process of developing the idea, writing a draft, revising, and polishing. This is not a process that benefits from being rushed. However, the drafting phase, I’ve learned, can be hurried. And writing a first draft fast actually has some pretty awesome benefits.
Getting the first draft of your book done is a huge milestone. Drafting isn’t easy work. When I’m working on a book project, getting that draft done takes up at least 75 percent of the project timeline. And I always tell my clients that, even though the draft will be rough and need a lot of work, everything we do after finishing the first draft will be easier. It’s more fun too—books really start to take shape and become good in the revision phase.
Therein lies the value of that first draft.
Writing it Fast
Two years ago, right around Halloween, my ghostwriting client at the time asked me to take the month of November off because she was behind on some things and travelling and just needed a break from her book. So, with my calendar suddenly clear, I decided to try National Novel Writing Month. (If you’ve not heard of it, it’s an annual writing challenge where wild and crazy people all over the world try to write 50,000 words in a month.) I’d been thinking about writing a novel and decided to go for it. Let me tell you, the month flew by. But I stuck to the writing challenge, and by the end, although I didn’t hit the word count, I did have a rough, very rough, draft of a novel.
Ever have a moment when it’s like the skies part, music starts playing from nowhere, and everything makes sense? I think Oprah calls it an aha. Well, that’s how I felt on November 30 with my rough draft in hand—a rough draft that didn’t exist a month prior and would have taken me months to complete if I’d taken the slow and steady approach. I’m talking 150 pages of writing! Sure, I still had a lot of work to do; but the hardest part was behind me before I knew it.
Therein lies the value of speeding through the first draft.
So How Can You Write a First Draft Fast?
My favorite way to write a first draft fast is by making it a thing. “Making it a thing” is my ambiguous way of saying: take the one-month writing challenge, take a writing retreat and write fast and furious for a week or two, or sign up for a writing workshop that guides you through the writing process and holds you accountable.
Making it a thing means you put it on your calendar, like a vacation or like your mom’s birthday party. You give it a start and a finish. You have to rearrange your schedule a little to make it happen, and you have to plan ahead, but because it’s this thing you’re planning, you’ll show up and do the best you can to get it done. Believe me: I’ve had National Novel Writing Month on my calendar all year.
When you make writing a rough draft a thing, it becomes an experience, like running a marathon or going on a road trip. You’re not just working on your book; you’re getting out of your comfort zone, pushing yourself to do something big, and making writing your book an event that you can look forward to and feel good about doing.
Other Ways to Write a First Draft Fast
I had a teacher in graduate school who called writing a first draft the “vomit draft.” This means you’re only goal is getting the words out and you don’t care what it looks like. In my experience, the most efficient way to complete this vomit draft is to write a first draft without editing or going back to revise until everything is in place—from page one to the end. So even if you’re not doing a challenge or going on a retreat, you can show up at your desk every day with the goal of simply getting the words on the page.
When you’re taking the slow and steady approach, you can always try to write faster. Here are a few tips:
- Push yourself with deadlines. Don’t be unrealistic, but challenge yourself to write a first draft faster than you think is possible.
- Set a timer for thirty minutes and see how many words you can get on the page during that time. Then set the timer for another thirty minutes and try to beat your last word count.
- Use the Pomodoro Technique. I’ve not tried it myself (not yet), but I’ve heard of writers dramatically increasing their output with this method.
Writing Your First Draft
Not everyone gets a month of spare time off work. And because of logistical reasons, I can’t write a first draft for a client that fast. It takes longer than that to get all the information out of the client’s head. But anyone who wants to write a book of any kind can adopt the write-it-as-fast-as-you-can mindset to complete that all-important rough draft.
What strategies have helped you write faster? I’m always looking for ways to speed up, so please share your best tip in the comments below.