author, creative writing, writers, writing

Novel writing: tips for faster first drafts

First drafts are an emotional rollercoaster. They include your deepest, rawest thoughts and feelings, they fill you with excitement, they make you mad and stress you out. And, of course, they are the birth of novels, the starting block of your story. Getting through the first draft fast is the best way to get your story down and move on to polishing it into a proper book. Here are some tops to help you finish your first draft faster:

Follow an outline (even if you’re not a planner)
Having an outline speeds up the process of the first draft, as it shows you where to go next. Rather than getting blocked by not knowing how to begin the next chapter, you’ll have an idea of where you need to go. Of course, there are pros and cons to plotting, and it’s not for everyone. But even if you’re a panster, a very rough outline can help. You also don’t need to stick to the outline – you can adjust it based on where your story and characters take you.

Don’t worry about word counts
It can be tempting to set word goals for chapter lengths, or for how long you’d like your draft to be when finished. But in reality, it doesn’t matter. Your subsequent edits will see you add and remove words all the time, and so whether you finish your draft with 50,000 words or 100,000 words, this will surely change. Just tell your story in as little or as many words as it takes.

Stuck? Move on
You don’t have to be entirely linear with your writing, in fact you can write out of order if it helps. If you get stuck on a specific chapter or scene just move on to the next one. You can leave yourself some notes or bullet points on where you think you want that chapter to go, but don’t obsess over it yet. You may find that coming back to it after writing more of the story helps you find the words you need.

Research later
It can be tempting to research as you go, but unless it is absolutely vital to the first draft, just leave it. You can leave yourself a note to ‘research this’ or ‘check this fact’, then come back to it in another draft. Going online to fact check can lead to distractions, and before you know it you’ve read fifty wikipedia pages and not written a word. (Guilty!)

Omit details that are slowing you down
Sometimes, you’re not in the mood to write description. Who cares? It really doesn’t matter in the first draft. Just write *description here* and then fill it in another time. You can do this with anything that is slowing you down. There will always be opportunities to come back and add the things you’ve missed.

Don’t edit as you go
This is so tempting, but it really slows you down. Editing is a long process, and if you edit as you go it can make the first draft take a really long time. Don’t get me wrong; if you edit as you go you will likely finish with a more polished first draft, and this does work for some people. But if you’re looking to finish fast, you’ll need to resist this temptation!

What’re your first draft tips? How do you get through them quicker? Drop your thoughts below!

Until then,
Keep writing,

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29 thoughts on “Novel writing: tips for faster first drafts”

  1. Agree with these tips. I would also add a reminder that a draft is a draft – it can change, so don’t be hesitant to commit words to paper. On research, personally, I think that’s generally true – but if a bit of research helps you move on with the draft, get inspired or ‘unstuck’, then I think it’s okay – as long as you don’t get lost down the rabbit hole.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good advice. Just one thing on a personal level about not editing as you go. Some say don’t correct typos and spellings. Fair enough, but on occasion, there are so many typos, where I accidentally hit the wrong key that I really don’t know what the sentence was supposed to say! 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was a panster once too Sam, and it saved me too! I always maintain the outline should be loose and flexible, to allow for the level of pantsing all great stories need, but I now can’t write without at least a bit of a plan!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. These are all good tips. The one I struggle with is editing as I go. The perfectionist in me doesn’t want to keep going without polishing the scene I just finished. This is probably the main reason I haven’t finished my first novel!

    Liked by 1 person

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