Fast-Draft Writing for NaNoWriMo and Every Other Month

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I am an advocate of intentional writing, which almost always means slow writing, but sometimes it makes sense to write a fast draft of a book – if, for example, you are participating in NaNoWriMo, have a chunk of time with few distractions, or have a fast-approaching deadline you are motivated to meet.

Writing fast still requires intentionality. You still need a plan – a clear idea of the point you wish your story to make and a grasp of the best narrative structure to get you there. That is to say, you need to know what you want your reader to walk away feeling after they read your novel and what they will walk away believing about the world or human nature. You also need to know where the story starts and ends and what the reader will be tracking along the way.

Let’s assume that you know all those fundamental elements and you’re ready to write. How do you write fast?

writing a novel, nanowrimo, story writing, storytelling

Courtesy: Pixabay

The main idea is this: don’t get mired in too much detail. No long descriptive passages about places or people, no finely wrought dialogue (unless you happen to be able to write that fast), no clever turns of phrases that take hours to hone. Aim to get the bones of the story in place – the character’s motivation, the arc of change, the cause-and-effect trajectory that drives the narrative from one scene to the next – and leave everything else for revision.

If your novel incudes any world building – and almost every novel does, though of course some require much more than others – you absolutely must know the key physical, philosophical and psychological realities that inform the story you are telling, but you don’t have to know, say, the details of the monetary system or who owns the main media channels.

In NaNoWriMo, fast draft writing may mean sacrificing the NaNo wordcount and not “winning.” Winning NaNo with a manuscript that has to be slashed and burned is going to feel good for about a week, and then it’s going to feel really bad as you struggle to rescue the story. It would be far better NOT to “win” but to have 30,000 words that really work, or 45,000 or 51,000 or whatever. Remember that words on the page do not make a story.

What does fast-drafting look like? Let me show you—but first, a little context.

This is a first sketch of a scene in a fantasy romance by first-time novelist Leigh Robertson. In this scene, the main character discovers a rare breed of dragon egg that will change her fate when it hatches.

The author focused on getting the bones of the scene in place, and didn’t get stuck on the details. Instead, she noted where things needed to be added later. I asked Leigh to give a little commentary on what she was thinking as she whizzed through – and her comments are in the margin.

TK, which you will see used throughout the sample pages, means “to come.” It’s proofreader-speak for anything that needs to be added. You can use it to stand in for a detail, a date, a description, or even a whole scene or chapter.

• TK date
• TK name
• TK description of town
• TK dialogue that establishes character’s authority
• TK how hovercraft are fueled for a long journey
• TK geography that isolates these people
• TK scene where Joe declares his undying love
• TK chapter where Dad walks out and Cassandra vows never to marry

What’s great about using TK as a placeholder is that when you go back to revise, you can scroll through searching for TK – and nothing else in the English language will come up. You can skip from TK to TK filling in details, and adding flesh to the bone.

Some TKs will take a simple Google search to flesh out. Others will be meatier problems that require more thought. But as long as the missing information indicated by the TK doesn’t directly impact the trajectory of the story, you don’t need it in your fast draft.

Download Leigh’s sample HERE to see what fast-drafting looks like.

If you are interested in defining the bones of your story before NaNoWriMo so you can write fast and with confidence, Jennie is teaching an online Blueprint for a Book Sprint workshop the last weekend of October. It’s 2.5 intensive days of planning + you get coaching feedback by October 31. Click HERE for details.

jennie-nash_framedJennie has worked in publishing for more than 30 years. She is the author of four novels, three memoirs, and The Writer’s Guide to Agony and Defeat. An instructor at the UCLA Extension Writing Program for 10 years, she is also the founder and chief creative officer of Author Accelerator, an online program that offers affordable, customized book coaching so you can write your best book. Find out more about Jennie here, visit her blog, discover the resources and coaching available at her Author Accelerator website, and connect online.

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Blaine
3 years ago

That’s pretty nifty. I normally use the square [ brackets ] with a catchword or phrase in it, and have been known to write [ something or other] for more info needed. But TK is a pretty good alternative 🙂

Thanks for the tip!!

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[…] Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Bill Ferris reminds us there are only 45 shopping days left to NaNoWriMo, while Jennie Nash takes a look at fast-draft writing for NaNoWriMo and every other month. […]

angelaackerman1
3 years ago

TK makes it so easy to find the spots that need more work but allow you to stay in the writing flow if you want to keep going in the moment. I love that. 😉

Jennie Nash
3 years ago

You gotta stay in the flow! And OFF Facebook 😉

ANGELA ACKERMAN
Admin
3 years ago
Reply to  Jennie Nash

Oh facebook…the bane of writers. So true!

Carol Baldwin
Carol Baldwin
3 years ago

I use “WHAT” when I’m not sure of something–but I like TK even better. Good reminder– I can use this when drafting scenes too.

Jennie Nash
3 years ago
Reply to  Carol Baldwin

WHAT certainly gets to the point though! I love it!

:Donna
3 years ago

You know, I never intend to participate in NaNoWriMo, but this is VERY useful information for first-draft writing, period. Thank you! 😀

Jennie Nash
3 years ago
Reply to  :Donna

You’re welcome!

BECCA PUGLISI
Admin
3 years ago

Jennie, this could very well be a game-changer for me. Of all the parts of the writing process, drafting is my least favorite, probably because it takes so long. Your method of putting an easily searchable placeholder for any information that isn’t immediately necessary is a great one for enabling people to just the the basic story on paper. SUCH a great idea. Thanks so much for sharing this :).

Jennie Nash
3 years ago
Reply to  BECCA PUGLISI

Your books are going to FLY now 😉

Cheryl Sterling
3 years ago

Great example. TK is very freeing, it gives permission to write freely and assurance that errors will be fixed later.
I write best when I write fast. NaNo is almost a blessing, and I’ve used the method in other months.

Jennie Nash
3 years ago

Sounds like yuo have a great process!