To write a book faster, there are 5 essential things you need to do:
One: Put structure in place first – it will keep you from floundering and wasting precious time later.
Two: Use a system to organise and keep track of facts about your fictional world and real life references your book draws on.
Three: Don’t tinker: Force yourself to move forward without editing each line as you go.
Four: Use shorthand wherever something might slow you down (example: [The party somehow finds their way to the pickup location – work out later]).
Five: Divide the task into smaller units.
How to write a book fast: The five key understandings
1: The scaffolding of structure helps you finish your novel faster
Imagine your novel-in-waiting, for a moment, as a tall building you’re completing from the outside. You could use ropes and various other contraptions to inch your way to the top, but scaffolding allows you to move around quickly, seeing all sides in the process. Put structure in place before you start writing and you’ll be able to work faster. It gives you the means to access and develop any part of your story without having to work out the sequence of narrative events afresh each time.
You might be a die-hard pantser and you might hate long-range planning. But if you’re serious about finishing your novel in a shorter time-frame, a flexible blueprint you can follow will let you focus more on telling the story than working out the logistics continuously.
Randy Ingermanson, creator of the snowflake method for outlining a novel, says:
Good fiction doesn’t just happen, it is designed. You can do the design work before or after you write your novel. I’ve done it both ways and I strongly believe that doing it first is quicker and leads to a better result.
2: Organizing your novel’s information keeps you from getting stuck
The extent to which you need an organizing system for your novel depends on your genre. Writing historical fiction? Naturally there will be a greater need to keep track of factual details such as how characters are related, where they live and die, and significant life events.
Even if your novel is entirely fictive and not based on true events, you’ll need to remember the fact about character x that you mentioned in Chapter 1 in Chapter 9. Characters’ names shouldn’t change and one location shouldn’t miraculously morph into another (unless these are purposefully planned events that occur as the story unfolds).
There are several ways you can organize key information for your Novel so that you can quickly check consistency:
- Keep numbered index cards for each character and write down each static/fixed detail about them (details such as backstory: Where they were born, for example). Keep these in alphabetical order for ease-of-reference.
- Use a program such as Scrivener to order information and arrange it visually. The corkboard function in Scrivener is particularly useful
- Arrange all your story information in folders. Make a dedicated folder for your novel on your computer or laptop’s desktop. Have a folder for each character, named for further ease of reference. For example, if your main character is named Tom, name your folder ‘Tom – MC’. If he has a sister Jennifer, then you can create a folder labelled ‘Jennifer – sister of Tom’.
It might sound like a lot of work, but putting in a few hours creating an organised database of story details you want to bring in will make it much easier to draft your novel faster.
3: You’ll make quicker progress if you don’t stop to tinker
It may be tempting to stop and tinker with each line or paragraph as you go – don’t. The cardinal rule of how to write a novel fast is to keep moving forward at all costs. A finished rough draft gives you a lot to work with. Provided you’ve written as freely as possible, it’s also easier to make changes as you’re less attached to sentences you’ve laboured over less.
Daphne Gray-Grant of Publication Coach offers some stellar advice about learning not to edit like a perfectionist as you write. Gray-Grant advises that you:
- Don’t work on the same document each day. Copy the last line of your story written to a new document and include some notes about how you want the story to continue from where you left off. That way you won’t be reading back over what you’ve written constantly.
- Write brief notes about any part of your work-in-progress you’re itching to fix.
- Give yourself rewards for making headway and resisting the urge to edit. At the end of a productive session, indulge in something that makes you feel good and acknowledge your achievement.
Besides these approaches, you can also use a minimalist online writing tool that doesn’t let you go back to edit your work. Ilys is one such writing tool, although there is a membership cost. Blind Write is a free web-based option.
4: Using shorthand for links will help maintain momentum
Not entirely sure how your hero gets from the ganglord’s hideout to the safe zone? Puzzling out the links between scenes and chapters of your book is something you can leave until the core scenes are all there.
As you draft, make notes in square brackets wherever there is something you need to fill in later. For example:
‘[The tense shootout finished and the party make their way to the designated evacuation area]’.
Rather than get bogged down as you write, intentionally leave some gaps. Once you have the broader arc of the story in place, it will be easier to find appropriate links.
5: Dividing writing into smaller units gives you more time
If you’re a procrastinator, its probable that tasks that appear overwhelming throw you into procrastination overdrive. Rule number 5 of how to write a book faster is ‘break it down’. Writing in small increments has many benefits:
- It’s easier to fit in writing sessions around a busy schedule
- You don’t waste productive time working when you are over-tired and not thinking clearly
- The task appears more manageable, reducing the impulse to procrastinate
The size of the unit you work on each time depends wholly on you. Some writers swear by the Pomodoro technique – writing for 25 minutes followed by a five minute break. For Now Novel, we purposefully made the length of the writing extracts members can submit for feedback 500 words. This facillitates ease-of-writing and ease-of-reading. A member recently shared that he writes one 500-word scribble per day and that this length has made it easier to stick to this disciplined routine.
Find the length of writing session or word count that works for you and feels easy to maintain. The key to how to write a book fast is to find your ideal system. This will help you to stay focused and productive.
Get productive now and write a 500-word chunk of your story now in Now Novel’s Scribble Pad.