Learning how to write a book fast is a matter of having a process and tools to streamline the parts of writing a book that take the most time. Whether you’re preparing for a writathon like NaNoWriMo or have readers breathing down your neck for your next series installment, here are ways to write a book faster:
1. Put structure and story scaffolding in place early
2. Track and organise your ideas
3. Don’t stop to tinker
4. Switch to shorthand to keep writing momentum
5. Divide tasks into smaller units
Let’s unpack each of these ideas:
1. Put structure and story scaffolding in place early
Many pantsers resent being told to plan or outline. There is a popular idea that some writers are simply pantsers (meaning writing ‘by the seat of your pants’) while others are plotters.
We should remember that story structure and scaffolding can be anything. A single sentence chapter by chapter summary, for example. Or a complex, detailed outline of plot points, character arcs, settings and conflicts.
If you’ve set yourself an ambitious goal of writing a book in a month, it’s doubly important to have a backup plan. An outline, character profiles or simply a blueprint of settings, characters and other details helps when the first burst of momentum slows.
Story scaffolding gives you a trail of breadcrumbs through the thick of the woods, the thickets of growing sentences on the page. You’re better off than Hansel and Gretel, too, since a finished rough draft lies at the end of the trail (and not a witch plotting your sticky end!)
If you don’t want to create a complete outline, think about the areas you usually struggle with when writing. Is characterization tough? Setting? Getting historical details right? Focus on gathering ideas before you start drafting for the parts of writing you find most challenging.
[Complete the step-by-step prompts in the Now Novel dashboard to brainstorm ideas for your book fast.]
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: Track and organise your ideas
Learning how to write a book fast isn’t only a matter of making good preparations. It’s also important to be able to track and organise ideas as you go, so you don’t have to constantly search through your document for details. Writing a book does take time. Most professional authors take months and years. Tracking and organising ideas well can eliminate a lot of time-wasting reading back over the story to avoid plot holes.
So how can you track and organise ideas?
Use index cards or a folder
Jot down character profiles on index cards so you have a physical document you can refer to when you need to remember where Character A is from, or Character B’s backstory. [When you complete the character section of the Now Novel prompt process, your characters are added to your story outline which you can download and print for further quick reference.]
Use a digital snippet storing tool like Evernote or Trello
Productivity and information management tools like Evernote and Trello are useful for storing and organising information. You could create a Trello board called ‘historical background’ for example, if working on a historical fiction story. Here, you could save links to relevant articles or images that you plan to draw on for inspiration as you write.
The extent to which you need an organizing system for your novel depends on your genre. In historical fiction, 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. In a thriller, maybe not as much.
Create dedicated folders for elements of your story
Make a dedicated folder for your novel on your computer or laptop’s desktop. Have a folder for each character, setting, or other element. You can store notes of character ideas here, pictures that inspire details such as settings or how characters dress, and more.
It might sound like a lot of work, but putting in a few hours creating an organised database of story details is part of a day and making organising a part of your process can do wonders for speed and inspiration.
3: Don’t stop to tinker
Tinkering with the details of your writing as you go is always tempting. But writing a fast rough draft is all about saving the editing, the finer detail, for later. 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. There’s a further advantage to this approach: When you’ve written as freely as possible, with as little effort as possible, it’s easier to cut ruthlessly and reshape your work into something polished and beautiful.
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
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. [Now Novel’s note-writing tool where you can submit 800-word pieces for feedback from the community is also a useful, minimalist writing environment].
4: Switch to shorthand to keep writing momentum
Not entirely sure how your hero gets from the drug baron’s hideout to the safe zone? Don’t know the exact circumstances when would-be lovers will meet again? Don’t be afraid to ‘cheat’ and use shorthand for the links between scenes (and moments within scenes) you haven’t figured out yet.
Learning how to write a book fast means learning how to work smart, not hard. So for the first example above, you could write, for example, ‘despite the chase they somehow escape [think of a nail-biting cliffhanger moment here where the two main characters are separated later].’
As you draft, make notes in square brackets wherever there is something you need to fill in later. For example:
‘[The tense shootout finishes and the party makes their way to the designated evacuation area]’.
Small gaps are fine in a rough draft. Once you have the broader arc of the story in place, it will be easier to find appropriate links. There’ll be more to foreshadow, too.
5: Divide tasks into smaller units
One of the big dangers of writing a book fast for a challenge like NaNoWriMo is having unattainable or unrealistic goals. If you say ‘I’m going to write 10, 000 words a day’, it’s possible you’ll achieve this target. Yet it’s equally possible you’ll burn out. Instead, set yourself small, manageable tasks that still bring certain reward. Writing a paragraph. A page. A scene summary. 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 feels 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 800 words. This facilitates ease-of-writing and ease-of-reading. A member shared that he writes one 800-word scribble per day and the length made it easier to stick to a disciplined routine.
Get productive now and write an 800-word chunk of your story in the members’ area. It’s up to you whether you share it for feedback with other members or keep your progress private.