How to write a rough draft: Finish your novel faster

how to write a rough draft - Now Novel

In learning how to write a rough draft, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach that suits every writer equally. Writing a draft as quickly as possible is helpful though, since writing fast may prevent you from becoming discouraged or losing interest in your story idea. Not all of these suggestions will work for all writers, but if you need to speed up your first draft, try a few and see which ones help you progress faster:

How to write a rough draft quickly: 7 tips

1. Set a goal before you start

Set a goal that will give you an idea of how many words or pages you need to complete each writing session [side note: when you set your goal date in your Now Novel profile, you will see a month, week, day and minute countdown clock that will spur you on to write].

Because your goal is to write fast, your target should be fairly ambitious. If you really find yourself falling short you can go back and change your goal, but keep in mind that the idea is to push yourself and focus on quantity and putting ideas down loosely at this stage. The polishing comes later.

Writers who are planners have a definite advantage regarding drafting novels quicker:

2. Start with an outline

How to write a rough draft - the Now Novel story builderUsing an outline increases your writing speed. The more structure you put in place before actually writing, the faster you will complete a first draft. Once you start writing scenes and sequences and chapters the basic structure – one that you can deviate from as needed – is there. Try the Now Novel story builder, a guided process of prompts that will help you create your novel’s blueprint the easy way.

Whether or not you have an outline, here is another approach that will help you get through your rough draft quickly:

3. Create basic scaffolding

Scaffolding is pre-decided structure that’s not quiet as detailed as a full novel outline. Let’s say you’re aiming for a draft of about 50,000 words:

First, divide your word count into three acts. Your first and third acts could be 12,500 words long and that your second act could be 25,000 words long.

Secondly, consider the key moments of each act and where you want to place them:

  • In act one, you’ll need an opening to establish your character(s) and world. There’ll be an inciting event or multiple smaller events that set off multiple story arcs. You should choose roughly where in your first 12,500 words these will occur
  • The middle section of your novel is where you get to tease out the initial themes and events of your novel and work in character development
  • In the final third, the plot must reach a climax and a resolution (or open-ended non-resolution, if you prefer)

This basic scaffolding approach is different from creating a full plot outline. If you’re a pantser you can use this approach because it is not necessary to know what the specific plot points will be until you are writing the novel. Instead, it gives you a sense of pace to aim for, and this along with the shortened length will help you move quickly through this draft.

4. Strip it all down to just the facts

Next, include the minimal information that you’ll need to write a first draft. You can include stage-like directions and leave out details and research until later.

Work on whatever story sections you feel like working on. You can start by writing the climax, for example, rather than the opening. For some writers, this is much too confusing, but for others, this is a great way to stave off writer’s block at any point of writing a first draft. Your final novel should have a narrative arc that makes sense. Yet you don’t have to construct your novel’s rough draft sequentially in the chronological way the final book will be read.

There are some other methods for fast, rough drafting that involve finding ways to shake up your routine and trick your brain into loosening up:

5. Cut loose with modified freewriting

‘Modified’ freewriting can be a great way to speed up your writing. In regular freewriting, you would sit and write for a designated amount of time even if all that you are writing over and over is ‘I can’t think of anything to write.’ This may be useful in the planning stages, but it is not necessarily the best way to push your novel forward.

However, you can still do a kind of freewriting when you are working on your novel. For example, if you have some idea of where a current scene is going, see how quickly you can write it without stopping.

6. Set limits

You can also try going in the opposite direction and set rigid but creative limits for yourself:

For example, pretend that you are writing your novel as a series of blog posts and you only have 350 words for each scene.

Alternately, imagine that your book is a serial and that readers are getting short segments daily. Since you are writing quickly, you will want to write more than one short scene or segment in each writing session, but this can be a good way to force you to be efficient in each scene and include only the most important details and then move quickly on to whatever comes next. This exercise is helpful because it will teach you to be succinct and precise so that you avoid cluttered writing.

7. Use peer pressure

How to write a rough draft - keep calm and write 50KNational Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, can help you speed through a novel in 30 days.

One of the best ways to succeed at NaNoWriMo is by planning ahead. Using Now Novel’s story builder will give you the blueprint and other aspects of your story that you need in order to speed through a first draft in a month.

Of course, it isn’t necessary to wait until November of each year to write the first draft of your novel in a short timeframe. An online writing group provides a space to share your work in progress with other writers who are grappling with similar creative challenges.

Writing a fast first draft of a novel has a number of advantages, and you can do so whether you are a planner or a pantser. If you are stuck endlessly polishing the first part, try another approach.

Once you have a draft down on paper, you can begin to shape it into the novel you’d love to write. Several of the rough draft writing techniques outlined above can be combined. For example, you can mix creating an outline with basic scaffolding for a clear sense of structure and direction. Whether you are a planner or a pantser, you can probably write your first rough draft faster than you think.

What is one technique that has helped you learn how to write a rough draft faster?


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