How to Write Your First Draft Faster

write first draft faster

Write Your First Draft Faster

Oh, first drafts. If I had a penny for every time I sat staring at a blank page, well… let’s just say I’d have a hefty stash by now. I remember those days when the weight of perfection would pin me down, every sentence feeling like a herculean effort. The blinking cursor on the blank document often felt like it was taunting me, daring me to write something—anything.

But over the years, after numerous tales and endless cups of coffee, I’ve come to realize something crucial: momentum is a writer’s best friend. The exhilaration of seeing your story come alive, page after page, is unparalleled. And the faster you get those words down, the sooner you can mold them into your masterpiece.

The First Draft: A Beautiful Mess

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of speeding up your drafting process, let’s get one thing straight: **your first draft is allowed to be a mess.** Think of it as the raw clay, ready to be shaped and sculpted. It’s the foundation, not the finished mansion.

A common misconception many new writers have (yours truly included, once upon a time) is that the first draft has to be close to the final product. But here’s a liberating truth: it doesn’t. It’s merely the first step in your journey. It’s about pouring out your ideas, not polishing them.

One phrase that revolutionized my writing process was: “Write now, edit later.” It sounds simple, almost too basic, right? But internalizing this mantra was a game-changer for me. It meant that I could silence that pesky inner critic (oh, we’ll talk more about him later) and let my thoughts flow unbridled.

The Alluring Trap of Perfection

Hey, fellow perfectionist—I see you. If you’re anything like me, every sentence, every word feels like it has to be just right. But let’s have a heart-to-heart for a moment. That quest for perfection? While noble, it’s often the biggest roadblock when it comes to churning out that first draft.

First drafts are like sketches. Imagine an artist trying to create a masterpiece without an initial rough sketch. Impossible, right? The same goes for writers. Your first draft is your sketch, a place to spill out ideas, plot twists, and explore characters. It’s where you allow yourself to make mistakes, change directions, or even chuck entire subplots.

Think of it this way: You can’t refine what doesn’t exist. By getting it all down, you’re giving yourself something tangible to perfect in the next rounds.

There’s an odd, paradoxical freedom in letting yourself write something “meh.” By allowing your first draft to be imperfect, you unlock a level of creativity that the shackles of perfectionism often stifle. Scenes flow faster, dialogues feel more organic, and before you know it, you’re hitting those word count goals like a champ.

Adopting the “Write Now, Edit Later” Mindset

It’s a mindset I swear by now, but trust me, it wasn’t easy to adopt. Every time I wrote a line that I felt was clichéd or a dialogue that sounded off, the urge to go back and tweak was overpowering. But, and here’s the kicker, once I resisted that urge and kept pushing forward, the process became liberating.

By focusing on progress over perfection, you achieve one monumental thing: you end up with a completed draft. And once you have that, the world is your oyster. Editing, refining, and polishing are tasks you can tackle with gusto, armed with the confidence that the backbone of your story is firmly in place.

Set Clear, Achievable Goals

It’s time to roll out our maps and plot our course. Writing a first draft is a journey, and like any expedition, it’s easier with a few signposts along the way. Setting clear, achievable goals is like planting these signposts. They guide us, motivate us, and give us that satisfying “I did it!” moment.

Ever heard of NaNoWriMo? It’s a crazy month where writers aim to pen down 50,000 words. That’s roughly 1,667 words a day! Now, while you don’t have to go on such an intense sprint, there’s a lesson to learn here: setting daily word targets.

– Start Small: If you’re just beginning, aim for something manageable. Maybe 500 words a day? That’s two pages!

– Progressive Increase: As you build momentum and confidence, start increasing your target. Before you know it, 1,000 words will feel like a breeze.

– Consistency Over Quantity: It’s better to write 200 words every day than 1,400 words once a week. The daily practice builds your writing muscle and keeps your story fresh in your mind.

Celebrate the Little Victories

Hit your word count for the day? Treat yourself! Whether it’s a piece of chocolate, a dance break, or a quick episode of your favorite show, rewards can be a fantastic motivator.

Every word you write is a step closer to your finished draft. Each small victory accumulates, building momentum and pushing you towards that end goal.

Tracking Progress: A Visual Stimulant

I’m a sucker for visual aids. There’s something deeply satisfying about seeing a progress bar fill up or putting a big tick next to a completed task.

– Charts and Graphs: Consider using a spreadsheet to track your daily word counts. Over time, you’ll see the numbers stack up, which is super motivating.

– Physical Tokens: Some writers I know use a jar and marbles. Each marble represents, say, 100 words. Write 500 words? Drop 5 marbles in the jar. It’s simple but oh-so-effective.

By setting clear goals and tracking your progress, you create a roadmap for your writing journey. It illuminates your path, keeps you on track, and ensures that every writing session pushes you closer to the finish line. 

Create a Distraction-Free Zone

Every writer dreams of that perfect nook, a sanctuary where words flow effortlessly. I remember when I first started writing, my ‘sacred space’ was a tiny corner on the kitchen table, squeezed between bills and cereal boxes. Not ideal. Over time, I’ve realized the immense power of having a dedicated space to write.

– The Right Ambience: Soft, ambient lighting, perhaps with a lamp or two, creates a warm, inviting space. Enough to read and write without straining the eyes.

– Comfort is Key: A comfy chair that offers good back support and a table or desk at the right height. Investing in ergonomic furniture can make those prolonged writing sessions so much more bearable.

– Personal Touches: From motivational quotes pinned to a board, a pot of fresh flowers, to some favorite books nearby—small touches that make the space uniquely mine.

– Sounds of Silence (Or Not): While I love the serene sound of silence, occasionally, the soft hum of instrumental music or nature sounds helps set the mood.

Digital Shields: Tools and Apps to Ward Off Distractions

Let’s be real: in this digital age, distractions are just a click away. Social media, pesky notifications, and the allure of the internet can often derail our writing progress. Fear not, for I’ve found some digital knights in shining armor!

Focus@Will: Your Personal Background Score

Music, when chosen correctly, can boost concentration. Focus@Will offers channels with scientifically optimized music to help you focus. It’s like having a film score for your writing session.

Freedom: Lock Away Those Digital Temptations

Freedom is an app that can block distracting sites (looking at you, Twitter and Facebook) for set periods. It’s like having a digital babysitter making sure you stay on track.

From a psychological perspective, having a set place for a particular activity conditions our brain over time. Every time you sit in your writing space, your brain goes, “Oh! It’s writing time.” This Pavlovian response helps slip into the writing mode faster, making the process more efficient.

Think of it as training your mind. The more you write in your dedicated space, the stronger the association becomes. Eventually, just being in that space will trigger creativity and focus.

Having a set routine and space eliminates the need to decide where to write each time. Less time spent on trivial decisions means more mental energy for crafting your story.

Creating a distraction-free zone isn’t just about physical space. It’s about crafting an environment—both physical and digital—that nurtures creativity and productivity. 

Outline, But Don’t Over-Plan

I used to be torn between two schools of thought. One camp swore by meticulous planning—breaking down every scene, every twist, every dialogue. The other? They were the free spirits, letting the story weave itself as they went along. So, where did I land in this spectrum?

In my early days, I tried both. I’d draft a chapter-by-chapter breakdown for one story, then write another flying entirely by the seat of my pants. And here’s what I discovered: a rigid plan can sometimes become a cage, but free writing without a hint of direction can lead you into a maze with no way out.

The Magic of a Flexible Outline

An outline doesn’t have to be a step-by-step blueprint. It can be a loose collection of major plot points, a skeleton to flesh out as you go.

Crafting the Perfect(ly Flexible) Outline

1. Start Broad: Begin with the major milestones—start, middle, climax, and end. These are your anchors.

2. Character Journeys: Think about where you want your characters to start and where they should end up. Fill in some pivotal moments that drive their growth or regression.

3. Leave Room for Detours: While you might have certain scenes in mind, be open to discovering new ones along the way. Think of it as taking a road trip with a few must-visit stops but plenty of freedom to explore interesting detours.

The Roadmap Advantage: Speed Meets Creativity

Imagine setting out on a journey without a map. Sure, wandering can be fun, but it’s easy to get lost. A basic outline acts as your story’s GPS. It keeps you oriented, ensuring you hit crucial points while giving you the freedom to explore uncharted territories.

With a rough outline in place, you don’t have to constantly pause, wondering where the story should go next. You have a direction, which means less staring at a blank page and more delightful typing.

An outline also helps in maintaining consistency. It ensures that plot threads introduced early on are tied up by the end, and character decisions remain in line with their arcs.

Contrary to what some might think, an outline isn’t a creativity killer. Knowing the major events in your story can free your mind to play within those bounds, leading to some truly unexpected and brilliant moments.

Writing is a dance between structure and spontaneity. By blending the structure of an outline with the freedom to deviate, you set yourself up for a writing experience that’s both efficient and exhilarating. 

Get Into a Writing Routine

We all have them—those precious pockets of time when our brain feels like it’s firing on all cylinders, and words just pour onto the page like they’ve got a life of their own. These, my dear writer, are your “golden hours.”

How I Discovered My Own Golden Hours

In the beginning, I wrote whenever I found a spare moment. Sometimes it was early in the morning; other times, it was the dead of night. It was hit or miss. But then I started noticing a pattern. There were specific times when writing felt almost effortless. For me, it was in the early mornings, just as the world was waking up.

Every person’s rhythm is different. Some are night owls, while others are morning larks. Experiment with writing at different times of the day. After a week or so, you’ll start to notice when your writing feels the most fluid and natural. Those are your golden hours.

Consistency: The Unsung Hero of Productivity

Once you’ve found when you write best, the next step is to show up—religiously.

There’s magic in routine. By writing at the same time and in the same place every day, you’re signaling to your brain that “It’s writing time!” This ritual can help shift your mind into the creative gear more quickly and effortlessly.

For me, it starts with brewing a cup of tea. The aroma itself seems to awaken my muse. Then I settle into my favorite writing spot, a cozy nook by the window. These consistent actions have become cues, prepping my mind for the task ahead.

The Science Behind Routines

Ever wonder why habits are so powerful? There’s some fascinating psychology at play.

According to Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit,” habits work in a loop: cue, routine, reward. Let’s break it down:

1. Cue: This is the trigger that initiates the habit loop. For instance, it could be the specific time of day or the act of sitting at your designated writing spot.

2. Routine: The activity itself—in our case, writing.

3. Reward: The satisfaction of getting words on the page, perhaps followed by a little treat (like a piece of chocolate).

Over time, this loop strengthens, turning the activity (writing) into a near-automatic process.

Reducing Mental Load

Routines also reduce decision fatigue. By having a set time and place for writing, you eliminate the daily deliberation of “When should I write?” or “Where should I set up today?”. This conserves mental energy for the creative process itself.

Building a writing routine might seem mundane or even restrictive at first, but it’s like laying down tracks for a train. Once established, your writing journey becomes smoother, faster, and more enjoyable. 

Use Writing Sprints

Let’s talk about one of my secret weapons for churning out words and smashing through writer’s block: the mighty writing sprint. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept or unsure about its magic, buckle up. You’re in for a treat.

At its core, a writing sprint is a dedicated, focused chunk of time where you write without distractions or editing. You set a timer, write like there’s no tomorrow, then take a break before diving in again.

I stumbled upon sprints during a particularly nasty bout of writer’s block. The idea of committing to writing for a short burst, without the pressure of it being “perfect,” felt freeing. And oh boy, was it effective! Not only did my word count soar, but the quality of my first drafts improved too. By focusing intensely for short periods, I found my narrative voice was more consistent and my scenes more cohesive.

Sprint Methods: Finding Your Perfect Tempo

There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to sprints. The key is to find a rhythm that aligns with your personal writing style and stamina.

The Classic: Pomodoro Technique

Named after the Italian word for “tomato” (because its creator used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer), the Pomodoro Technique is simple:

1. Write for 25 minutes.
2. Take a 5-minute break.
3. Repeat.

After four cycles, take a longer break—say, 15 or 30 minutes. This method is great for maintaining energy and preventing burnout.

Custom Sprints

Some writers swear by longer sprints—45 minutes of writing followed by a 15-minute break, for instance. Others love quick-fire rounds of 15-minute sprints. Experiment and find what ignites your creativity best.

The Power of Community Sprints

Writing is often a solitary endeavor, but it doesn’t always have to be. Enter community sprints.

Joining a group sprint—whether it’s on a platform like Twitter, a writing forum, or a Zoom call—means you’re committing to write. Knowing others are also furiously typing away can motivate you to stay on track and resist the siren call of distractions.

There’s something deeply satisfying about sharing your sprint successes (and struggles) with fellow writers. Those “I wrote 500 words!” celebrations or “Ugh, only managed 200, but there’s always the next sprint!” moments build a sense of community. You’re all in it together, cheering each other on.

Writing sprints, whether solo or communal, can be transformative. They instill discipline, boost productivity, and make the process more dynamic. 

The Menace of Self-Doubt

Every writer, no matter how seasoned, has encountered this formidable foe: the pesky inner critic. This voice, often whispering, sometimes shouting, can be the biggest speed bump on your writing journey. I can’t count the number of times I’ve hesitated over a sentence or re-read a paragraph, doubting every word, every choice.

Before we delve into techniques to silence this naysayer, it’s essential to recognize its tactics. It’s that voice that says:
– “Are you sure that’s the right word?”
– “This scene is boring.”
– “Who would want to read this?”

By identifying this critic and its patterns, you’re taking the first step towards disempowering it.

Techniques to Outwit the Internal Editor

One of the most effective strategies is to distinctly separate your drafting and editing phases. The first draft is all about getting the story down. Tell that inner critic that there will be plenty of time for nitpicking during the editing phase, but for now, it needs to sit quietly in the corner.

In the words of the brilliant Anne Lamott, give yourself permission to write a “shitty first draft.” The idea is that every piece of writing starts as a rough diamond. It’s in subsequent revisions that it gets polished. So, allow that first draft to be imperfect—it’s a natural part of the process.

By using timed sessions (like the sprints we discussed earlier), you can outpace the inner critic. When the clock is ticking, there’s no time to second-guess. The pressure to get words down can push the critic into the background.

My Personal Shields Against the Inner Critic

Positive Affirmations

Before I start writing, I have a few affirmations I recite to myself:
– “I am a storyteller, and my story matters.”
– “Perfection is the enemy of progress.”
– “I can edit later; now, I create.”

These mantras help set a positive tone and create a critic-free zone.

When I’m in the flow and stumble upon a sentence or word I’m unsure about, I simply highlight it. This is a promise to myself that I’ll revisit it during the editing phase. This way, I acknowledge the concern without letting it halt my progress.

I have a small board next to my writing desk, filled with positive quotes, feedback from readers, and some personal achievements. Whenever doubt creeps in, a quick glance at this board reminds me of my capabilities and silences the nagging voice.

Your inner critic, though it might seem like an adversary, often stems from a place of wanting to achieve perfection. While its intentions might be good, it’s essential to remember that writing is a layered process. The first layer, the draft, doesn’t need to be flawless. By embracing imperfection and employing strategies to keep the critic at bay, you pave a smoother path towards finishing that draft. 

Stay Inspired

Inspiration isn’t just a spark—it’s the fuel that keeps our writerly engines running. But like any fuel, it can run low. So how do we ensure our tanks are always topped up, and our journey from page one to the final full stop is smooth? Here’s what has worked wonders for me.

Building a Fortress of Motivation

Adorning my workspace are sticky notes with some of my favorite writing quotes. There’s that classic Stephen King gem, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Every time I glimpse it, I’m reminded of the fundamental principles of our craft.

Near my desk, I always keep a stack of beloved books, ones that stirred something profound within me. When I feel stuck or uninspired, I pick one up and read a random page. More often than not, the magic of well-woven words propels me back into my own story.

There’s something incredibly invigorating about listening to or reading interviews of seasoned authors. Their journeys, filled with highs and lows, trials and triumphs, serve as potent reminders that every writer, no matter how accomplished, has faced the same challenges we do. Their insights, tips, and anecdotes are invaluable.

The Transformative Power of Regular Reading

Every story I read is a wellspring of inspiration. It’s not about copying ideas, but more about understanding different styles, structures, and storytelling techniques. Often, a single line or a character quirk can inspire an entirely new subplot or scene.

When we read, especially within our genre, we’re not just being entertained—we’re learning. We see what works, what grips us, what makes us turn pages feverishly, and what makes us sigh in satisfaction or gasp in surprise. This subconscious absorption fine-tunes our own writing instincts.

The Underestimated Power of Taking a Breather

Continuous writing can be like running a marathon. Occasionally, we need water breaks. Stepping away from the manuscript, even for just a few minutes, can bring clarity, fresh perspectives, and sometimes, the solution to that plot hole that’s been driving you bonkers.

For me, a stroll in the park, letting my mind wander, often leads to “Eureka!” moments. Sometimes, just sitting with a cup of tea, letting the world fade out, and daydreaming brings forth the most creative solutions.

I’ve also turned breaks into rewards. Write a chapter, and then indulge in a 10-minute music session or a quick snack. It’s motivation and rejuvenation rolled into one.

Staying inspired is an ongoing process, a mix of external motivation and internal rejuvenation. By surrounding ourselves with reminders of the magic of writing, constantly learning from others, and giving ourselves the grace to rest, we ensure that our muse remains not just present, but joyfully active. 

The First Draft: A Monument of Effort and Passion

There’s truly no feeling that matches the exhilaration of typing “The End” on a first draft. It’s a mix of pride, relief, and a tinge of wonder. How did those jumbled thoughts, those seeds of ideas, transform into a cohesive narrative? The first draft, with all its imperfections, stands as a testament to your dedication, resilience, and creative spirit.

While the strategies shared here have been game-changers for many, including myself, remember that writing is as personal as it gets. Some writers craft meticulous outlines; others dive in with just a vague idea. Some swear by sprints; others love the slow, thoughtful churning of words. It’s essential to realize that every author has their rhythm, their unique dance with words. Explore, experiment, and find the techniques that resonate with you.

Looking back, my writing journey has been one of discovery and constant learning. I remember the days when every paragraph felt like scaling a mountain. The self-doubt was overwhelming, and the inner critic, deafening. But as I adopted the strategies we’ve discussed, not only did my writing speed increase, but the process became more enjoyable, more organic.

Embracing the idea of a “shitty first draft” liberated me from the chains of perfectionism. Recognizing and harnessing my golden hours made writing sessions more productive. The joy of communal sprints, the motivation from surrounding myself with books and quotes, and the rejuvenation from regular breaks—all these elements combined to shape my writing days.

Forge Ahead with Confidence

In the end, it’s all about the journey and the story you’re itching to tell. Equip yourself with tools and strategies, but remember to relish the process. Writing is a gift, an outlet, a passion, and sometimes, a challenge. But oh, what a delightful challenge it is!

To all aspiring authors reading this, I leave you with a piece of advice: Write with abandon, edit with precision, and always, always believe in your story. Here’s to faster first drafts and the countless tales waiting to spring forth from your fingertips! 

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