I’ve had quite a few people ask how I manage to write first drafts in 1-3 months, so I thought I’d blog about it! I should point out that my first novel took me ten years to write… It's taken me a while to learn my process! So, here are some of my tips– though it’s important to note that fast-drafting often means giving twice as much time over to editing afterwards!
- Write every day. I always find it doubly hard to get into drafting if I’ve taken even one day off. Even if you only write 500 words per day (I aim for 1000-2000 depending on how busy I am), it keeps the story fresh in your mind, and you won't have to spend hours reading over what you've written beforehand. Of course, this is just what works for me.
- Plan ahead – all writers do this differently, too. I’m an outliner, but I adapt the outline as I go and my characters take over (I discussed my plotting method here!). The main thing I do is use the Save the Cat beat sheet, and although I don’t follow it to the letter, it’s useful for breaking the daunting task of writing a book into more manageable sections. I've even met 'pantsers' (or non-outliners) who use this kind of structure to stop the story veering off on a wild tangent!
- Related to the above point: I often don't go in a linear path from "idea" to "plan" to "outline" to "draft". If I have an attack of the Shiny New Idea Syndrome (generally when I'm in the middle of writing something else!), then I'll make a note on it and come back to it later. It's the ideas I love the most, that I keep coming back to, that eventually make it to novel form. I plan extensively and there's often several months (or even years, like with the Darkworld series) between that first idea and the first words of the draft.
- Whether you're an outliner or not, "thinking time" before you actually write can save a lot of time later down the line - and can even triple your productivity! These days, I have a few bullet points on each scene before I write it. The more notes I have beforehand, the easier it is to get into the right mindset and the less time is spent head-scratching and trying to figure out how characters get from A to B.
- Have multiple projects. Not necessarily at the same time, especially if it's your first book, but it's something to consider once you've learned your process and know that you can finish a manuscript. Generally, I'll only be working on one draft at a time, but I'll also often be revising or editing another, or plotting a future WIP. By plotting the next book ahead of time, it means that once I've finished one draft, I can jump into another. This helps to avoid the insanity that comes with the endless waiting (which is inevitable in publishing!) when querying or even waiting for your first book release (in traditional publishing, there'll usually be 1-2 years between signing a contract and publication!). Some writers also have 'fun' projects, not intended for publication - I've had 'sanity projects' before, to keep me sane while waiting for edits!
- Write more books. I’ve written 13 first drafts. My first book took 10 years to write. My second, a year. My third, eight months. Sometime in between, I learned my process. I’ve never truly beaten the terror of the Middle Phase of writing a book, and I think it’s a normal part of the process, but once you have a couple of completed projects, it means that when you're in a rut and the words just aren't coming, you can say, ‘I’ve done this before and it’s normal to feel like this – but I WILL finish that book!’.
- Keep that inner editor caged until you've finished the draft. Enough said. :P
- And finally, keep learning
about your own method and what works for you!