The Semi-No-Fail Way to Fast Drafting for People Who Hate Drafting
By Candace Ganger
The first draft is the actual worst. For real.
There’s no way around it. When writing something longer than a soup can label (and even then), it’s going to require revisions. Even though my YA debut, THE INEVITABLE COLLISION OF BIRDIE & BASH, is out July 25th, I’ve been writing professionally for over a decade so I know a thing or two about drafts (thus, why I loathe them so much).
In writing for others for so long (particularly of the book-length kind), I managed to figure out shortcuts to the drafting process. It’s not because I’m lazy, but I don’t enjoy the beginning of every book journey. There’s too many unknowns, and that wreaks havoc on my anxiety. I’ll spend SIX CENTURIES on a single word choice if I don’t spit it out and move on (even then, I’ll lie awake at night and obsess over my decision).
For BIRDIE & BASH (for brevity), my drafting process was slightly unique. I’d had a vague initial concept floating around for many years — two teens fall in love, not knowing of each other’s connection to a local tragedy — because that tragedy was inspired by true events that happened to my extended family. However, the rest, was a blur until one day, the characters popped into my head almost fully formed. They were rough around the edges, but for the most part, I had a concept and two MCs. I scribbled some notes for an outline (more on that below), started writing, and suddenly, I had a (really rough) draft. Within 30 days. Gross, right? Ugh, I know.
With BIRDIE & BASH, I tinkered here and there, but before the sale, I only did one major rewrite (still gross; I know). Post-sale, some things changed, but nothing painstaking. While this book was unique for me in every way, each book is different, with a new feel and flow. I’ve learned it’s best to let the book tell me what will be the best approach.
In terms of productivity, there’s two ways to go about the dreaded first draft:
- Get everything out on the paper and worry about it later (which can be time consuming in the after), or,
- Edit as you go (which is time consuming in the present).
I’ve done both. For BIRDIE & BASH, I edited as I went because at the time, it felt right for this book and I was right to do it that way, as it saved time later on.
To go the other route (which I did for my forthcoming book after B&B and a lot of other projects in the past), I get all my thoughts into a notebook by hand, then transfer to Post-Its for a rough outline. Writing every detail by hand has a whole other energy to it and somehow helps me clear any blockages. The caveat is scribbling too much information (which I’ve also done!) and don’t know where to go from any of it. That’s fun (not).
Most books get at least half of a spiral notebook’s worth of thoughts before they get the Post-It treatment and a Word document. At most, I’d say this pre-phase takes about a week. This is because I’m detailed to a fault, and usually fall into an information spiral on the internet where I can’t make a decision and instead, adopt another cat (because that’s my anxiety calming thing).
But I digress.
Regardless of which method you think may work for your project, to get a fast draft done, you only have to commit to one scene at a time. Or one chapter. Or one page, if it all feels too big. But you have to commit, even when you’re spewing garbage (which I do, often!). My word count everyday tends to ride somewhere between 500-1,000/weekday, but on weekends, I do more if I’m able. I also have two children and a staff writing job. And it’s summer. So, basically, I’ve had to cut myself some major slack for getting next-to-nothing accomplished (except petting my fluffy cat) (and that’s OK).
Once you’ve committed to what you’ll do each day, and chosen your preferred method, you’re ready to go. Here’s the shortcuts to getting a fast draft done with each, whether you feel like it or not. Because usually for me, it’s not.
1) Method #1: Get everything on the paper and worry about it later
- Grab your notebooks with all your weird, confusing thoughts
- Transfer them to Post-It notes, then rearrange them into an order that makes the most sense for now
- Choose a starting point (you can change it later) that happens in the action
- Write whatever you committed to write, even if it’s the worst thing ever written
- BUT, stop your scene or chapter (or whatever), in the middle of something that excites you. Whether it’s a hilarious incident of an awkward girl running into a tree branch, tripping up a curb (true story), or the electric first kiss between two cool characters (BIRDIE & BASH!), stop yourself from writing the whole scene. CUT IT OFF. You heard me. This way, you’re excited to get right back to where you left off the next day. This trick hasn’t failed me yet.
- Continue this pattern every day until you have a semi-coherent finished draft of ramblings you can go back to, and revise later. You may be surprised at some of the whacked-out things you’ve managed to write, but there may also be some pretty great things. Promise.
- For later: Save time editing by cutting and pasting all the “bad” pieces into a new document. They may come in handy at places you didn’t realize until your draft is done.
2) Method #2: Edit as you go (outline required)
- No matter what your word count goal is, it’s important to remember that this route will take longer in the moment, but you’ll have less to “fix” later also. I’d advise having less of a word count goal with this method. That way you can be sure each piece flows the way you want it to. Once you get into “the zone,” it’ll go faster than it sounds.
- Take the same notebook full of rambles and transfer to Post-Its. This time, create a solid outline to work from with a new scene on each Post-It. The more detailed, the better. Though, it’s OK if your characters want to take you in other directions, so be flexible. Move the Post-Its around until you’re comfortable with the sequence and pacing.
- As you work each day, pay attention to word choice, checking all the boxes as far as character motivation, conflict, pacing, story arc, character growth, etc. You’ll be able to see if these things are included by your Post-Its (if you took the time to invest).
- Again, this method takes more time in the moment, but if all is solid with your outline, and you have a firm grasp on how you want the characters and story to evolve, go for it. The worst that happens is, you revise = more time. Big whoop.
- If your draft ends up like BIRDIE & BASH, you may need to cut some major things later — BUT — all the good writing in other places will stay in-tact.
There you have it! Those are my two go-to methods for fast-drafting. There’s pros and cons to both, so do what works for you. In over 10 years, each has helped me meet deadlines with less stress than other drafting techniques I’ve tried. However, you can’t revise a story that hasn’t been written yet, so most of the time, I go for the first method just to get the basics down as fast as possible (while editing things I think of in the days after, as I think of them). Good luck and may all the fluffy cats be with you!
About the Book:
The Inevitable Collision of Birdie & Bash by Candace Ganger is a beautiful, complex, and ultimately hopeful teen novel that will move you to the very last page.
Amazon | Indiebound | Goodreads
About the Author:
Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Facebook