I’ve recently discovered that my writing speed has accelerated from around 700 to about 1000 words an hour. I was trying to work out exactly why that is. Partly it’s the incentive of having a proper break after every thousand words. I get up, stretch my legs, have a cup of tea and some time away from the screen. Maybe do a bit of crochet–I’m getting a lot more crochet done this way
Mostly, though, I think it’s a change in my mindset about what a first draft should be. So here are my seven rules for writing a quick and dirty first draft:
1. When in doubt, just put anything down
I no longer spend time selecting the right words in a first draft. If I find myself mulling over word choice for any length of time, I tell myself to just pick one–any one, no matter how rubbish–and carry on writing. I can choose a better word in the second draft.
2. Dialogue doesn’t need beats
Beats are the little bits of action interspersed through the dialogue, grounding it in a particular location. Of course, the dialogue will need these eventually, but in the first draft I’m happy to just get chunks of dialogue down on the page. I might decide to move this conversation to another location in the next draft, so that will be even easier to do if I don’t have a load of beats that no longer make sense. I find it much easier to get into the back and forth flow of a conversation if I don’t have to keep writing those pesky little beats!
3. The internet is off-limits
I’m banned from using the internet to check things during the first draft. The internet is way too much of a time suck for me. If I find I need to mention something I’m not quite sure about–like the car plant my character’s dad worked at–I just insert a row of question marks to remind me. I’ve also used square brackets to enclose notes about what I need to look up – basically, any symbol you wouldn’t normally use will work, making it easy to search for using Word’s “Find” function.
4. Clichés are fine and dandy
My first drafts have plenty of clichés. This is fine as I can weed them out in the next draft using my mighty cliché hoe. Or sometimes I play with them, morphing them into something unexpected. Clichés are great fun to do this with, and I’m starting to see them as a store of potential treasures rather than the bane of my existence.
5. Turn off the spell checker
I have some truly dreadful spelling mistakes in my first drafts. I’m a touch typist, so my letters can get completely disordered when I’m typing fast and furious. This is fine, and if I disable the wiggly red line I don’t even notice them. It saves me an awful lot of time and I don’t break the flow if I just keep on going regardless of spelling.
6. Avoid the urge to polish
There is no point polishing your first draft while you’re in the middle of it. Really, no point whatsoever. In fact, I’d say it’s counterproductive because you’re far less willing to rip out scenes that aren’t working when you get to subsequent drafts. Believe me, it’s an awful lot easier to rip out chunks of rough first draft than it is to cut your painstakingly polished prose.
This rule also covers those moments when you’ve suddenly decided to change a detail that impacts on scenes earlier in the story. You don’t need to go back and rewrite those scenes now. Just carry on writing as if you already had, and sort it all out in the second draft.
7. It’s fine to write a crap first draft
You might need to write this on a post-it note and stick it to your monitor to begin with – I know I did. The key for me at first draft stage is simply getting the story down, no matter how rough it comes out. And you know what, the surprising thing is that these rough first drafts actually don’t look all that bad when I come back to them. Yes, they’ll need to be run through with a spellchecker and my mighty cliché hoe, but on the whole I’m pretty impressed with the way my writing flows when I give myself permission to write crap.
So, if you find yourself getting too precious about your first drafts and want to up your writing speed, give these rules a try. They might not work for you–we all need to find the strategies that suit us best–but they’ve definitely worked for me!