10 Tips for Writing a Lightning-Speed Draft

Whether you're writing a novel or just a long blog post, writing a fast first draft is a crucial skill. And it’s not just about saving time: fast writing is about focus, clarity, and the freedom to experiment with competing ideas. Here are 10 tips for fast draft writing.

You finally found a couple of free hours for writing. Your head is full of ideas, and you can’t wait to get them out there. Perhaps you even have a word count you’re aiming for (e.g. the NaNoWriMo Challenge). You’re focused, energized, and you have a plan: you’re going to write a very fast first draft.

Two hours later, all you have is 3 odd paragraphs that you’re not even happy with. What happened?!

If you recognize this scenario, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Writing a lightning-speed draft is not an easy skill to master. However, for anyone who wants to write anything longer than an email, writing a fast draft is a crucial skill; and it’s not just about saving time. Fast writing is also about focus, clarity, and the freedom to experiment with competing ideas.

Here are 10 tips to help you write your drafts faster than you ever imagined possible.

fast draft writing

Speed tip #1: Don’t worry about grammar

Don’t bother putting together well-constructed sentences. Just string words together to create content, and worry about form later on.
For example, Let’s take this sentence (just a random piece of text):

This very detailed training video demonstrates everything you need to know about writing a post in WordPress. All of the basics are covered, as well as some of the more advanced features that are hidden below the surface.

Here’s how I would speed-draft it:

Video shows what you need for WP post. Basics+hidden features covered.

fast draft writing

Speed tip #2: Don’t look back

The best way to tangle yourself up with completely unimportant decisions for hours on end, is to edit your text while you’re writing it. If you want to write a lightining-speed first draft, you’ll have to just keep on writing. Imagine the arrow keys on your keyboard, as well as the [Backspace] and [delete] buttons, have been rigged to explode on touch. Don’t set them off!
fast draft writing

>Speed tip #3: Write your fixes

Tip #2 may sound a bit impractical. What if you suddenly realize that your last few sentences have led you to a dead end? Or you’ve forgotten to make an important point three paragraphs earlier? Wouldn’t you HAVE to go back and fix stuff? Well maybe, but since your editing keys are now explosive, you probably shouldn’t. Simply write down your thoughts, and move on. If you want to start over, simply mark it with ‘***’ and keep going forward.

This is from my short story Smiling Widow. Spelling mistakes are from the original draft; I chose to leave them in.

Without a word Betty turned – slammed door behind. walked into gloom outside. (rain stopeed a little earlier?) + widow should yell at her: “and don’t come back to beg!”

fast draft writing

Speed tip #4: use short sentences

Crafting a long, elaborate paragraph that strings together several ideas into a single long and winding sentence, can be confusing and vague not just for the writer but also for the poor reader. Don’t you agree?

Here’s how I’d speed-draft this last sentence:

Writing a long paragraph can take time. Not just for writer but also for reader.

Personally I have a tendency for too elaborate writing. This kind of writing also helps me fight that weakness.

fast draft writing

Speed tip #5: Use bullets

Bullets are great for speed-writing. They allow you to toss in disjointed thoughts at random order, and worry about arranging and connecting them later on.

For example, this sentence:

This very detailed training video demonstrates everything you need to know about writing a post in WordPress. All of the basics are covered, as well as some of the more advanced features that are hidden below the surface.

Can be drafted with bullets like this:

  • Detailed training video – shows WP posting
  • Advanced/hidden features covered
  • Basics covered

Psychologically, I also find it easier to disregard grammar (tip #1) when I write like this.

fast draft writing

>Speed tip #6: Use simple words

Forget your arsenal of fancy vocabulary. Later on you can furnish language, searching for just the right word for the particular undertone you wish to convey. For your speed draft, just use plain language. Remember that the first draft should be all about broad strokes, not subtle ornamentation.

Here’s how I drafted the above paragraph:

Don’t use nice words. Fix language later. First draft is broad strokes.

Words like ‘nice’ and ‘fix’ are very general, so I didn’t use them in the final sentence. For a draft, however, that kind of broadness is exactly what’s needed.

fast draft writing

Speed tip #7: Use abbreviations, acronyms and codes

Get used to writing abbreviations (like ‘sth’ for ‘something’ or ‘vid’ for video) and acronyms (like like CW for ‘CreativityWise’). Even if you type really fast, this habit will speed you up considerably. It will also help you avoid fancy language in your drafts.

This very detailed training video demonstrates everything you need to know about writing a post in WordPress.

Quick:

This vid = all you need re:WP posts.

You can also use your own ‘codes’ to replace whole phrases, even entire paragraphs. My book ‘The Mechanics of Inspiration’ naturally includes many anecdotes and ideas I was already very familiar with. My first drafts were full of codes like ‘Asterix story’ or ‘stroll/trip’, which really helped me speed things up.

fast draft writing

Speed tip #8: Turn off your phone, unplug your internet

For some of you, this is surely the most impractical and annoying advice in this post. What if something important happens and I’m not reachable to respond?

Do remember that the whole point is to be working FAST – so all we’re talking about here is 20-30 minutes of unplugged quietness. Can you not unplug for just 20 minutes? I think you can. Challenge yourself to get used to that. It really makes a huge difference in your ability to focus.
fast draft writing

Speed tip #9: Go to the loo before you begin

Sorry if this sounds too silly, but when nature calls it’s no less distracting than when your mother-in-law calls; and unlike your mom in law, you can’t ignore the call or say “I’ll get back to you later, sorry”. If the secret of fast draft writing is focus and flow, then not even your own body should be allowed to interrupt.

fast draft writing

Speed tip #10: Use a simple editor

Here’s a surprising piece of truth: word processors are really awful writing tools. They are excellent, amazing, phenomenal tools for editing; but they suck for writing, because they’re just mind-bogglingly distracting! They offer way too many options for stuff that isn’t purely writing: choosing fonts, designing headlines, finding synonyms, fixing grammar and spelling mistakes in one click (that’s one too many clicks!) and so on. In one gloriously embarrassing case, I found myself using Photoshop to design nice-looking bullets for my draft. Seriously.

One of the best writing tools is good old pen and paper. It also helps you avoid too much editing, making it physically difficult to do. If you’re happy with writing by hand, this should probably be your weapon of choice.

If you prefer typing (like I do), there are quite a few great writing programs that offer liberating simplicity. I often use the Q10 writer. If you’re using an iPad, try the iA Writer.

fast draft writing

BONUS! Speed tip #11: Write in a series of short bursts

If you’re anything like me, a countdown clock starting with as little as 15 minutes will get you going like a demon. (Q10 actually has an internal countdown clock for exactly that reason). So light up that fire in your eyes, and start typing! You’ll be amazed how far you can get with a 15 to 30 minutes countdown. Try it!

fast draft writing

Goodbye, procrastination!

Did procrastination ever steal your creative juice away? That’s probably because you had that feeling that ‘there’s no point starting – I’ll never finish this’. Or maybe you thought, ‘I know I’ll start criticizing myself and editing it to death, end up hating the result, and the whole thing is just going to be too painful. Better stick to watching funny videos of cats on the net’. Well guess what? If you can achieve something great in 20 minutes, and if you’re not even allowed to edit yourself – then its goodbye procrastination, farewell writing blocks, and hello creative flow!


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Comments

comments

4 Comments on “10 Tips for Writing a Lightning-Speed Draft

  1. Vauxhall Van says:

    Great advice, I’m a natural born procrastinator and I’m beginning to feel the effects of this on my career, social life etc.

  2. Ponjel says:

    Thanks Alex, this helps much. I am using your tips today.

  3. Doron Meir says:

    Thanks Alex – so glad to have you on CreativityWise and even more glad you find it helpful :) Let me know if you need anything.

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