How to Write a Fast-Draft Novel

If you’ve ever tried to write a fast draft during NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month) and been unable to complete it, you’re not alone. Plenty of people attempt to get that important first draft down on paper, so they can move to revisions with an eye for deepening characters and motivations, and finessing the plot. But more often than not, writers end their month of drafting with a partially-written draft that they’ll never look at again.

It doesn’t have to be this way! Don’t go into fast-drafting alone and without a plan. Find some camaraderie, some writer friends who will hold you accountable, and then make a solid plan for the book you’d like to not only finish, but market one day. Here are a few suggestions to help you put a plan into place before you start drafting, so you have a better chance of success:

GIVEAWAY: Denise is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Ron Estrada won.)


denise-jaden-author-writer         fast-fiction-jaden-book

Column by Denise Jaden, author of critically-acclaimed fiction for teens,
including LOSING FAITH and NEVER ENOUGH. Her nonfiction books for
writers include Writing with a Heavy Heart: Using Grief and Loss to Stretch
Your Fiction and her new release Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and
Drafting a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days. She lives just outside Vancouver,
Canada, where she homeschools her son and dances with a world
renowned Polynesian dance troupe. Find her on Twitter.



1. Brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm. The more ideas you have, the easier it will be to write quickly. Jot down ideas whenever and wherever they come to you. Out at a restaurant I might notice the nametag of Carly, the waitress. From there, my mind springboards into all sorts of ideas of what a character like Carly could be like. Perhaps I’ll even come up with some motivations for Carly (she wants a raise), and an obstacle coming against that motivation (but she just can’t stop dropping dishes). All in the space of an hour, while visiting and having a meal, I have come up with a fun new character and a bit of background. My family and friends are quite used to me whipping out my phone to jot down story and character ideas, no matter where we are. The key is to always keep your eyes open and mark down every little idea, before it gets lost to your swarming everyday thoughts.

(Writer’s Digest asked literary agents for their best pieces of advice. Here are their responses.)

2. Write YOUR story. The idea for my debut novel, Losing Faith, sprung from feelings I still carry around about losing my best friend when I was a teen. While the situation in my book is much different than my own teen trauma, I had strong feelings when I wrote the book about the confusion during the loss of someone close. I don’t think anyone else in the world could have written Losing Faith. And I don’t think anyone else in the world can write the story you have passionate feelings about writing. Dig deep, and don’t stop looking until you discover what that story is.

3. Use visual or audible cues. Once you have a story idea and a few characters in mind, gather some visual and audible props to help you discover more about them. Look through Google Images to find pictures (or draw them yourself) of your characters and setting. Add these to your computer desktop, or print them out to display in your office. Make a playlist of songs to go with your new book before you even write it. Music can be very motivating—just look at how many people have ear buds in at the gym! Having visual and audible cues will help keep your story fresh in your head when your motivation to write is sluggish

4. Set a measurable goal to finish. You don’t have to set a word-count goal, if that feel too inorganic to your writing process, but set a goal that you can measure, and make your overall goal for the completion of your book. As much as it may feel like a great accomplishment to get halfway through a draft in a month, how many half-written drafts do you already have on your computer? Half-written drafts, more often than not, don’t get completed. So set yourself up for a chapter a day, or a scene per day, or 2,000 words per day—whatever you like. But make sure however many days you have will tally up to a finished product.

(When can you finally call yourself a writer?)

5. Pull it all together. Once you have a lot of ideas with visual and audible cues, a measurable goal, and a passion for the story you want to write, give yourself a plan for that story. Make sure all of your relevant ideas are written down in one place and set in an approximate order. In my new book, Fast Fiction, I use a Story Plan, and give directed guidance on how to fill it in before attempting a fast draft. You can find an example of my story plan setup on my website at . Whether you use my plan or your own, I recommend pulling it all together in a place that will serve as a quick-glance sheet throughout your fast drafting.

If you’re thinking of trying to fast draft, but don’t know where to start, drop by my blog for two features I’m running to help writers get started: Writing Prompt Wednesdays and Fast Fiction Fridays at If you have any tips for getting a draft down quickly, I’d love to hear about them in the comments. Happy fast-drafting!

GIVEAWAY: Denise is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Ron Estrada won.)


Hook agents, editors and readers immediately.
Check out Les Edgerton’s guide, HOOKED, to
learn about how your fiction can pull readers in.


Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
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and more.
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23 thoughts on “How to Write a Fast-Draft Novel

  1. Graelyn

    This is very good advice. Your book should be a must have for every writer’s library. This advice would work even if you are not trying to write a fast first draft.

  2. The Captain

    This was a wonderful, helpful article! I feel all pumped up to write and brainstorm right now. Thank you for both the inspiration and sound advice, Miss Jaden!

  3. Victoria Van Vlear

    Thanks for the tips. Your advise about goals is what I needed to hear—I constantly get bogged down trying to edit as I write, which is unhelpful for a first draft. I think setting a goal for words per day would keep me moving.

  4. thetelleroftales

    Thanks a lot for the article! I quite appreciated the ideas, like accountability, which would help my not-so-strict sense of discipline. I greatly enjoyed the idea of making a playlist, especially since I have had quite a few ideas generated by music, and have found a lot of songs that fit perfectly with characters/stories. Only problem with the drawing idea is that I spend to much time drawing settings, characters, made-up creatures, maps and so-forth that I forget about the writing part of the story. Hence the need for discipline. Hopefully, I will soon be able to resign my family to having me pull out a notebook at odd moments (my thumbs are not agile enough for a phone), and with good luck I won’t keep losing the pencils.

  5. Silkienne

    This is all really good advice. I tend to write my first draft as an extended outline narrative. This is the story we all wrote when we were young, the one where we tell, not show, without much thought and missing all but the most pertinent of information. Then I go back through and begin filling in the details. I know where I’m starting, where I have to go, and most of the folks that need to be included to get me to that climactic finale. Still, it takes a lot of details that can be plugged in at any time (and picked up at any time by the writer). Keep files of characters, names, descriptions, tidbits of their lives.

  6. Marie Rogers

    I tend to write straight through, then go back to rewrite, revise, and flesh out the story. I use bits and pieces of myself and others, but I never thought about visual and audible cues. I can see how those would make a story richer, more real. Thank you for the great idea.

  7. Myra

    Thanks for the pointers. I am having trouble with my plot arc. I have lots of ideas for scenes and the overall idea, but putting them in sequence that makes sense is a challenge!

  8. jray1977

    Thank you so much for sharing. I’m a little over ten thousand words into my novel which is project to run seventy to eighty thousand. I’ll take all the tips I can get!

  9. mrajotte

    I’ve “won” NaNoWriMo a few times in terms of hitting the 50K word-count goal but never finished the entire novel in that time (i.e. the novel still needed more words to be a completed first draft). Maybe switching up my planning methods will help.

  10. Dennis

    Thank you for these great tips. I have used similar ones to just get my first Draft finished after a couple of years, but have never really tried a fast draft approach. My problem has always been that I am not a wordy person, even in talking so getting the words to flow on a particular day can be a challenge. Also, doing this in the evening after working a standard job has slowed me down. I have been wanting to do the ProNano month and this is inspiring me to do so. Thanks again.


    Thanks, great advice and very timely for me, as I’m wrapping up my first story collection and have started writing the first few paragraphs of a novel (for which I have a germ of an idea and a few characters worked out, but still need much more). I’m printing out two copies of your story plan right now – one for me and one for my teenage son, who’s also recently started his first novel. Thanks!

    Also here is a tip – perhaps for the revision phase(s) – but your visual/audio clues reminded me of this: spice up the language by using words you might not normally have thought of. My favorite app on my phone is, which gives me a “word of the day” every evening. I’ve tried to incorporate some of those words into whatever I’m writing/revising that week. (Could be a stand-alone writing prompt as well).

  12. tragill4

    This echoes advice from a writing class I’m currently taking. I’m definitely going to check out the writing plan and try it out with my homework for the week, which is a first draft of a short story. 🙂

  13. Ron Estrada

    Okay, this one prompted me to stop lurking. I admit that I’m a bit afraid of fast drafting. I’ve tried the SOP method and it was a disaster. Now I’m what you’d call a lazy plotter, meaning that I plot in great detail until about the mid-point, then decide I’d better start writing. Perhaps your book will answer the question, but is it easier to fast draft with a detailed outline or do you prefer a little more “room to explore”?

    Thanks for the post. You get credit for forcing me to register and reply to these posts!

  14. tevye

    This is an interesting topic.

    I am having real problems finishing my first draft. My editor (left brain) keeps squelching my creator (right brain). the muse doesn’t appreciate all the editing interruptions and keeps going on vacation. I have a tendency to be a perfectionist—I want to not only get it write, but get it RIGHT.


    1. denisejaden

      Tevye – I don’t believe you can get everything right on a first draft, but the most helpful thing is to get the plot arc right. That means gaining momentum and moving forward and not allowing yourself to focus on or get caught up in the little details. Tell yourself you will be allowed to fix all of that…on the next draft. Make a deal with yourself that you will only move forward on your writing and not look back at what you have written for a certain number of days (I usually do this for one month, but you may want to start with say 3 days and then work up to that). I hope that helps!

  15. kylegwhite

    As a notoriously ‘slow’ writer, I appreciate any tips to speed up my process. I write fantasy and particularly like the brainstorming advice. However, I find that I get too deep in the weeds sometimes (who would guess that creating maps of made-up worlds could be so much fun?).

    I have never tried a story plan, but I’m willing to give it whirl. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Kyle White

    1. denisejaden

      Kyle – yes, it’s easy to get caught in the deep weeds, isn’t it? For that reason, usually when I’m writing a first draft, I don’t allow myself to look back at any of the story I’ve written until I reach the end. Then, after a bit of a break from it, I can clearly see the main plot arc and which of the weeds I need to trim, and which ones just need to be yanked at the root :). I hope the story plan works for you!


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