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5 Tips on How To Write Fast—And Well!

Who says your first drafts can’t be completed manuscripts? Author Kate Hewitt lays out 5 tips on how to write fast and well.

There is sometimes a belief, or at least an attitude, that if you write a book fast, you must not have written it well. First drafts are fine to race through, but not completed, submission-ready manuscripts, right?

(How One Photograph Inspired a Novel)

But what if I told you there was a way to write both fast and well, and to have a submission-ready manuscript within two or three months?

I’ve written four to five books a year for the last seven years, without a lot of stress, hassle, or burnout. Yes, there have been some tense times when I was racing to a deadline, but for the most part the writing has been both fun and rewarding, and the books have been published by reputable publishers, usually without too many edits requested.

So how did I do it? Let me share you my five tips, learned through experience and graft, on how to write fast and well.

1. Know Your Message

So you have a premise, some sort of hook, maybe a couple of characters. Where do you go from there?

The first thing I think: It is important to figure out your message. Whatever your book is about, whatever instances or issues you are trying to explore, what are you trying to say about it? It doesn’t have to be preachy in any way, and good stories generally aren’t, but if you know what you are trying to say—what truth you want to explore or highlight—that makes plotting so much easier.

Some examples of the “messages” of recent books of mine have been “every situation is complicated,” “there can be hope in suffering,” or “doing the right thing is costly.” These sound pretty generic—and they are!—but they help me frame my story, because the plot points and characters’ actions will reflect and point to this truth.

2. Know Your Plot

Before I start writing a book, I write a four to five page synopsis. It doesn’t break down the story scene by scene, but I cover at least six major turning points in the story that correspond to the changes in the characters’ emotional journeys.

I give myself permission to change these as I write but starting with this framework really helps me in the writing process, because I am always writing either toward a turning point scene or from it.

5 Tips on How To Write Fast—And Well!

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3. Know Your Characters

Before I begin writing, I spend some time thinking about my characters—where they come from, what events or experiences shaped them, and most of all, what they want. Emotional conflict in a story is absolutely crucial, and I think it is best framed as what your character wants and what keeps them from obtaining it.

Their backgrounds and personalities are part of this, and so knowing your characters can help with everything else—emotional journeys, plotting, and message. As long as I keep their emotional conflict in my mind as I write, I don’t get lost in the morass of wandering beginnings, saggy middles, or uncertain endings.

4. Know How to Break It Down

So you know your message, your conflict, your characters, and your plot. You’ve written a synopsis and you’re ready to get going—where do you begin? This is when I break my novel down into manageable chunks.

For each manuscript I write, on average, 30 chapters of 3,000 words each—that is a 90,000-word novel, which is pretty standard in the industry. I used to write chapters that were 5,000 words, and some that were 2,000 words and everything in between, but I’ve found that 3,000 words is really the best length for pacing—you can explore a scene in depth but keep the reader turning the pages.

Before I start writing, I make a chapter-by-chapter outline, not so much about what happens physically, but rather what happens emotionally for my characters, which helps plot out their emotional arc throughout the novel. The how and why of that emotional journey is the fun part to figure out as you write.

I also plan those major turning points I mentioned in the synopsis—usually every 15,000 words, so at 15,000, 30,000, 45,000, 60,000, and then the resolution at 90,000 words. This gives me five chapters to build and then recover from each major turning/plot point. And now my big, sprawling novel is starting to feel a lot more manageable—and I haven’t even written a word yet!

5 Tips on How To Write Fast—And Well!

5. Know How to Write It

So now you get to the fun part—actually writing the story. At this point you already know a lot about it, so you should be raring to go. I write 3,000 words a day, 4 days a week. And the way I write is as fast as possible, bypassing my brain (and if that sounds silly, what I mean is getting into that deep flow state where I am feeling the words). No internet, no email, no phone checking, no coffee breaks.

And most importantly, no rereading or editing. Just get the words down. Fix it all later.

Once I’ve written the chapter, I go back and rewrite it (after my coffee break!); usually it’s more tweaking than complete rewriting, but it might take as long as the writing of it did. On average I write three to four hours a day, which is pretty doable for a balanced life. Then, the next day, I start by rereading the chapter I just wrote, and tweaking it, usually pretty lightly, some more. Then it’s onto the next chapter, as fast as possible. On the fifth day of the week, I reread all four chapters and tweak/revise as necessary. And by Saturday I have four chapters, 12,000 words, that are pretty polished and ready to go.

And I do this all the way to the end of the book. By the time I’ve finished, I’ve reread and revised so much along the way that I usually don’t even need a final read through, although I will do one if I have time.

Admittedly, this method might not be for everybody, but I’ve written (and published) over 100 books, and I learned this the hard way. Some of those books I labored over with blood, sweat, and tears, and I wasn’t entirely happy with the result, until I figured out what really worked—for me. I’d encourage any writer to try it and see if it works for them.

And in case this sounds too prescriptive, I think it is important to remember that there is always room to maneuver, to play, to explore, and to discover. My characters surprise me all the time; the plot point I was saving for the 60,000-word mark I realize would be much more powerful at the 15,000-word one. Using this method still gives me plenty of creative freedom, and in fact having this kind of framework allows me to explore even more; it’s like walking on a tightrope with a safety net underneath. You can be a little bolder knowing you won’t splat onto the ground!

Ultimately, I consider these writing tips as useful tools; not restrictive, but helping you to be equipped and ready to work.

Good luck!

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