5 Tips to Turn Slow Writers into Fast Drafters

Can writers train themselves to write faster? This question is much debated. Many people say that yes, writers can learn to write fast, but (at least in my opinion) those people are short on actionable ways to make that happen. The common advice seems to be: 1) time yourself, 2) create self-imposed deadlines, and 3) give yourself permission to write a sh*t first draft.

I especially hate that last one. Of course a first draft doesn’t have to be perfect (not at all!), but it has to be readable enough to edit. You cannot edit total sh*t. So all that time you spent writing fast is wasted because you now have to flush that crap down the toilet and start again. There must be a better way! So I set out to find one. Or rather, a couple clients forced me to find one…

If you’ve been following the blog, you know that I’m now writing games. This is exciting and tons of fun! But narrative games are a relatively new industry, unlike television, and that means game makers don’t have a universally agreed upon system for developing and writing stories. In television, that process is a well-oiled machine that speeds along like this:

  1. Writer pitches ideas, usually 2 paragraphs long, based on an already developed TV show.
  2. If approved, writer flushes pitch out into a 1 page premise.
  3. If that’s approved, writer beats out the episode (by themselves if they’re a freelancer-for-hire, or with the writing team if they’re on staff).
  4. Write the Outline.
  5. Write the 1st Draft.
  6. Write the 2nd Draft.
  7. Write the Polish Draft.
  • Writer receives and incorporates feedback at every stage.
  • Usually the writer is given a week to complete each step. 

But in games, where everyone is making up their own system for developing and writing interactive narratives, timelines and deadlines and expectations vary widely. Since I’m still a newbie in this gaming business, I’m not sure how long writing a game should take either, which is how I was forced to be fast…

One client wanted me to write three test scripts (playtime of 2 to 5 minutes) in 3-5 hours each! No pitch, no development, just start writing. This completely goes against my plotter nature, but I rolled with it and wrote like the wind! The first script took double the allotted time (9 hours), so learning from that I made the second script less complicated (it took 5 hours), and because I was running out of time for the third script, I simplified it even further and banged it out in a mere 2 hours (1 hour over my time, but hell, close enough).

I was exhausted but exhilarated. I’d done it! I wrote crazy fast! And the stories made sense. They were by no means perfect, but they were functional as test scripts to try out the game engine. I CAN WRITE FAST!

And then client two came along with another insane request: create a story for a 10 chapter narrative game and write the outline and Chapter 1 in ONE WEEK! WTF? Story development is something that usually takes months! Even simple stories require time to develop characters and plot. But again, me being a newbie and always worried that I’m slower than other freelance writers, I gave it shot. Again, I wrote like the wind, but ultimately asked for an extension, explaining story development is an important step that warrants at least a week on its own. 😉

So after all that, what did I learn? Can writers train themselves to write fast? Sure, and here’s how:

Step #1 – Set aside your WIP. Do not practice fast-writing on it. I think this is where so many writers get frustrated and just give up on writing fast, because the risk of speed-writing their baby into a wall is too devastating! Every time I’ve tried to write my novel fast, it’s been a disaster and I ended up scrapping literally everything I wrote in that binge-writing session. It was frustrating and a waste of time. So don’t use your current WIP to get fast. Instead,…

Step #2 – Practice on short stories. Brainstorm some new short ideas (micro-fiction, personal essays, poetry, chapters, etc) to practice fast writing. Don’t spend too long on this step; just make sure the idea is fresh and you’re not too attached to it (unlike your WIP). That way if it’s a disaster, you won’t care so much and can write it off as a learning experience.

Step #3 – Set an insanely tight timeframe (like a few hours) and GO! Get it out as fast as possible so that you can move on to the next step, because it’s the most important one…

Step #4 – Critically examine your fast draft. Set it aside for a day or a week so you can see it with fresh eyes, and zero in on your weak spots. It’s important to note what you gloss over or totally omit when you write fast. For me, fast writing tends to mean fast plotting, so though lots of exciting stuff happens, my characters aren’t well developed and lack inner conflicts. And without conflicted characters, all that action is less compelling. However, for you it might be the opposite. Maybe you created rich characters, but your plot falls flat. Everyone will be different.

And now for the fun part…

Step #5 – Create a Fast Writing Strategy. Now that you know you can write fast and the world won’t explode, use the weaknesses you identified in Step #4 to come up with a method for fast writing. I think of this as the bare basics I need to have in place before writing anything. You see, when I’m not writing fast, I have a whole development template in Scrivener that I go through, honing characters and story before I ever start the script stage. But if I need to write fast, I now know (because of my experiences above) that as long as I quickly flush out my characters’ defining traits and inner conflicts before I start, the story will turn out pretty good — at least good enough to edit into something better!

Having this Fast Writing Strategy has made me more confident, not just in my own writing but with my clients. I understand what my limits are and what the bare minimum is for me to start writing. Now I just have to set some ground rules for editing time…

PS – Speaking of writing short things to improve speed and skills, Robin and I are contemplating entering some short fiction blog hops and sharing our creations here. Stay tuned!

Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a freelance screenwriter, game writer, and novelist based in Toronto. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

4 thoughts on “5 Tips to Turn Slow Writers into Fast Drafters”

  1. This is fascinating to read — are you familiar with visual novels at all? What you describe sounds a lot like that genre.

    Also, would you be willing to share your development template? It sounds really helpful!

    1. Hi Blaise! Visual novels as in graphic novels? Like comics? Do those have the same production schedule as television?

      As for my development template, it’s a combination of a lot of my blog posts! I start with a Logline, then I use the Outlining Method 1: The Basic Beats to get the bones of the story down. As I’m doing that, I develop character stuff like The Emotional Midpoint, Inner Conflict, Reactions and Interactions with others. There’s also the Pre-Writing Checklist to make sure I have the important stuff thought out before I start the scene-by-scene outline. I also have a Scene Checklist which is a work in progress based on these “Test That Scene” posts: Is It Essential or Filler? and Cut or Revise?

      Hope that helps!

      1. Visual novels are a category of games. They’re told in the narrative form, illustrated, and the player gets to make decisions throughout that guide the course of the narrative. I don’t know about their production schedules, I’m afraid, though. Thanks for describing your development process. That sounds really helpful!

We love comments and questions.

%d bloggers like this: