Fast Draft Hell: 7 Lessons I Learned (Almost) Writing a Novel in 14 Days
Early on this year I was perusing the Internet for possible writing workshops that might kick my butt into gear, and I stumbled upon a gem taught by editor and author extraordinaire Candace Havens. The class is called The Book in a Month Club, and it promises to help writers write a book in fourteen days, followed by two weeks of revisions. 20 pages a day for 14 days. Quick revisions. Bam. A finished book. In a month. Where do I sign up?
Now, for a writer who typically takes a year (yes, I know—so slow) to pump out a single rough manuscript, and who has attempted NaNoWriMo five times and only “won” once, I was skeptical that I’d all of a sudden be able to whip out a first draft in two weeks. But I trust Candace Havens, and spoke to former participants who swore by her process and intense style of make-no-excuses teaching. So, on a whim I put my better judgment aside and signed up. Candace Havens has helped thousands of writers whip out a book in a month, and it’s said that nearly 30% of those writers go on to publish. Seriously, with those numbers, just pass me the Kool-Aid.
I really wish I could tell you that I mastered the art of the Fast Draft and ended the two weeks of class with a completed manuscript. But, alas, that’s not the case. It turns out that it’s not quite possible to turn the slowest writer on the planet into a person who completes entire books in two weeks. However, all is not lost. I learned some incredibly helpful lessons from my two weeks in Fast Draft hell, ands I’m here to share them with you.
1. Outlines are Crucial
Candace does not mince words on whether or not she thinks you can just pants your way through these two weeks. In fact, she opens up early on with a proven outlining method that perfectly sets up the typical beats in a story and pretty much guarantees that you won’t be sitting there wondering “what now?” at any point during Fast Draft.
Let it be known that I have never outlined prior to drafting before. I have always thought that an outline would crush any creativity out of a project, and have always loved seeing where the story will take me without one. (That probably explains why it takes me a year to complete a manuscript. There’s a lot of missteps involved). So, this was my first time, and I dove into that outline prior to the two weeks with gusto. I planned the heck out of this book, covering all my bases as far as beats go. Going into this, I knew what was going to happen.
And you know what? For the most part, it worked. I wrote from beat to beat and still had a blast figuring out how to get there. I never once felt stymied by my plan, and it in fact gave me more freedom to be creative, knowing I had an end game in mind. I don’t know if I’ll always use such a detailed outline in the future, but I do know that I’ll never begin a book without at least a loose plan.
2. There is No Place for an Internal Editor
Seriously, there’s no place for an editor. When you know you have to write 20 pages in a day, all of a sudden it becomes imperative that you ignore the little red squiggles from Word telling you there’s a misspelling. You have to ignore the fact that your sentences aren’t as poetic and perfect as they will be in the end. There is zero time for waffling over word choice or sentiment. You have to just write. No looking back. Just moving forward. Rest assured there’s time after these initial two weeks to go back and make your prose shine, so you just have to get the bones down now.
This one was difficult for me at first, but after a slow first couple of days, I realized that abandoning perfection was the only way to succeed, and I just went with it. It might have been against my instinct to do so, but once I did, I was easily clocking 15-20 pages in a day.
3. Accountability is Everything
A huge part of Candace’s Fast Draft class is the community. She has created a group for each class, and it is required that you pop in once a day and update the group on where you ended up with your goal. I’ve never been accountable to anyone in writing before, so this was new to me, but there was something intensely motivating about not only knowing that my group was waiting on me to post, but also seeing other member’s success. Oh, Mary Jo wrote 27 pages today? Well, surely I can hit 20! Plus, Candace is really big on no whining and no excuses, so the group is good about not enabling them. They don’t want to hear why you didn’t get the pages done. They just want to know how you’re going to make it happen tomorrow.
4. It Takes a Village
We’ve already talked about the community aspect of accountability, which is really huge in succeeding in Fast Draft. But the truth is that if you’re going to knock out a full manuscript in fourteen days, it takes more than that. It takes loved ones who are willing to ignore the dirty dishes that inevitably pile up in the sink. It takes friends who are willing to overlook your absence at weekly functions. It takes the unwavering support of the Chinese delivery man who will probably bring you five meals in two weeks. (Oh, no? That must just be me). But you get the point. While writing is no doubt a solitary endeavor, it still takes a village of support to get it done.
5. It’s All About the Pages (Not the Words!)
In Fast Draft, Candace encourages writers to think in terms of pages instead of word count, which was a totally new concept to me. I’d always set myself word count goals, like 2,000 words a day or whatever it might be. But, there was something really cool about thinking in terms of entire pages. 1,000 words might not seem like much, but that translates to nearly 3 pages, which felt like so much more progress to me. It was a shift in consciousness, where all of a sudden I was focusing on entire chunks of progress in a way that reminded me of an actual finished book. When I read, I think in terms of pages, and from now on, I will do so as I write as well.
6. #1K1Hr Can Salvage a Rough Writing Day
I feel like the #1K1Hr hashtag is the best kept writing secret on Twitter. If you haven’t used it, you’re seriously missing out. Search the hashtag and be instantly connected to writers everywhere that are pushing their limits and writing—you guessed it—one thousand words in one hour. That’s a whole lot of support and encouragement from other writers who are doing the same thing as you. Fast Draft is not for the weak, and #1K1Hr will push you to get those words down. Plus, it’s added accountability as you check in, which we’ve established is crucial to success.
7. It’s Okay Not to Finish
Okay, maybe this lesson is just for my own benefit, but really, it’s true for anyone. Fast Draft is difficult. It takes a lot of planning, hard work, and discipline to write 280 pages in two weeks. And sometimes life will get in the way and our best laid plans will go awry. And while I encourage you to do everything in your power to push through and finish, the truth is that if you don’t, you’re still a winner. If you only wrote 10 pages per day and skipped every Tuesday, you’re still making an incredible amount of progress and doing something concrete towards achieving your goal of a completed manuscript. Nothing bad can come of building a daily writing habit where you push your own limits, even if you fail to complete the goal.
So, maybe I didn’t finish my novel in two weeks, but I did make some incredible progress and learned a few things that will serve me well as I move on in my writing career. For those of who who have tried Fast Draft before, what worked for you? And if you haven’t tried it, are you tempted now?
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