When writing first drafts, a common piece of advice is write fast—just get those ideas on the page so you can take a proper look at them before you start letting your editor start messing with them… Write fast, analyze later. NaNoWriMo is great for creating a structure to force this practice.

There’s some great reasoning behind this practice… but fast firsts aren’t for everyone.

fast first drafts

Image by Kiran Foster (Creative Commons). Adapted by The Write Practice.

Fast First Drafts, Sloppy First Drafts

When I first started writing novels, I pushed myself to follow the fast firsts principle. I whipped through my first draft and focused on just getting what I had in my mind on the page, shoving aside the questions and red flags that my inner editor wanted to investigate. And sure, it was satisfying to whip through that draft in a few months and have draft finished.

But when I went back to look at it, I realized something. I’d just poured countless hours into getting my story down, but it still lacked critical pieces of backstory, character development, even some plot structure.

I had a ton of work ahead of me. It took longer to go back and address these issues than it would have to think things through in the first place.

The Merits of Slow

I did it the hard way, but I learned my lesson: Fast firsts just aren’t for me. I’m more of a plodder. So the next time around, I slowed down. I listened to my inner editor and let myself think while I wrote.

It took decidedly longer to draft this way. I even got stuck a few times as a wrestled with big questions about world building and character development. But all in all, the draft I ended up with was much stronger. I still had revisions to make after, but it wasn’t nearly as painful.

How to Fight the Temptation of Fast

The problem with the fast first is that in the pressure to get the story down, I ended up sacrificing thoughtfulness. Now, to resist the temptation to draft fast without reflection, I do some some brainstorming and outlining before I start stringing the sentences together.

Outlining helps me flesh out what I’ve got in my head and identify what’s missing. It enables me think things through beforehand and saves me a lot of pain later. It stops me from digging myself into so many holes.

Finding Your Own ‘Right Way’

Writing is an art. which means theres as many ways to do it as we can imagine to do it. Sometimes tips people share about how they do their writing morphs into a sense that this is the one “right” way. There is no right way. Write your first draft the way that works for you.

The fast first is tempting—when you start getting your story on the page, you’re excited. That shiny new idea is buzzing in your head and itching to get out. But don’t let the race to finish your draft stop you from thinking your story through.

How do you write your first drafts? Fast or slow? Share in the comments.


Today, try to practice writing the opposite way you're used to. If you normally write fast first drafts, write slow and carefully. If you normally write slow first drafts, write as fast as you can, regardless of typos and disorganized thoughts.

Practice writing this way for fifteen minutes. When you're finished, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, please be sure to give feedback on a few practices by other writers.

Happy writing!

By day, Emily Wenstrom, is the editor of short story website wordhaus, author social media coach, and freelance content marketing specialist. By early-early morning, she is E. J. Wenstrom, a sci-fi and fantasy author whose first novel Mud will release in March 2016.

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