3 time-saving tips to power through a first draft

The time for NaNoWriMo is almost here, and I know that many of you are getting ready to rise up to the challenge of writing a complete first draft of a novel in thirty days. It’s something that I like to do, because it’s a great way to engage with a community of other writers who are also working on a first draft at the very same time, and getting that first draft out quickly is a great way of building something to work on efficiently later.

By now, if you’re getting ready to start, you’ve probably read up on outlining, character creation and world-building. I’ve got a lot of great posts on these already (especially about my favourite method of outlining) and I’m sure you’ve been doing a lot of research as well, so I will not be talking about those today.

What I will talk about is a few tricks and tips I use, which can help you along the way once your preparation is done and you are in the process of writing that first draft.

Dictation software

This is something that has been a lifesaver for me. It allows me to write while doing manual jobs like folding clothes or washing dishes while still being able to write, and for a mom of two who works full time, every minute counts. What I use is Dragon Naturally Speaking. It’s Microsoft Word compatible, and it comes with a headset. It has amazing recognition of words, and you can even train it to get more and more familiar with your voice so that every time you use it, its accuracy improves. It can also be used easily to do quick edits without having to touch the computer. It can be expensive to buy new, but if you’re not too picky you can always go for the previous version to the current one, which goes for much cheaper on Amazon.

Knowing when to stop

It can be tempting, and seem natural, to want to stop when you’ve reached the end of a scene or chapter. Even though you haven’t finished your draft, it gives you a sense of completion, of having achieved a step. Which is why what I’m about to say might sound counter-intuitive, but hear me out. I find the best way to stop your writing before you go to bed at night is in the middle of a sentence.

Putting the first words down, before you find your groove, is one of the hardest things about writing a first draft. When you end a chapter, or a scene, and then put the writing down, you are essentially making yourself start a new scene or chapter again every time you pick up your writing, and it can take you longer to get started every time. Whereas if you end in the middle of a sentence, you are already in the swing of things when you pick up your writing, and it’s that much easier to get started again. Then, when you get to those dreaded transitions between chapters or scenes, you already have a rhythm going for you, and there is a lot less friction. So if you have a tendency to want to get to the end of a scene or chapter, that’s fine; but write at least a few sentences of the next one before you stop and put it down for a while. That way, you’ll have an easier starting point when you pick it back up.


The next trick will be especially useful for those of you who like to work without an outline, although I find it very useful myself, and I always work with an outline. Even when you put it down in the middle of a sentence, it can be slow to start flowing again because you have to re-focus your mind on where you were going with that, and what you were saying. What I like to do is, after I decide that this is where I’m stopping, I jot down a few notes (on a post-it if I’m writing long-hand, or between bracket right in the Word document if I’m writing on the computer) after the point where I’ve stopped, to remind me what the next few things are about. It can be a feeling I’m trying to get out, a few lines of dialogue I have in mind, a visual of the place, anything to get you back into the mood you were in when you stopped.

When I follow all these (especially the last two) I seldom have any problems picking up a piece of writing just like I never put it down in the first place.

I hope you find these useful when you’re getting through that first draft. I will be posting a few more things which I think will be useful during NaNoWriMo. And, as always, don’t hesitate to write me if there is something in particular you want me to discuss!

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