Speed-Writing Your First Draft: 5 Quick Tips

What’s the one thing that makes us write slowly or stop writing completely?


Fear of inexperience, fear of failure, fear of imperfection. Yet we know that to get better, we have to write.

To get a perfect draft, we need to edit, and you can’t edit a blank page!

How do you get past the fear and write quickly? Follow these five tips.

1. Get rid of distractions.

Turn off the TV and your internet (I use Anti-Social to block distracting websites).

Go somewhere where you can be either alone or undisturbed.

Be conscious about other distractions. If easily stimulated, write uncomfortably. You’ll write quickly to get it over with! I’ve written pages in the garage, crammed into the passenger seat of my car with my laptop.

Consider writing your first draft longhand! Writing by hand forces you to focus on the pen and the page. To write faster than Bilbo, however, read on.


2. Write recklessly.

Make adventure, discovery, and creation your goal. Be brave and take risks.

If you need a plan before you jump in, guns blazing, my 8 C’s plotting method demystifies structure while giving you plenty of freedom.

Remember the character + conflict formula for dramatic storytelling. Write as if your characters are in a video game. Ask yourself “What if ______?” and “What’s the worst possible thing that could happen right now?” Then write it.

3. Embrace the suck.

Go for speed rather than going for “good.” Writing quickly is about quantity, not quality. Save the slow, quality writing for revision. Pull a Buzz Lightyear—sure, this first draft won’t fly, but it can fall with style!


4. Don’t edit! 

Major editing before knowing your three acts and your theme is a waste of time—you won’t know what to cut, what to keep, and what to change.

If you have to, darken/invert the screen, type in white or pale gray, or type across the room with a wireless keyboard so you can’t read what you’re typing.

If you MUST fix errors, don’t dare edit until your scene is done! After you’ve finished the scene/chapter/book, you can go back and fix problems.

5. Just. Keep. Writing.

Write past the typos, the weirdness, the words-to-look-up.

Sure, switch tenses or points of view while drafting. Doing so helps you find your novel’s most natural voice! Revise later, once you’ve decided what works best for the whole story.

Make notes and comments in-text so you don’t lose your train of thought. I use three slashes (///) before and after these notes so I can find them easily while revising. Example:


(The fact that I didn’t fix “comepletely” is a true testament to my strong will.)

If you don’t know a word or fact, type TK—it means “to come,” but the “TK” combination isn’t found in common English words, so your find/replace function will filter out other words.

Do you have any other tips for writing quickly or recklessly? Share them in the comments!


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Manuscript Format Template (free download)


Have you read my posts on Formatting your Novel Manuscript? If not, read part one here and part two here.

I surveyed forty literary agents in October of 2014 to ask them which font they preferred for submitted manuscripts. The clear winner was Times New Roman. Many agents read pages on e-readers or mobile devices, and TNR is a web-safe, system-installed, serif.  Using TNR allows them to read pages without changing formatting first, but it is also an easy font to change.

Download the MS Format TEMPLATE.

Right-click the link above and “save as.” I saved it as a Word Document, even though I personally use Pages, so if there are any issues, please report them to me! Our PC isn’t working, and I don’t have Word on my Macbook Pro.

This template uses paragraph styles, which you can import into any preexisting document. Otherwise save a copy of MS Format TEMPLATE, rename it, and begin typing or pasting your manuscript.

Read through all of the instructions on the template, and save it as-is to keep as a reference. Do not type into the original TEMPLATE—type in a duplicate or copy file.

Copyright Notice:

This template was created by me for personal or educational use only. You may share it with others—simply give them this link or share the link on social media using the buttons below. You may not pass this template off as your own or charge anyone to use it. You may not upload the template to any website or blog.

Of course, you have full ownership of your own manuscript, whether you use my template or paragraph styles to format it.

Meet my Main Character

Welcome to the Meet My Main Character Blog Tour, started by Debra Brown. I was invited by Kristin Molnar. I met Kristin via a Craigslist classified for a writer’s group. Answering that ad was perhaps the most daring thing I’ve ever done socially (I’m very introverted), and I’m so very glad I did. Meet Silas, Kristin’s MC, here.

I’m bringing in Robin McGinnis for this blog tour. He’s the protagonist of my literary fantasy, WORLD SONG.


What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or historical? 

Robin Evans is fictional, but some historical characters make appearances later on. Geoffrey of Monmouth, Henry II, Rosamund Clifford. Gutenberg is a friend of a friend.

When and where is the story set? 

  • St. Bernadine, Minnesota (based roughly on Cloquet) in 2009
  • Eirinon, a fantasy realm located in the Welsh/English Forest of Dean in 1176

What should we know about her/him? 

Finally, an excuse to throw in some backstory! Here’s an info dump I cut from an early query letter draft:

Ever since his dad disappeared (what kind of historian goes MIA, anyway?), 26-year-old Robin has been stunted in two ways. One, he wants to be the family hero, to the point of picking Lycra wedgies on his lunch break. Two, besides his party bookings as a Batman impersonator, his calendar and plan for the future are blank. He knows that, eventually, one of his family members will need his help. And when that day comes, he won’t let them down.

He’s a nerdy, cellist, wannabe hero. No matter how many hours he clocks in at the gym, he’s still long and lean, but he’s stronger than he looks.

His last name used to be McGinnis, but McGinnis is the last name of Terry McGinnis, who succeeds Bruce Wayne as Batman. Robin (no relation to the boy wonder) is a big fan of Batman, so it just got too weird. Now he’s Robin Evans.

Weird fact: Though he’s been a character of mine for seven years now, I never really liked Robin. He was too responsible. Too heroic. I had to get him into a fight and give him some weird quirks before I started liking him. He’s not based on Chuck Bartowski (GIF above), but I adore Chuck, so I borrowed a couple of his traits and tested them out on Robin until I really liked him. I knew if I didn’t like my protagonist, my readers probably wouldn’t, either!

What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life? 

Robin and his brother and sister get transported to the Middle Ages a few days before their mom’s birthday. He wants to get them home as soon as possible—his mom already lost her husband, so Robin feels guilty for their disappearance, even though it wasn’t really his fault. But he doesn’t know how to get back, and then his sister is kidnapped, and his brother is sentenced to be executed… Let’s just say Robin has his work cut out for him.

What is the personal goal of the character?

Robin has a bit of a savior complex. He wants to fix everything for everybody. At best, it’s mildly annoying. At worst, it borders on obsessive behavior and illuminates some psychological issues. In terms of Robin’s personal goals, the story is a tragedy. Robin can’t save everyone. But the rest of the story is more of a comedy of errors. So together I guess that makes it a dramedy.

Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

The working title is WORLD SONG, and it’s not ready yet for its debut. Though I do need Beta Readers! Contact me here or on Twitter (@larathelark). If/when I land an agent, I’ll post my query letter here on my blog.

When can we expect the book to be published?

I’m still writing! I have an August 2014 end date, but I’ll be editing for quite some time, and I’ll be querying Winter 2014 at the earliest. Since I’m going the traditional publishing route, I hope for a book deal in 2015, with a release in 2016 or 2017. It all depends on the market!

Next week Kylie Betzner and Nate Philbrick will be continuing the tour. Kylie writes comedic fantasy novels and connects writers to readers and resources though her blog Lit Chic. Her first novel will be coming out January 2015. I “met” Nate online, and he’s very active on Twitter and his blog Flash Flood Fiction. He is a speculative fiction writer with published and contest-winning short stories. He’s writing a novel that is in progress to query.

[free printable!] SMART Goals & Don’t Break the Chain

UPDATE: Links have been updated with a full 2015 calendar!

I don’t really do New Years resolutions in January. Sometimes I set goals for myself, but April is generally my goal-setting month because it’s the month in which I was born. Doesn’t hurt that it starts with April Fool’s Day, so if I make a completely unreasonable goal, I suppose I could change my mind on April 2nd.

Back in January I decided 2014 was THE year for me to once and for all finish the manuscript I’ve been working on. The past few months I’ve been reading up on productivity, attending time-management and goal-setting workshops for artists, and setting short term and long term goals.

There’s a difference between a goal, though, and a SMART goal.

Making SMART Goals


Your goal needs to be specific. “Be a better person” is a good ideal, but not a good goal. “Be a better writer” is more specific, and you can work with it, but let’s try a little harder. How about “Write a novel”? Sure. Let’s take that one.


“Write a novel”–is that a measurable goal? Why yes it is! Because novels have a beginning, middle, and an end. Let’s choose a measurement so we can make the goal even more specific. “Write a 50,000-word novel.”


“Be a better person” isn’t a good goal because how will you know when you’ve achieved betterment? You need a goal with an obvious finish line. Something you can cross off a list. Having a goal of writing a 50,000 novel gives you a point to work towards. In this case, the finish line is typing the 50,000th word.

For something to be achievable, it also needs to be realistic. For me, a full-time mother of two young children (who also freelances), writing a 50,000-word novel in the month of November is NOT a realistic goal. (Sorry NaNoWriMo.) But writing 50,000 words over the next few months is realistic. Especially since most of my research is done.

Helpful tip: Don’t attempt an historical novel during NaNoWriMo.


A SMART goal is relevant. It is important. It is worthwhile. It is meaningful. Are you the right person for the job? Is it a good time in your life to set this goal? Do you have the support necessary to achieve the goal? For me, that means hiring a part-time nanny so that I have a couple of hours every day to devote to writing.


Making a time-bound goal means actually writing it down on your calendar and making time for it. It’s setting a deadline. And this is the kicker—it’s choosing to not procrastinate.

I never have a problem coming up with ideas or goals. I have a problem keeping with them. Which is why I’m really excited about “Don’t Break the Chain” motivation.

[free printable!] SMART Goals & Don't Break the Chain | write lara write #productivity #goals #motivation

Don’t Break the Chain

If you aren’t familiar with the concept of “Don’t Break the Chain,” you can read about its background here. It’s easier to turn something into a routine and keep doing it every day than quitting and trying to start back up again. “Don’t Break the Chain” is all about keeping up the momentum.

First, you pick something you can do every single day. Writing. Exercising. Doing the dishes. Choose something relevant. You’ll be bound by time because you have a deadline every 24 hours.

Make it measurable (Ask yourself “How much?” or “For how long?”). Make sure it’s achievable. Be specific.

Say you want to write every day. Will you write for a certain amount of time or will you have a minimum word count? Start small and manageable. It’s better to underestimate yourself than overestimate yourself. One is motivating, the other is debilitating.

If you’re writing just to journal, 300 words each day is a good minimum challenge. Or 15 or 30 minutes.

If you’re trying to put the “progress” into a “work in progress,” then shoot for five hundred, 750, or a thousand words. Or 30 minutes to 2 hours.

If you’re attempting to write a novel in 30 days, your goal will be 1,667 words each day.

Then each day you do that thing, you cross off the day on your calendar. Soon you’ll have a row of X’s. If you skip a day, you break the chain. Don’t break the chain.

Try this for a month, a season, or a year. The longer you go before breaking the chain, the easier it will be to pick up where you left off.

Free Printable Calendar

You can search for other “Don’t Break the Chain” calendars online (Here’s one). For my own, I wanted to combine the chain idea with SMART goals. I’ve got two versions for 2014. The first is an April-December one, shown in the featured photo at the top of the page. The second is a complete 2014 2015 year. That one has the conditions for a SMART goal in small print at the bottom.

Click on the thumbnails to download either one! These are for personal or classroom use only. Not for profit use. Enjoy!


April-Dec 2014

I’ve updated the SMART goals and Don’t Break the Chain calendar with a printable calendar for 2015


**The image is from 2014, but the link is to the 2015 calendar.**