The Best Resources for Writing a Fast First Draft by Tiffany Turpin Johnson

Welcome back to Tiffany Turpin Johnson, a kidlit writer and editor whose monthly column, Scribe Supplies: Writerly Tools for Success, brings you the best in all types of tools for professional writers. Today she shares the best resources for writing a fast first draft.


Fast Draft Resources

If you’ve ever tried to write a book in a short amount of time, you know what a daunting task it can be. But you don’t have to stumble through the process alone. There are guidebooks out there for every type of writer, from extreme pantser to extreme outliner to aspiring screenwriter.  Check out my top picks below (and click on the book cover to check it out on Amazon).

For the Extreme Pantser: No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty (Chronicle Books, 2004)

This pick is a modern classic. Likely the first of the fast draft guides, No Plot? No Problem! comes from author Chris Baty, the founder of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), an annual event for writers around the world looking to bang out an entire 50,000-word manuscript in the 30 days of November. NaNoWriMo has become such a big deal that it’s expanded into more flexible yearlong events, like Camp NaNoWriMo. Baty’s book is small and concise, blazing the trail for fast drafters. Because the focus is on getting starting and maintaining momentum, it’s ideal for pantsers, who don’t want to waste time planning and outlining. Baty’s mantra is to just sit at the computer and get the juices flowing, and worry about any sucky parts only after you’ve typed THE END. Bonus: For those of you who want a little more structure, there’s a companion workbook (Ready. Set. Novel!) that’ll help you light the trail a bit better.

For the Extreme Outliner: First Draft in 30 Days: A Novel Writer’s System for Building a Complete and Cohesive Manuscript by Karen S. Wiesner (Writer’s Digest Books, 2005)

For those of you who are horrified by the idea of sitting down to write a manuscript in 30 days with no outline to guide you, this fast draft guide may be the ticket. Read the title carefully though; it says you’ll spend 30 days building your manuscript, not writing it. Wiesner’s guide focuses on spending a month writing such a cohesive outline that you’ll need only light editing at the end of the actual writing process. But in her 30 days, you won’t write the book itself. It’s still a great guide though, if you’re like me and prefer doing your editing before you actually write a word. The book looks large and formidable, but for the extreme outliner who wants to approach November with a plan in mind, it’ll be your Bible. Bonus: There’s a companion guidebook (From First Draft to Finished Novel: A Writer’s Guide to Cohesive Story Building) that will help you transform that detailed outline into a finished novel, and it’s so good that it was actually a textbook in one of my writing classes.

For the Worksheeter: Book in a Month: The Fool-Proof System for Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D. (Writer’s Digest Books, 2008) 

For the visual learner, BIAM is the ideal guidebook. Chock full of worksheets and charts, Schmidt’s spiral-bound workbook is meant to be scribbled in. There are specific first-draft steps for each day of the month, which you can use to either craft a detailed outline or to write a whole draft. Each week corresponds to a major segment of the book (Act I, first half of Act II, etc.), and the sections are even color-coded, which the Type A outliner in me loves. This book encourages you to think first of major scenes, and then sketch in more and more details around those scenes, until you have a complete manuscript. I loved this process, because it allows you to pre-plot as much or as little as you like. Bonus: Schmidt is an accomplished writer of writing reference books, so you can be sure she knows what she’s talking about.

For the Experienced: Write Your Novel in a Month: How to Complete a First Draft in 30 Days and What to Do Next by Jeff Gerke (Writer’s Digest Books, 2013) 

The newest of the fast-draft guidebooks (it came out just a few weeks ago), this is the only one on the list that I don’t have any personal experience with, but from the table of contents it looks like writer/editor Jeff Gerke builds in time to plan before setting off on what he calls your “30 Days of Fire.” There’s also a section on refining your messy first draft for publication, especially essential for pantsers who go the fast-draft route. Bonus: Although I haven’t used this one yet, the author also wrote my favorite writing reference book (Plot Versus Character: A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction), which I used to outline the book that reeled in my agent, so I’ll definitely be picking this one up soon.

For the Newbie: 90 Days to Your Novel: A Day-by-Day Plan for Outlining & Writing Your Book by Sarah Domet (Writer’s Digest Books, 2010) 

For the writer who thinks drafting an entire book in 30 days is a pipe dream, 90 Days to Your Novel may be just the ticket. You’ll spend the first three weeks just plotting and outlining, and several techniques are offered for this part of the process. The book is geared toward new writers though, so if you’re an experienced or accomplished writer who already has a habit in place, this one may be a bit rudimentary for you. You can walk through the process day-by-day, as there is a section to read for each of the 90 days. Which does mean, however, that the guidebook itself is pretty long. Still, if you’re a newbie looking for a comprehensive guide, this could be the one. Bonus: A few days of editing are built into the timeline, so when you come back to your manuscript for the full overhaul later on, it won’t be quite as rough as you expect.

For the Blockbuster: The 90-Day Novel: Unlock the Story Within by Alan Watt (The 90-Day Novel Press, 2010) 

Another option for the writer looking for a bit more time to bang out that first draft, Watt’s guide has plenty of great reviews online, and Watt himself has the clout to back them up. An accomplished screenplay writer, Watt also runs both in-person and online creative writing workshops for the L.A. Writers’ Lab. The 90-Day Novel focuses more on plot than character, perfect for the writer looking to craft the next summer blockbuster. Bonus: There’s a revision edition (The 90-Day Rewrite: The Process of Revision) already out, also with good reviews, and an edition geared toward screenwriters (The 90-Day Screenplay: Outline. First Draft. Rewrite.) due out this fall.

What resources have helped you through the fast draft process? Tell us in the comments!


Tiffany JohnsonTiffany Turpin Johnson is a novelist represented by Annie Bomke Literary Agency, and operates TJ Writeography, a freelance writing and photography service. She regularly contributes to various blogs, and serves as Senior Editor for Entranced Publishing and Assistant Editor for Compose Literary Journal. Find her at and on Twitter at @Fictiffous.


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