“Having imagination, it takes you an hour to write a paragraph that, if you were unimaginative, would take you only a minute.” Franklin P. Adams
Plan, Draft Revise (PDR) is a writing strategy can make you faster because it lets you be efficient. PDR constrains the order in which you do things: planning what to write, composing text, then revising its structure and wording.
This model is a simplification. In practice, writers cycle through the process a number of times. In 1980, Linda Flower and John R. Hayes proposed a model in which planning and revision happened continuously throughout the writing process. It became the standard as soon as it was published.
Why is it important to do the stages separately?
Hayes, a psychologist who studied problem-solving and memory, said that each stage was a high-level process which required intense thought and used up all the available short term memory. When two stages were done together, they competed with each other for resources, and both suffered.
Hayes described idea generation as problem-solving. Translating ideas into text is a different process, also high level but not as well understood. There’s convincing evidence that doing them separately makes both of them go better.
Similarly, the stages of drafting and revision should be done separately. One of the first adages one hears as a new writer is “Don’t edit and compose at the same time.” The two processes get in each other’s way, one of the chief causes of writer’s block.
Separating the stages has another important effect. Revising drafted text instead of polished text results in less waste. Less waste means faster writing.
How To Do PDR
PDR limits the following practices, which are wasteful and will slow you down.
1. Don’t edit while composing Don’t try to draft and edit at the same time. It will slow you down more than any other bad habit, and is also the chief cause of writer’s block.
2. Revise top-down, structure to surface Revising the structure and surface, meaning the organization of the text and the wording, at the same time is a bad idea for two reasons. It’s very easy to get distracted from the turning points of a story when you’re fixing a phrase. At the same time, the phrase you just perfected might get cut if the scene it’s in gets cut.
3. Copyedit and format last Don’t copyedit the text or work on the formatting until the manuscript is done. This is a perfectionist habit that will slow you down terribly while offering nothing in return.
PDR can help you avoid these. You won’t delete or rewrite as much of your text, so it will take fewer hours to produce finished work.
Example – Tavern Scene Here’s something I wrote that didn’t make it into the finished manuscript.
“Why do you do this? Do you really need to buy baubles you can’t afford on a kitchen maid’s wages?” he asked the plain-featured barmaid as she led him up the stairs.
“Six months ago, my dad was working on a boat when a surge in the harbor, the wake of a large ship, lifted the boat unexpectedly, and his leg was crushed between the deck and the underside of the pier.
He was brought home with his leg shattered, blood everywhere. We had little money, but without the doctor, he’d have died. So that evening, when I was supposed to be waiting tables, I went upstairs with a man I didn’t know. In fifteen minutes, I’d earned enough to pay the doctor’s fee. There were more doctors’ visits the weeks that followed, and each one meant another trip upstairs. His leg mended eventually, but the accident left him crippled. He couldn’t work, and we couldn’t pay our rent. The landlord said he would throw us out in the street, so Mum was going to pull the little ones out of school. There’s always work at the rug weaving shops, especially for young eyes and tiny fingers. But since I’m doing this, we still have our cottage, and the little ones are still in school.”
I was pleased with what I’d written. Then someone in my writing group pointed out, “You could just say her father was crippled in the accident and couldn’t work anymore. It would completely explain why she’s doing what she’s doing.”
They were right. As much as I’d enjoyed crafting the description, the passage didn’t advance the plot, develop an important character, or provide information the reader would need later. I cut the passage and replaced it with a single sentence. If I’d left it in draft form rather than spend time revising and polishing it, I wouldn’t have had to throw out all the writing time I invested in the passage.
PDR for Planners and Pantsers
Both Planners and Pantsers can use PDR to write faster, but they would approach it in different ways.
Planners Write an outline and draft it in narrative exposition. Revise the structure using tools like beat sheets or timelines. When the structure has the shape you want, polish the wording.
Pantsers Plan in your head, mostly about character development and world building. You could begin with a writing prompt and then freewrite, one of the richest sources of new ideas. Drape the text over a standard framework like the three act play or the hero’s journey, then polish the wording.
 Ronald Kellogg, “Attentional overload: effects of rough draft an outline strategies,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, memory, and cognition, pg. 355 – 365, 1988.