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Monday, April 9, 2012

How fast is too fast?

I don’t write fast. Being a pantser rather than a plotter means that I often write myself into corners and must then delete, delete, delete until I find where I went wrong and start over again.

Take my latest novel, Backli’s Ford. It started as a novella way back in August 2009. After I finished writing it, I realized that the darned thing was really meant to be a novel. Not only that, but it would be the first in a series. So I started over. By my calculations, that’s over two and a half years for one novel. That’s long, even for me.

In my defense, during that two and a half years, I sold two novels to Carina Press, wrote a sequel to The Shoeless Kid (The Tuexedoed Man), a short story in the Mendenhall Mysteries world, Night Shift (still available for free but not for much longer) and self-published a number of short stories and novels (under my own name and a pen name, Emma Faraday).

Now, I know people who can write 10,000 words a day and not die. That’s not me. I’ll never produce five or six novels a year, and that’s fine. However, I’ve learned that I can produce stories a lot faster than I ever thought I could. How?

Persistence. In other words, applying seat of pants to seat of chair, day in and day out.

This is the way I look at it. I have a full-time job, so my writing time is in the evening and during the weekend. So, say I write 500 words a day, every day. That’s 500 words x 7 days = 3500 words a week. At that rate, I could have a first draft of a 70,000-word novel in 20 weeks, or five months.

And 500 words a day, well that’s nothing really, but let’s leave it at that for weekdays, and double it during the weekend. So that’s 4500 words a week, or one 70,000-word novel in under four months.

That’s three novels a year, with some down time built in, just by being persistent.

It seems simplistic, but it does work. For me, at least. At least partly. I may not produce three novels a year, but I do get a lot of words down (again, for me) in the form of short story, novella and novel.

Now I have a question — do you think less of a writer who produces work quickly? I’ve heard some people say that you can’t possibly produce quality work if you write quickly. Is that generally accepted, or is it bunk?

Inquiring minds want to know.
Marcelle

17 comments:

Toni Anderson said...

I've heard people/ editors say that if an author writes X amount of books over a period of time it MUST affect the quality.
But although I think it would be impossible to write say 10 quality novels a year, there are definitely people who can write a lot more than me :) I am also a slow writer but I believe that sticking at it doggedly and getting the words down is the only way to make real progress. :) I think you've been pretty productive considering :)

Cynthia Justlin said...

I'm a slow writer too, Marcelle. I wish I could write faster, and I envy those that can "barf" out a first draft in a month. That's not me.

I do think writing fast CAN affect quality. For some people. Others are just blessed and can manage to do both.

I really like how you've shown it's possible to write 2-3 books in a year just by setting an achievable daily goal and sticking to it. I'm always lamenting how I need to get more done, write quicker, when all I really need to do is write steady. :)

Marcelle Dubé said...

Thanks, Toni. I think the writing muscle is like any other: the more you exercise it, the better you get at it.

Cynthia, I know some professional writers who write much faster than I do, and whose work is excellent. After all, if you can write full time, you can certainly produce more than my measly 500/1000 words a day. I keep telling myself...

Rita said...

Da-link it depends on the author. If it’s one thing I’ve learned, you can’t put absolutes on an writer. To those people who say you can't produce quality work if you write quickly I send them raspberries and say bull hockey. They're jealous because they can't do it. I am in absolute awe of those that can write fast and I know several people who do. Their books sell with no problems. I am an even more awe of those of you who work outside the home, take care of the home, take care of the family, and write. You are all amazing.

Anne Marie Becker said...

Oh how I wish I could write faster and still produce quality manuscripts. (sigh) I've had to come to terms with "it takes as long as it takes" and I'm trying to be okay with that, as long as I meet some kind of daily goal (whether it be word count, # of scenes edited, research conducted, etc.). "One day at a time" has become my new motto.

That being said - writing is definitely a "muscle" (as you described above) that needs to be exercised, or the production pace slows. For me, every manuscript has been different. Some are quick, some are painfully slow. This latest one has surprised me. I had what I thought was a fabulous idea and I thought the words would spill onto the page. They did, for a while...but it's been grueling to get it to play out into a finished manuscript. Still working on it, though! :)

Marcelle Dubé said...

Thanks for the awe, Rita, but you wouldn't be so impressed if you saw the state of my house...

Marcelle Dubé said...

Anne Marie, don't despair. This last novel was a bit of a grind for me, too, but if there's one thing I've learned, it's that there is no difference between the writing that came after sweating blood, and the writing that flowed as if I was blessed by the writing gods.

Elise Warner said...

I tend to be a slow poke with novels. Articles and short stories flow faster but they do vary. I think it often depends on the subject,

JB Lynn said...

Great post, Marcelle. I think that it might be easier to write some genres more quickly than others...the amount of planning and careful pacing writing a mystery or suspense novel so that everything pays off by the end, definitely makes things slower for me.

On the flip side, I'd imagine that working in such quick, concentrated bursts may help some writers to stay passionately engaged with their story.

I say "whatever way works for YOU, is the perfect method". :-)

Maureen A. Miller said...

Marcelle, my lovely lady...you keep writing. If it comes out quicker than normal, the world will be a happier place!
I was recently averaging 10 words a day. At that rate you can expect the next WAR AND PEACE from me in the year 2525. :)

Marcelle Dubé said...

Elise, I think you're right. If it's a subject with which I'm familiar, it's a lot easier. But where's the challenge in that, eh?

JB, would you believe that I've tried a different method for every book I've ever written? It's ridiculous. One thing I've found: the longer writing sessions work better for me because I can just get into the story and write.

You're very kind, Maureen. As for War and Peace, well, the world doesn't need another Tolstoy. It *does* need another story by Maureen Miller, however...

Dee J. said...

Marcelle,

Great post. Every writer's life is different as is every writer's process. We have to do what works for us. I can barf out a first draft in a couple of months, but it will take me the same amount of time or longer to fix it. I can sit down and write fast, but I can go days without writing at all depending on my work schedule. I agree... writing is a muscle that needs to be exercised regularly.

Marcelle Dubé said...

Thanks, Dee J. It's good to know there are as many different methods as there are writers.

Jean Harrington said...

He rose from the bed, pulled on his clothes and headed for the door.

She watched his retreating back, his Volvo-wide shouders, the tight jeans covering his tight rear. "You're fast, honey," she said, "but what does time have to do with anything? It's the quality of the experience that matters."

He turned back, flung off his coat and hurried to the desk. "You're right," he said. "But then, you're always right."

Marcelle Dubé said...

:-) Thanks for my morning laugh, Jean!

Cathy Perkins said...

Fast or slow, no books are written unless words appear on the page. I've been editing and can't wait to start on a new project. Love your sit down and do it advice :)

Marcelle Dubé said...

Thanks, Cathy! Good luck with the editing.

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