Faster, Faster

There’s enough evidence now that the single best thing you can do to establish yourself as a writer and have some chance of success is to keep writing. Lately, that’s converged with discussions about publishers who are demanding that their authors turn out books at a faster pace than they have in the past. Well, we know where that has to lead: speed is the enemy of quality. There are so many possible ways to rebut that, but I stick to my belief that 1. any conflict between speed and quality is a function of the type of writing you do. If you write formula genre novels, you will probably sacrifice quality for speed, but most of your readers won’t care. 2. The co-existence of speed and quality is a function of the writer’s experience. The more you’ve written, the more you’ve learned about your craft, the more likely it is that you will increase your writing speed over time.

It’s always going to be more difficult for the novelist to turn out new work at a faster pace than the traditional standard, than it is for the short story writer. But self-publishing doesn’t limit us to those two. Properly priced novellas and extended short stories are now an acceptable and increasingly popular way to increase your backlist without either killing yourself or sacrificing quality.

The challenge of tackling unfamiliar forms can be a relief from the sometimes frustrating demands of novels. It can also jolt you out of rigid thinking about how you write and what you should write. If you’ve ever thrown out a story idea (or two or three) because you realized it didn’t have enough substance to become a novel, you may have tossed the inspiration for a perfectly good novella or short story. Unless you’re aiming for best sellerdom in a popular genre, and are content writing X number of novels that are all variations on a theme, your best chance of building a large audience is by offering variety, not just of genre, but of length.

You may need to write more than you do, but that isn’t exactly the same as writing faster. Speed alone isn’t a virtue.

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10 thoughts on “Faster, Faster

  1. I’m totally with you on this Catana. I know, as you say, from so many blog and forum posts and advice from industry insiders, that having more books will help more sales and author awareness. However, I can’t just churn words out that fast.

    There was a post at Kindleboards the other day with some people saying that they want to get out 4 – 6 books this year, THIS YEAR! I’m aiming for one more and a possible short story.

    I do think that the more you write the better you get. However, I don’t think that writing should be influenced by needing to get more books out – but it seems that it’s going to be because that’s what the industry now requires.

  2. I can’t actually write any faster, but looking at some of my ideas as shorts or novellas will enable me to publish more often than if I stick to just novels. I would like to be able to write faster, simply because I have so many ideas that I’d like to develop and I know I’ll never get to them all. I’m not the fastest writer, but I’m not the slowest, either. The important thing is to find your own balance. For me, that probably means a couple of novels a year, and however many shorter pieces I can reasonably write and edit to a fairly high level. With lots of time off for just daydreaming.

  3. I can throw words down on paper at the rate of a thousand an hour, but the litmus test is how many of those are worth keeping at the next stage. My writing improved once I set out a structure to follow – a storyboard for novels, and a single “motivation” for short stories. Still working on the process, though :-). And I like the idea that I don’t have to write epic blockbusters to tell a story!

    1. I love to read epic blockbusters, if they’re really good, but the idea of writing one . . . No way. So far, my novels run in the high 70k to 84k and I can’t imagine any of them getting any longer. One reason I’m glad I started turning to shorter pieces is that they don’t take forty forevers. I’m slow enough, both typing and thinking it all out, that I don’t want to start something that’s going to take a couple of years.

  4. I agree with you, Catana, that speed is the enemy of quality. I think speed is of the essence in getting that 1st draft down, what Chuck Palahnuik (sp?) calls ‘the vomit draft’, but after that, come the revisions. The next 2 drafts are still creative; the work’s still in flux, but after that, it tends to solidify, and the writer must settle down to the business of polishing and take how many drafts it takes. (For me it’s another 5.) My only way of coping with the web and its demands is to come at it after I have a body of work, and hope to be able to get some more work done in the intervals between putting up the work and promoting it.
    I guess people write for different reasons, but I share Geoff’s amazement/horror at the idea of someone thinking they can turn out 4-6 worthwhile books in a year.

    1. I’ve given up on counting drafts. After the first one, I’m usually revising and editing at the same time,reworking the same file. It probably comes to at least four or five by the time the last proof-read and spell check is done. Even during NaNoWriMo, when I’m through writing for the day, if I’m not too tired, I go back to add more meat to the bones, tweak sentences, etc. I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it before, but the only reason I can probably turn out more pieces than most people would consider possible is that I have a lot of unfinished work that I keep adding to when the mood strikes me. So it isn’t as if I’m starting from scratch with every one. But I think two or three full-length novels a year would be tops. Probably only two now that I’m moving toward shorter pieces.

  5. Dean Wesley Smith has some interesting comments on the “speed = quality” issue. I think the most important point he has to make is that it’s not how fast you write, it’s how much time you set aside for writing.

    I wrote the equivalent of four novels in the second half of 1995. Yet all my stories back then were handwritten, so I must have been writing at an inchworm’s pace. It’s simply that, back then, I spent a lot more time on writing than I do today. These days, if I spent half a year writing for one hour a day, I’d complete nearly three novels a year. (Honest. 25 words x 60 minutes x 180 days = 270,000 words.)

    Now that I have my Internet addiction under a certain amount of control, the only thing that still gets in my way of regular writing (other than Real Life Stuff) is editing and publishing, which is why I’m trying to minimize the time spent on those tasks.

    As for you: Since this time last year, you’ve published three novels, two novelettes, and a short story. I’m often described as prolific, but you’re faster than me. πŸ™‚

    1. I’ve seen a lot of criticism of Smith’s article, claiming that his word count math is unrealistic, but I don’t think it is. What’s unrealistic is his attitude toward how much editing time is necessary. He’s speaking from the perspective of a very experienced writer, and also one who, as far as I can tell, writes plotty stories, which are probably more easily tossed off than stories that demand character development or world building.

      As for me ( πŸ™‚ ), don’t be fooled. A lot of that writing took place over many months previous to publishing, and a lot more time was consumed in editing. They just happened to work out so that fairly close publication was possible. I’m usually working on more than one piece at a time (my patchwork method), but I doubt that I write any faster than you do. Most of my stories take me quite a long time to work out in their entirety. The two short stories were, for some reason, exceptions to the rule. Maybe it was because, being short, there wasn’t as much plot to work out. Hmmm. Must be a lesson in there, somewhere.

  6. “I’ve seen a lot of criticism of Smith’s article, claiming that his word count math is unrealistic”

    These things vary so much by writer. I was alerted to the fact that I write more than most writers by the fact that I kept encountering posts by writers that said, “How can I get myself to write 1000 words a day?” One thousand words has always been my daily minimum; my record for daily wordage is 11,340. (Mind you, I imagine many of those writers have the same problem I have: getting to the point of writing every day.)

    But I think Mr. Smith is right in saying that writers underestimate how much they can produce by writing for just an hour every day, with breaks for weekends and holidays. He’s also right that most fiction writers have it easy, compared to nine-to-five office workers.

    “What’s unrealistic is his attitude toward how much editing time is necessary. He’s speaking from the perspective of a very experienced writer, and also one who, as far as I can tell, writes plotty stories, which are probably more easily tossed off than stories that demand character development or world building.”

    And he’s married to an award-winning editor. πŸ™‚ Again, I think this varies by writer; some authors need a lot of editing, some don’t. It doesn’t always have to do with level of experience or type of story; it can just have to do with how the individual approaches writing. Some authors need more of an incubation period than others.

    “I doubt that I write any faster than you do.”

    I wasn’t really thinking of that; I was thinking of publication speed. I’m notoriously bad at that, from the perspective of someone who comes from the online fiction community, where publication speeds are usually quite rapid. (People who don’t believe Dean Wesley Smith’s wordage estimates should just spend a month or two in the fan fiction community.) That’s why I’m working on not taking any more time on publishing tasks than is necessary. My last novella – “Spy Hill,” 30,000 words – took two-and-a-half weeks to rewrite, with the largest amount of time devoted to checking research facts and proofreading, which I do by text-to-speech. (Beta reading was done simultaneously with my rewriting.) That’s pretty good, but I’d like to see whether I can squeeze the time down further, because ideally I’d like to be able to write and publish a novella-sized e-book each month.

    That’s rapid, I know, but so is the depletion of my bank account. πŸ™‚ And I’m nearly fifty and have eight novel series to finish.

    “A lot of that writing took place over many months previous to publishing”

    Law Links was started in 1995. ‘Nuff said. πŸ™‚

    1. Only during NaNoWriMo do I hold myself to any minimum word count. And I believe NaNo is one of the best ways to find out just how much you can write in a day. After that trek, 1,000 words doesn’t look like much. For me, it’s the equivalent of only two decent-length blog posts. Successful freelance writers do much more than that most days. But I’ve already moderated my schedule of one published piece a month, of whatever length, because I’m just not disciplined enough to hold myself to it. (sort of like your internet addiction)

      I’m glad you mentioned incubation period because that seldom comes up in discussions. A lot of my stories are slowly germinating in the back of my mind. I add notes and/or text every now and then, as the muse dictates. The current call for speed ignores this process and contributes to the difficulties of new writers who believe they have to sit down with a complete story in mind and keep writing until it’s finished. I have no doubt that DWS and several similar very prolific writers do exactly that, but they have both their experience and their formulas. (And their editors.)

      And that reminds me that DWS is talking about a very different kind of writing — commercially oriented vs what most of us poor slobs wrestle with and that can’t realistically be rushed out the door on schedule.

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