For some reason (possibly having to do with the end of NaNoWriMo), I’ve been seeing a lot on writing blogs about the subject of writing fast. The Atlantic published a fantastic slideshow of Writing Advice from History’s Fastest, Most Prolific Authors, that Seastarr08 linked on twitter. Rachel Aaron posted a really interesting piece on practical ways she went from 2,000 to 10,000 words a day. Lots of writers are posting about their successes and failures in their own NaNo challenge.
But I want to talk about speed.
I’m probably considered a pretty fast writer since I wrote the majority of my first book over the course of a few months, and it racks up over 100K in word count. By my best estimates, in the past year, I’ve written 675,000 words. About half of that was fanfiction and about half was original.
I’m going to call myself a pretty fast writer. (Not really fast. Trust me, there are people who write way faster than me.) Is that all finished, publishing-quality work in that time? No, absolutely not, so keep that in mind. We’re talking about sheer numbers, but it’s a worthwhile discussion to have.
Is writing faster better?
Stephen King wrote in his book, On Writing:
“I believe the first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months… Any longer and—for me, at least—the story begins to take on an odd, foreign feel….”
My own answer to the question (with a few qualifications) is yes. Faster is better.
The qualifications: One, this does not work for “seat of the pants” writers. I do not think most writers who start a story without knowing how it will end can (or should) work this way. The simple reason is that there are too many unknowns. Before I sit down to write, I know my plot, my characters, my narrative arc, all of that, because I usually take months to sketch that out. (There are exceptions, but this is the rule.) Two, this does not work if you simply do not have the time to write. Work, family, sickness, etc. Life gets in the way of the creative process. This has nothing to do with motivation; this is pure practicality. Unless you’re a strange mutant person, you have to sleep at some point.
So, bearing in mine those qualifications (and some I’m sure you’ll inform me of in the comments), I do think that faster is better. Why? In my mind, it comes down to passion.
I was asked to do an interview over at Bending the Spine for my second book release next week (which was very flattering!), and the blogger asked me if I had any advice for aspiring writers. I hope she won’t mind me printing a small excerpt of what I wrote for her. (The whole interview will post next Tuesday over on BTS, if you are interested.)
“Love. You have to fall in love with your characters and your story. If you’re going to write a novel, you’ll be spending a lot of time with them! Be passionate, or it becomes a chore.”
So, I think the quick answer to why faster is better is that: “Be passionate, or it becomes a chore.” Just think, if it’s a chore for you to write, will it be fun for others to read? You have to really want to tell the story. It should be a driving force. It should wake you up at night if you’ve neglected it. You should feel compelled to get the scenes out of your mind and onto the paper or the hard drive because it will drive you nuts otherwise.
And if you don’t feel that passion, then why are you writing it? Creating a book takes time, time that you could spend doing other wonderful, rewarding things in life. So, if you aren’t passionate about this story, why are you spending the time, attention, and heart to write it? Writing a book should not feel like an obligation.
And, for me, drawing a story out would give it an “odd, foreign feel” like King says. Even going back to stories that I wrote months ago and trying to edit or revise them can seem really strange. Why? Because, in my heart and mind, I’ve moved on. The story has been told. I no longer feel the same passion for it. Sure, I still like it. I may love it! But it no longer drives me the way that a work in progress does. Call me fickle, but that’s the way I see it.
So, tell me why I’m wrong. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Thanks for reading,