Friday, January 19, 2007

Writing Speed

So, there's another slapfight going on in the writing blogosphere. This one about whether or not fast writing can be good writing. Posts here: (Bear), here: (Larbalestier), and here: (?secritcrush). I tend to agree with Bear and Larbalestier that the question is at best irrelevant and at worst silly. Some writers write best when they're writing fast, some when they're writing slow, and using frequency of publication to decide whether someone is a fast or slow writer is virtually guaranteed to give you incorrect results.

I know people who publish less than one book a year, but actually write that book in a binge that takes about a month. I also know people who've put out three books in a single year where the writing has actually gone on over a decade. I know people who consistently write more than five good books a year. And I know people who write one good book over the course of 18-30 months working steadily. For the record, I'm a moderately fast writer and working at getting faster. But that's actually not so much a production decision (though that's a factor) as it is a quality decision.

The stuff I write the fastest is also generally my best work. I'm less choppy in every way when I write five days a week and several thousand words a day. For the past few years that's meant binge writing, where I do 15-30,000 words in a big chunk and then do life support stuff for a while. Some of my very best writing has been in the biggest binges and I'm wondering if I that doesn't mean I should simplly be writing more and more often. At the moment I'm gearing up to find out.

Anyway, it's an interesting issue. I'd love to hear what y'all have to say about it.


Anonymous said...

I've certainly noticed that my best writing tends to be when I've got larger chunks of time to write and can really sink into the story--which also yeilds larger chucks of story and faster writing, since I don't have to decelerate to handle the phone, the dishes, the conversation, etc., and then re-accelerate afterward.

I've also noticed that I'm happiest when I get big blocks of time to write and get several thousand words out, which then turns around and becomes better words, more productive time, happier me, etc.

Erik Buchanan said...

I write better in larger chunks, too, and consistency of writing time tends to be more important than speed of output.

If I'm writing every day, I write better. When I take breaks (especially in the middle of a project) the work becomes harder and less good. Better to work everyday and work well than to take a week off to do other things (in my world, that is).

Right now, my rule is minimum 1000 words or 2 hours per day, whichever takes longer. It should be more, but when you only have two hours in the evening to write, you take what you can get.

tate hallaway said...

I'm with you, Erik. That's my daily rule exactly (a thousand words or 2 hours.)

As for whether or not writing speed dictates anything regarding one's career... I don't know. I suspect that if I were a faster writer and could write more than one book a year, I would have a stronger career, if only by virtue of having more "product" to place on the market. As it stands, all my eggs are in the single basket. Better, I should think to be publishing with a dozen publishers under several different psuedonyms. That why if one of the baskets should fall... you can still come up on your feet (or other terribly mixed and over-extended metaphor that makes my point.)

Kelly McCullough said...

Sean, I'm also _much_ happier when I'm writing more.

Erik, Tate,


Tate, the career thing is a whole different slap fight. The one going on now is mainly about the quality of the books as opposed to the success of the writer. I think for quality speed is irrelevant, but for making a living it's a huge advantage.

Michael Merriam said...

I don't worry too much about speed. I'm more concerned with discipline. That's why I write everyday, Monday to Friday, taking weekends off to recharge.

I work at a pace of around 1200 words a day, give or take a hundred. This is a good pace for me. It keeps me moving forward and in the flow of the story. I think my work is higher quality when I work consistently, day in and day out. I also believe that the only way to improve as a writer is to write.

Butt in chair. Write a lot. Write what scares you. Always move forward (meaning finish things). Get feedback from people you trust.

It also had the added benefit of allowing me to create a large body of short fiction rather quickly, and to able to write the first draft of a novel in a timely manner.


Michael Merriam

Eleanor said...

The fastest I ever wrote a novel was 18 months for Ring of Swords. The slowest was 13 years for A Woman of the Iron People. I wrote my third novel, Daughter of the Bear King, in the middle of writing Woman; and one of my favorite reviews was the guy who talked about how much my writing improved between Daughter and Woman. The publication date tells you next to nothing about when a novel was written.