Write Fast (again)


Write fast, AJ says.

Write fast, David says.

Write fast, Edmund says.

I have always written fast, Catie says.

Write fast – and be organized – Mindy says.

I’m writing faster, Misty says.

You have deadlines, my editor says. Write fast.

Okay. Got it. I have to write fast. Faster. Fastfastfast, as my Beast might say. And because I’ve always been a plotter, it’s happening. So far this week, I’ve written 20 pages on the next Jane Yellowrock book, this post, and 1200 words on Easy Pickins’ the crossover long-short story or short-novella with CE Murphy, AKA the Catie from above, who used to be part of MW and who I’ve begged to come back. You listening, Catie???

I’m writing fast, with regularity, and it’s not nearly as hard as I thought. I have written fast in the past, mind you, but not with the intensity I have to in order to make all the deadlines due by November 1. In the next six weeks, I have to finish Death’s Rival, the next Jane Yellowrock novel, finish the line edit of Gwen’s novel, His Blood Like Tears, and write a short story for the anthology, An Apple For The Creature, headlined by Charlaine Harris. Then, before March 1, 2012, I have to finish the sixth Jane Yellowrock novel, as yet untitled and unimagined. I have to write 250,000 words, give or take, in the next six months. And for the first time, I’m not worried or frightened at the thought of deadlines. I’m writing fast. The only thing that does worry me is that I might have trouble with the outline for book six. Outlines usually take me a month. To get the books done on time, I have to write an outline in one week. Eek. Okay that one is really more like EeeeeeeeeeeeeK!

I guess it isn’t fair to talk about the advantages of plotting. Either you are a plotter or you are aren’t. And if you aren’t a plotter, you likely have very good reasons for being a pantser. But I have to say, if writers are to survive in this marketplace, they have to write fast. They have to make deadlines. And deadlines are often—not always, but often—non-negotiable. If writers miss deadlines, it looks bad to the editors. It messes up their schedules. It might even move the writer from a good slot in the publishing schedule to a bad one. A missed deadline could, theoretically, get the writer canned. Say, if a writer’s first book didn’t sell through, maybe was a huge flop, then the editor might use an excuse, like a late book, to cancel the contract. I admit that it isn’t common, but it has happened, rarely.

Publshing schedules are not exactly set in stone. Writers get sick, they have emergencies, they have hurricanes or tornadoes or fires or earthquakes and these things get in the way of deadlines. Publishers do try to work around Mother Nature or the status of a writer’s health or the writer’s family’s health. But what they are not so sanguine about is working around a writer not producing because the writer just can’t meet the schedule. That said, Gwen missed a deadline once. By five months. My mystery/thriller editor could have dropped me. Instead she moved my book back. Into a less lovely spot, of course, but she didn’t drop me. I couldn’t complain, could I? No. And I didn’t. I took it like a man. So to speak.

In the old days, a writer could produce one book a year, which left them time to do screenplays, standalones, books in other genres by other names, and other cool stuff. Now we just have to write fast. Most publishers want two books a year from a writer on the fast track. Writers are writing faster these days. We have to.

So. If you unpublished writers out there do get published, you need to be able to evolve into a writer who can write fast. Write faster. Fastfastfast. Just sayin’.

Does that scare you? Does it make you want to run away from the traditional publishing world? I have to admit it used to terrify me. I’m interested in your thoughts on this. And I’ll share my journey over the next six weeks. Send good vibes, or say a prayer for me, okay?



40 comments to Write Fast (again)

  • Well, this is interesting to me because I’m a pantser. I do take notes as I go along, and those become the next scene, but I’m a pantser. And I’m trying to be a faster one. Especially as I’ve just had my first pro story go up on Flurb.net, Rudy Rucker’s webzine of Astonishing Tales. And I’m halfway down the finish line of another short story that I’m going to pitch to an anthology… and I also just got back from my first conference, where I also spoke at, and made some good contacts. Clearly, I have to write faster. Or more throughout the day. So one thing I did was start waking up an hour earlier, so I have 90 minutes to write before coming into the library. And any time there is downtime, my flash drive is not far away…
    …speaking of which…

    Thanks for your encouragement Faith! And keep on truckin’….

  • My god. Even I’m cowed by the idea of 250K in 6 months.

    …and also feeling slightly as if I should leap into the fray with you. *holds self back*

    Perhaps if I started blogging at MW again I could do a continual “OMG TRYING TO KEEP UP WITH FAITH!” post. 🙂

  • Mikaela

    Well. I guess I am out of luck then, since I tend to write slow. But I do write every day, if I don’t get sick. And I have never had a deadline 🙂
    Catie, if I don’t miscounted from your post about the Morrison short story, you plan to write between 80-110 K this autumn/winter.

  • Running away from trad publishing wouldn’t help; everything I’ve heard says that self-publishers have to write even faster.

    The writing part of writing fast doesn’t scare me. I’m a slow writer but getting faster. Revising fast, that’s where I’m struggling now. Even as a plotter, the faster I go through draft one, the more work there is to do in later drafts.

  • Thanks for the post, Faith! Sends out the positive prayers and vibes.

    This is something that I do worry about if I should become published. I am not sure I can “write on demand”. What if I write a good novel, get it published, and then the publisher says “Great! Give us 2 more of equal or better quality in X months!” Not sure if I can pull that off.


  • Justin I admire you for getting up an hour earlier. I have tried that — really I have. And it’s *hard*! I stay sleepy throughout the entire day. So, instead, I’m writing straight through to 8 p.m. That gives me 10 to 11 hours per day at the desk (not counting breaks to stretch, walk the dogs, eat lunch, and maybe run an errand) and I seem to be making it. I am buying groceries after 8 p.m., shopping after 8 p.m., and running errands after 8. THerer are fewer crowds to contend with, which I like, but the sushi isn’t fresh, so there are downsides to that.

    Catie, This from the gal who did 10,000 to 14,000 words in a *day*? One *day*! You are my word-count-hero! Come back to us, Catie!!!

    Mikaela, Yeah! Catie writes fast. We all know that. I used to write slowly. Getting from point A to point B was hard. And the transitional scenes are still the hardest for me. So, I have a suggestion, Mikaela. Give yourself an artificial deadline for a week or more. Tell yourself you have to get 5,000 words, or 10,000 words, or whatever words done. And see what happens to your output. If you are willing, I am intrested to see if it will go up to meet the need, or down from the stress.

  • Mikaela

    Faith, it would be an interesting experiment to try to push myself to write 10 000 or more words in a week. ( Not 5000, since my normal pace is 1000 words a day)

  • I would have said it terrified me a few weeks ago, because I’ve been stuck in edits for my WIP, but now not so much. About two weeks ago a contest appeared on my radar. The deadline was in one week. (Other people had the full three months, but that’s when I found out about it.) It wasn’t fantasy, but I’ve also been interested in writing for Harlequin, so I had some ideas and a few pages kicking around already.

    The entry was for the first chapter (15-20 pages) and a synopsis. And I managed it, just under the wire, despite all of the “obstacles” (day job, MS, family BS) that could have kept me from my work. I felt good about the entry, too, whatever the result is. And I came back to my WIP refreshed and with a plan of attack.

  • Mark, yeah, that was terrifying to me too, starting out. Back 20 years ago, few pubs wanted more than one book a year, with the notable exception of Harlequin romances, and they wanted four a year sometimes! Of course the books were short, and I didn’t write for them, but they were the only pubs I knew who wanted *lots* of books.

    That said, I did have a problem with my first two Gwen books (which were my 3rd and 4th books). My agent *loved* the proposal and first 30 pages. He gave me a deadline to finish the first 100 pages in a month, by the time he left for the German Book fair (I forget the name of that!) I did that. And he leaked the book. He took it to auction in Germany, Holland, and France on a partial. Meanwhile, he wanted me to finish the entire book in a bit over two more months, including a 10 day research trip to Louisiana. The day the book was finished, he took it auction in the US and it sold big.

    The pub that won the auction had an empty slot a few months after the the book deal. Some big name writer had defaulted on their book and I got a prime spot, if I could do what they wanted, which was: the first book rewritten, copyedited, line edited, cover designed and approved, and ready for press in something like two months. An unheard of schedule. Then they wanted the second book turned in six months after that. I agreed.
    I was an idiot, but I agreed.

    When all was said and done, I wrote two books (140,000 words each) in something less than nine months. I made myself sick. Literally. It took years to get over the stress I put myself under. I don’t recommend that to any newbie. It was impossible.

    However, you could try the suggestion I offered Mikaela, and test out a deadline. See what happens to your output.

  • Mikaela, go for it! Don’t make yourself sick, but do have a contest with yourslf! Have fun at it, but push yourself! Let us know how it goes!

    Laura, Excellent! Perfect! That is a great way to teach yourself to write fast! I am totally impressed! Go Laura!

  • My experience has been that writing fast means eliminating the other stuff I used to do when I wasn’t writing, or when I was looking for ways to avoid writing. I’m not sure that my creative process has changed that much, but my work ethic and work habits have. In other words, for me, “write fast” has come to mean “stop screwing around,” as opposed to “change the way you write” if that makes any sense.

  • I can write fast. Very fast if I have to. I’ve done near 10K in day. I had the whole thing outlined, plotted, mind you, when I did it. (On notecards. Oh, notecards how ambivalent I am about you…) I’ve decided that it sounds cool to be a pantser, but as I told my Comp class this morning “I’ve been boring since the day I was born” and I’m a total plotter. When I very first started writing, I was a total pantser, but I had no idea what I was doing, so I thought you just started at the beginning and wrote it one page at a time–no planning or anything–so that’s what I did. (And I’m not knocking pantsers–I just got a lot faster when I plotted it out first).

    But writing fast. *sigh* If I were getting paid to write, I could do it. Because if I were getting paid, I could, say, not teach overloads, maybe even convince my school to let me do a 3-4 or something, not edit on the side, and cut back on other things. As it is right now, I’ve got about 2 days a week to write (writing every day just isn’t possible. I write best in chunks where I can sit down for several hours, so Friday and Saturday it is). It wouldn’t have to be much in the way of pay. A few thousand dollars a year, and I could cut my overloads and stuff. I think. But while I write fast now, writing frequently is tough. I did a book in 6 months, but I was only writing 1 day a week most of that time. If I had 5 days a week to write, I could do a lot more.

  • David, I guess there is a lot of the *stop screwing around* in there for me too. But there is clearly something else going on. I’m putting out well over twice the word count in only thirty percent more time at the keyboard. So I’m being *very* productive. It’s interesting.

    Pea Emily, you *are* writing fast! A book in six months, while writing only two days a week, is freaking amazing! When you sell that first book, and can add a day or two a week to that writing schedule, You will scare even Catie!

  • David said, ““write fast” has come to mean “stop screwing around…””

    to which Faith added, “I’m putting out well over twice the word count in only thirty percent more time at the keyboard.”

    That sums it up as well as anything I could add. It’s all about focus. Get serious, get focused, get productive. The holy trinity of success.

  • I’m not fast, but I’m getting faster. My plotting and my speed have both developed together. As I learned to use external methods to organize my thinking (I’m the one who forces note cards on Pea Faerie when we’re working together. Evil grin.) it got faster and easier to figure out where I’m going and then just get there. I’m seriously revising my WIP right now and each chapter has a set of square brackets at the top that say something like [Mal gets drunk. Carl reasons with Harvey. Demons all night.] If I lose focus on a scene I slow down or worse, can’t get it started at all. Those little brackets are keeping me focused as well as keeping me from creating massive continuity errors. And that is getting my speed up so I maximize the few spare hours I have.

    And Ed’s right – all of this is result of my getting more serious about my writing. I’m a writer dammit, not a hobbyist. So I have to work like one.

  • Sarah said >> I’m a writer dammit, not a hobbyist. So I have to work like one.

    Yea! Go Sarah! That is exactly the spirit.

  • Thanks, Faith! 🙂 And best of luck with your 250k!

    Now to put the rest of my lunch hour to use … 😉

  • I’m awful about wasting time, but when I did sit down for an hour per day to dump out first draft crap, I did ok. Not great but ok. On a good day, 1k in an hour. Bad day, 500-600 words.

    However…my first revision is going slow. Really slow. I’ve developed a more critical eye over the course of writing the zero draft, and it’s apparent that what I wrote needs significant changes. Lots and lots of work. Now I know most other folk end up rewriting much of their zero draft, but I’m curious as to how much.

  • Go Laura!

    Roxanne, that varies from writer to writer and, for me at least, became less and less as books went on. Early in my career, I was rewriting *very* estensively from first draft to one suitibale for submission. I was writing in longhand then transcribing to PC file, which resulted in a heavy rewrite as I went. Then, every hundred pages or so, I’d do a heavy, plot based rewrite to see where I was on or off track. I was a less heavy plotter back then so it was really important to redo that stuff often. I guess I did as many as ten or twelve rewrites before an agent or editor saw it.

    Now, with the experience and the heavy plotting I do, I rewrite twice between original draft and when the editor sees it. The first rewrite is the day after it goes into the file. I start my morning’s writing with a rewrite of the previous day’s work. This usually results in two or three pages of new stuff as I smooth out irregularities and make conflict points match up correctly. Then I usually do a read-through midway in the book, with a final rewrite when I am finished. With new deadline schedule, however, that midway rewrite might have to disappear. Eeek!

  • I had the overwhelming and irristable urge to read those first three paragraphs as fast-est-ly as I could!!!

    Now that my book is on the bookshelves of the world, it’s become a business – the selling of it – and it’s time to get back to Book 2.

    Second draft, here I come.
    Must go fast, must go fastfastfast …

  • mudepoz

    *Considers getting all books into rewrites before first book is sent off….*

  • Widder, it’s hard to keep all the balls in the air!

    Mud, that is not a bad idea.

  • My goals seem to be working so far to get the first draft hammered out quick. My goal is 2,000/10,000/100,000. 2,000 words a day, 10,000 words in a week, and 100,000 in 10 weeks. My last book, I wrote in under 8 weeks, but I started a few thousand in because I already had the beginning hammered out a while ago. Still, I finished the first of the duology in six and a half weeks. I’m taking a few days off to deal with obligations I threw to the curb, but this next week (26th) I’ll be back at the second book. Synopsis comes first and then I’ll be hammering out scene to scene as I go on the scene plotting page. I hope to have the first draft of both finished by the end of the year and be delving into revisions. I’ve become much faster between my first novel and this duology. Makes me feel, serious, about the work. Professional.

  • Oh for heaven’s sake! All of this “yeah! no distractions! yeah! go work!” has made me feel guilty…so now rather than spending more time futzing on facebook (irritated as I am at the changes) I shall go and begin the plotting of my new shiny. Darn all you folks out there with good advice!! *shakes fist in the matter of gruff old man on a front porch*

    But seriously, cutting out distractions is one thing that helps, but I’ll be honest. I do well when I write for a while (and “while” varies wildly) and then go and check email, facebook, whatever for 5-20 minutes, and then go write some more. I can also use it to procrastinate, no doubt, but sometimes the break is good.

  • Ryl

    ‘Fast’ I can do.

    What I have trouble with is keeping the writing ‘brief’ and staying on track — instead, I usually have to ride herd on the imagination that wants to chase down every shiny fractal spin-off, and what was once a shining plain is now a Jiffy-Pop mountain.

    Anybody got advice for that? Please??

  • Razziecat

    This is something I’m working on. When I’m really “in the zone” I can write pretty fast. It’s when I’m just not feeling it that I struggle. It’s not just the internet that distracts me: It’s all the other bits & pieces of writing. I find it hard to concentrate on only one story at a time, but if I don’t, nothing gets finished. I’m looking forward to NaNoWriMo in November. I think of it as one really big exercise in learning to focus.

  • mudepoz

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. There is procrastination, and there is seriously OH NEW AND SHINY. How is someone supposed to write when there is a box filled with the most adorable less than one week old buppies in the room. *Glares at bups, bitch, computer, Word. and clock.* I remember sleep.

  • Daniel, that is fabulous! When you write to a deadline, eve a self imposed one, you *do* feel professional. And you set yourself up for meeting professional deadlines. Excellent!

    Pea Emily, I give myself permission to check email (and today MW) every 3 pages. And I wrote 4200 words today. The need to take a break is *very* important, and the creative results are fantastic. I also get up, walk the dog, stretch, or run in place. And fix food or clean something. (looks around filthy house) Not enough of that last one.

    Ryl, it does take work and defence of the creative thread. All I can say is that, as like everything else in life, it does get easier with practice. Keep at it. Force yourself to write to an outline, but keep a list of the possible *new shiney* threads and promise yourself you can follow them later.

    Razzie, that writing event is a good one for forcing writers to focus. And I knwo what you mean about *when I’m not feeling it*. Yeah. It is hard to write then, or when I’m worrying about something.

  • Mud, you *are* a bit distracted right now. LOL
    But in 8 weeks or so the pups will be gone and you can focus again. Hang in there!

  • Ryl

    Thanks, Faith — once again, discipline is the answer. 🙂

  • Mikaela

    I know this is a bit late, but I want to add something. If you need help to focus, download Freedom. It is a software that costs 10 dollar, and it blocks your internet access for a time that you set. I just tried it for the first time, and wow. Normally I get 200-250 words in 30 minutes. With Freedom I got 400 (!).

  • I don’t intend to sound conceited or self-important or anything… but if I were to be a successful writer, with a mandate for 2+ books a year… it’d have to be worth my time to agree to that. By which I mean: writing two books or more a year, work-wise, is something like the equivalent of a full-time job. I’d have to be getting paid some reasonable rate that would make up for the full-time job I’d have to give up in order to do this.

    Considering how I read that many – possibly most – successful writers and especially successful new writers in fact have to hold down full-time jobs (steady pay, health and benefits, etc.) demanding 2+ books a year doesn’t seem feasible to me. I don’t mean to complain about it: I’m just stating an economic reality.

    I write, and I will always write, and I hope to get paid for my writing. But as long as writing doesn’t pay the bills, I can’t quit the dayjob. I’m not getting rich in my dayjob, but I makea helluva lot more than what, for instance, Tobias Buckell’s author advance survey suggests I’d be making early on in my writing career. The average (about $6K) is so laughably small that even at two-books a year at that rate I’d be subjecting my family to instant poverty by taking that over a steady job. Even the high-end ($40K on his survey) would be a painful cut if I were taking only that amount every year – but even hitting two books a year… that’s still difficult at least initially because that would be $40k*2 books divided by 3 for the first year, based on how advances pay out.

    But of course… I’m not so full of myself that I think I’ll be pulling down top-dollar advances right out the gate. At best I think I can rub shoulders with the slightly-above-average crowd.

    Long story short: financially… this doesn’t make sense. It’s always been my dream to be a published author. But I don’t have the luxury of subjecting my family to income-levels below the federal poverty limit. I have obligations to them, and I can’t and won’t put them through that.

    So write fast, yeah, good advice. But I think a writer can only write as fast as they can write (barring what David Coe suggested: getting rid of distractions). At some point, writing faster – writing more – means devoting more time to writing. At some point, for those of us with day jobs, that means leaving our jobs. For some of us, that can and will only happen if writing can make up the difference. In the current market, at current rates… I don’t see how it can.

  • Ryl, yes. It is. And long term discipline at that.

    Mikaela, anything keeps distractions at bay (barring locking up family 🙂 ) is probably good for writing.

    Stephen, And now you see the delima faced by so many writers. *Very* few make much money up front. *Very* few *ever* make enough to support a family.

    So writing often becomes:
    1. the lesser income of a two-income family
    2. the one-book a year, very slow growing career of a two-income writer
    3. the faster growing two-or-more book a year career of a two-income writer who is able to carve out time to write from other obligations, often weekends and soccer games and other family time, and lunch breaks and vacation from day-job work.
    4. the faster growing career of a two-book or more a year writer who throws himself into the business with abandon and writes fast and works hard and smart and publishes many books quickly at lower advances but sells a *lot* of books.

    For most of us, writing is not an easy career choice. It’s why you have to go into it with eyes wide open and the understanding that you will likely have to change your lifestyle. Unless you self publish. Then you can do what you want when you want, with all the attendant ups and downs positives and negatives that self-publishing entails.

  • Is there room now, in the industry, for #2. I’m comfortable with that if I can get the deal. I don’t have the stomach to forego family time or to subject them to a small writing income, but I’ll gladly supplement my regular income with writing money.

    In my wildly idealistic dreams, of course, I’m a bestseller… in which case, all other bets are off.

  • If your dreams come true, remember all the little people who spurred you on! 🙂

    And yes, there is room for the one-book a year, slower growing career of a two-income writer. You do need to make that clear (with the agent who works with you and the editor who signs you) that you cannot afford to quit a full time job until/unless you make very big money. Communication is the *most important* key here.

    The personal aspect: I was writing one book a year for Roc and did so for something like five years. Then the books began to sell and they asked my agent if it was possible for me to write 2 books a year so that they could push my books. I knew the time line to tell if I was going to make it big enough to quit my benefits-paying job would be about 18 to 24 months. So, for that amount of time, I have put other things on the back burner and am writing fast and hard.

    By this time next year, I will know if my career is moving ahead quickly enough to consider quiting my day job. Maybe sooner if the healthcare situation in the US improves (yeah, right) and if I can afford and can purchase private healthcare. There are a lot of variables in all our lives and we each have to make the decision that works for us.

  • UPdate: This week resulted in 50 pages on the next Jane Yellowrock book (upwards of 16,000 words), over 2,000 words on the short story Easy Pickins’, and the first part of the outline to another short story.

    And a sister in law who had surgery, with the need for me to be there for her for a total of 5 hours. I didn’t paddle or play in boats (roll class) or clean house. I bought minimal groceries. I did spend two hours with Misty and the webmage over sushi. Yummers!

    I am on target for deadlines, but I may have to hire the housekeeper back sooner than planned. O.M.Gosh…the dog hair is everywhere!

  • sagablessed

    I have been working on a novel for about 2 years. I find it near impossible to write faster, as with job, medical issues, and life, I don’t see how you all do it. There is not second income in my household, so giving up my job is not something that can even be a consideration. I have taken to writing faster, but how about revisions and editing? When do people find the time to do that?

  • SBlessed, I do a quick rewrite before I start each day’s writing. Though many people find this bogs them down, I find it allows me to find my place in the story each day and actually speeds up the writing process. And then, take a look at Kalayna’s post on revision on 9-24-2011. After you finish a book, put it away for a few weeks. Start a new book, or outline a new book ,or write a short story. Somethiing very different from the novel you just finished.

    Then, when your mind is clear, block out two or three weeks to revise. It may take more, even six weeks, but you will discover how long it takes to do a revision and then the next time you will know how many weeks to block out for that. Let the revisions flow naturally within the writing schedule. Revising fast has become my mantra too!

  • […] a series of posts admonishing writers to “write fast”.  (For example: here, here, and here.)  The publishing industry is changing, they say, and one consequence is that publishers are […]