Writing is a weird art form because it’s so solitary. We sit in a nice artist’s garret, or steal away a moment at our cubicle, or toil in a slightly damp and purple-walled dungeon (like Baker’s basement office).
And since we’re alone, writers don’t often talk about what actually happens in those writing sessions. How fast are writers writing? How many words do they get down before their creative juices run dry? How long can they keep their butt in the chair? What’s a good output for a writing session, anyway?
On this episode of Fiction School, we get deep into the idea of creative productivity and talk about writing faster and being prolific, and why that might not be the best approach for every writer. Shouldyouwritereallyreallyfast?? Or. Should. You. Just. Go. Sloooooooow? Listen up to the show and find out.
(And hey, let us know what you writing speed is, what your process is like. The more we can share about our writing, the better we all get! Shoot us a comment down below!)
SHOW NOTES FOR EPISODE 34
- Tommy starts the show by suggesting a different show topic. (Baker suggests this is why he’s a slow writer.)
- We talk about what makes for a “good day” of writing. A day when I didn’t even have to use my AK. How many words? Baker and Jody think that 2,000 words is a good day. Baker’s average day is around 1,200 when he’s working.
- Tommy’s “good day” is like 300 words. A page a day.
- So we talk about how writing speed is not just tied to words per day. Like, for Tommy, he writes slowly but it’s very labor-intensive and polished as he goes. He rewrites as he writes, so he really only writes one draft, sort of.
- If you don’t have to do through multiple drafts, then doing a page a day is super productive.
- But Jody goes through many, many drafts. All of her novels have been through at least nine drafts. So she adopts the fast draft, writing quickly knowing that she’ll come back and rewrite it sometime soon anyway.
- We wonder if a writer’s writing process kind of determines the kind of book you write. Tommy’s writing process might determine that he writes novels that are more like interconnected short stories. Baker loves planning out the plot and writing fast to get the story down, and then reworking it as a whole.
- How long is a good writing session, butt in the seat? Baker can sit for about 3 hours and then his creativity is crap. Jody’s longest session has been 14 hours (“I’m a binge writer, man!”). Tommy can do 3 or 4 hours, but the time is scattered and fragmented in what he’s thinking about.
- Do writers get faster after years of writing practice? We talk about our early processes and what we did as younger writers, and how those processes have changed over the years. Jody used to write like Tommy’s process, but she’s slowly developed into the fast draft mode.
- Jody “has to be ready to kill what’s not working” for her. Part of her writing speed is being ruthless in revision and being willing to throw away lots of what she writes.
- Tommy feels that he’s not necessarily faster, but he’s more efficient than he used to be as a younger writer. Life demands can get in the way, so when you have that block of time, you have to use it to get those words down.
- It’s kind of like every creative act: the more you do it, the better your instincts are and the more you can predict what’s going to happen and can plan for your work flow.
- Baker’s average day of 1,200 words has affected the format of his books, as it’s become his basic chapter length.
- But you can also trick yourself and prep your next writing session by using an old Mark Twain bit of advice: Stop while the writing is going good and then you’ll be able to step right back into the flow the next time you sit down to work.
- How about the genre or specific expectations of the work–if you have concrete expectations and genre conventions you have to hit, does that help you write faster? Tommy’s got no parameters for his Messiah Trilogy, so he’s groping around in the dark. Jody feels like knowing where the book is going and using story beats helps her not wander aimlessly in the writing.
- Nanowrimo comes up, and we talk about the whole movement of writing that’s geared toward writing fast and not worrying about quality the first time around. Like Nanowrimo’s motto says, Quantity, not quality.
- (If you’ve never heard of it, click that link above. Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month, where lots and lots of people write an entire first draft of a novel during the month of November every year. It’s a fun, cool community, and worth checking out for writers.)
- Nanowrimo’s founders put out a book called No Plot? No Problem, which Jody is intrigued by, because it feels like you can’t write fast (especially a novel in a month speed) without knowing the plot.
- Having the story structure in place may seem confining, but for Baker there’s still a lot of creativity within those parameters. (It’s like Robert Frost’s saying, that writing poetry in free verse is like playing tennis without a net.)
- Some parts of writing go faster than others. For Jody, writing dialogue is where she’s fastest and most at home. Interior monologue is like torture for her. For Baker, the hard parts are where his process resembles Tommy’s, paying attention to musicality and rhythm and language. The easy/fun parts are planning out the story structure and beats. Tommy digs dialogue, too, and likes that there’s lots of white space that lets the story breathe.
- When writing the first draft, it’s important to give yourself permission to suck. If you write fast, you know you’ll come back and fix it anyway, so you can tell yourself it doesn’t have to be perfect, or even all that good. You have to kick the inner editor and censor out, and push yourself to write.
- Hemingway said, “Write drunk. Edit sober.” Maybe not literally, but there’s a kind of drunkenness to just going fast and not censoring yourself as you write the first draft.
- There are devices you can use, like Write or Die. If you don’t keep writing, that program will start backspacing and erasing what you’ve written.
- Tommy asks a big question: What happened to writing and creativity? Why does there have to be effieciency and speed with the creative act of going slowly, savoring the words? For some, that comes on the first draft. For others, that comes in the revision.
- If you’re just cranking it out, how much stuff are you missing? How many ideas are you skimming past? Does the quality of the basic idea suffer if you go too fast? Maybe, but maybe not. We discuss. It’s all about the process that works for you.
- “Cranking it out” may mean that the attention to detail comes in the revision phase more than in the first draft.
- Or, sometimes, if you make someone write like crazy for fifteen minutes, they come up with some really great stuff that they wouldn’t if they had all the time in the world.
- So, we end basically where we started. Sometimes you can learn to write faster, sometimes you just can’t. We’d love to hear from y’all in the comments if you have any pointers or ideas or experiences with writing speed.