Write fast? Write slow?

Seawall mural is looking sadly bedraggled since Ike. Wonder if they’d like volunteers to try to spruce it up…

Anyway. I have taken to checking in at Twitter, and clicking on all the referrals to articles & such until I have a whole row of tabs across the top of my Firefox. And when I have a minute more, I read them all. And now I can’t remember which one I read that made me think.

It was an interview with Ron Charles, who is an editor and book critic with the Washington Post and just won an award. He sounded like a fascinating man (especially since they have been trying to find a Romance novel reviewer who doesn’t write things like “If you like this kind of crap…”), and I found the interview interesting. But there was one thing that tweaked a few thoughts. I’ve thought this before, but I don’t know that I’ve blogged about it before. If I have, and you read it, forgive me, and skip down to the beach report.

He mentioned how he tried to be respectful of the fact that the novelist might have poured the past 8 years of his or her life onto the book when he reviewed it. And I got to thinking about a writer’s pace of writing.

There are a lot of folks out there who think that a book more slowly written must inevitably be a better book than one written quickly, all subjectivity set aside. I do not agree. Furthermore, I have a sneaking suspicion that if a person takes 8 years to finish a book? They were doing a whole lot of other stuff (most likely a day job) while they were writing that book.

I have a book I’m working on that I have been working on since, oh–1981, or earlier. I’m still not finished with it. But I have not been writing on the book every day of that time. I decided, back in ’81 or so, that I did not have the craft and skills to write the book at that time, since it had a complicated plot, would have to be told in flashback, and had a difficult character to write. So I set it aside for about 20 years.

In the intervening time, I have written 5 or 6 books which will never see the light of day. I have written 8 more, which have or will be published by various publishers. It’s not like I haven’t been writing. I just haven’t been actively writing on THAT book.

If I count only the time in which I have been actually writing and researching Thunder in a Cloudless Sky (working title), I’ve probably been working on it 6 or 7 months.

I don’t consider myself a fast writer. I can’t whip out a draft in a week. Or even 2 weeks. Or a month. But. I do write an average of 6 pages a day, which is faster than the 1 page a day book in a year that some writers manage. And I don’t write multiple drafts. My first draft is pretty darn close to the final version. I might add a scene. More likely I’ve cut several scenes (I tend to write long.) and reworked it to smooth things out. I’ve probably cut and smoothed some dialogue. Corrected grammar and typos. Fixed inconsistencies here and there–like changing eye-color, or minor character names. And that’s about it. I prefer the “all at once” method.

Still, despite all that, it does not take me 8 years to write a book. Even Thunder, which is a huge book, will not actually take me that much time to write. I posted here last week: it took me 10 weeks, 2-1/2 months, to write 450 pages. And I don’t even spend all day writing. I do my composing/drafting in the mornings, then I do other stuff–PR, e-mails, blogging, etc.–in the afternoon. I do it this way because I have found that I tend to fall asleep over the desk if I try to draft in the afternoon. I just have a sinking spell, as my Great Aunt Jessie put it, about that time. So I get those 6 pages written in half a day.

Other award winning authors write faster than I do. Some write slower. The thing is–how you write is how you write. Faster does not necessarily equal better. Nor does slower. Working eight years on a book (or six, as in Dan Brown & The Lost Symbol) does not mean it’s going to be a masterpiece. It might be a darn good read. But it might not.

Personally, I think I write better when I write faster, because I keep my head in the story. I’m more immersed in the story world. I do not think about it all the time. I think it’s better to shove everything back into the swamp where my stories live, and ignore them, until it’s time to pull things out again to go to work. The swamp does a better job, most times, of letting the right stuff bubble up when I need it than if I actively think about it. I might think a little bit if I’m working morning pages a la The Artist’s Way, but mostly, I don’t. The subconscious is smarter than I am about a lot of things.

In the end, I am still skeptical of those people who claim to write full time for years to produce a single book. I just find it hard to believe they’re writing all that time. If I took six years–or five, or two–or even one–to write a book, you can bet that a whole lot of that time would be spent doing other stuff.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to write slowly. Your process is your process, just like mine is the weird thing it is. I just have trouble comprehending what they’re doing with all that time…

Because, you know, if you write just one page a day, at the end of a year, you have enough pages for a book. I wrote a whole hour & a half today, and got TWO pages. And they were synopsis pages, which, as we all know, counts the same as Four pages of story, because it’s twice as hard to write a synopsis…

Beach report: Yep, went out to the beach to walk. Went late, at 9 a.m. instead of 8. Sun was bright and hot, humidity is heavy enough to make the windows of my house sweat all day. Temp about 82 F/28 C, but it felt hotter because of the sun & humidity. The water was pretty surfy today. More waves than we’ve had lately, white water all the way out past the jetties. The seafoam was white. When I went out Saturday, it was kind of greenish. Weird.

It was still a nice walk. I found a big, pretty shell. Will try to remember to take a pic of it soon. Met a cute little dog. (Did Not take Dolly.) Not many birds out that late, but lots of little crabs were digging the sand out of their holes. Didn’t see any cool crab footprints though…

Better go put food on to cook.

3 Responses to Write fast? Write slow?

  1. As a senior in college majoring in English/creative writing, I have read a LOT of books on writing fiction (and on my own covering writing fantasy). Each has told me that I must write very day, at least an hour, and go through revision upon revision to complete a final piece.

    However, I have found that I write better in large blocks of time (usually 8-10 hours on a Saturday or Sunday) and do the “all at once” method you mention in this blog entry (my ‘draft’ is pretty much the finished piece, but with some final tweaking to be done). I’m glad to hear there are other writers (and published authors) that write this way. I’m writing my first novel and chugging along nicely, if a bit overwhelmed by the enormity of the task at hand. Thank you for your encouraging words and affirmation of my own thoughts. :)

  2. What works for you works for you, Kristine. Most people find it’s easier to stay on track if they write every day–but, given your current life situation–in school, going to class, having to do things for classes, etc.–obviously, having large blocks of time on the weekend works for you. And if it ain’t broke, honey, don’t fix it! (which is why I still write first drafts in longhand. I know.)

    Keep up the good work!!!

  3. Not to mention I also work full-time. I’m currently doing an independent study (16 credits) on novel writing, so at least I don’t have class every day (at my school an hour away). It’s good I have great focus and can write in large chunks. I also write my first draft in long hand.

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