books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Is There a Place for the Slow Writer in the Digital Age?


We live in a speed-obsessed culture. Whatever it is we crave—cars, trains, electronics, food, dates—we want them ever-faster-and-furiouser.

In fact, much of the developed world seems to be engaged some turbo-charged drag race of the soul, hurtling our frenzied selves from cradle to grave, terrified of slowing for even a minute.

Nobody is pressured to go for speed more than writers. Everybody tells us we need to churn out books as fast as Mickey D's grills burgers, or we'll never make it in this business.

One of the chief prophets of the speed-writing gospel is uber-prolific indie guru Dean Wesley Smith, who recently got into a verbal contretemps on the subject with his former friend, literary agent Donald Maass.


Dean Wesley Smith vs. Donald Maass on the speed question:


In early February, Donald Maass, author of the popular how-to-write-breakout-novels books, posted a controversial piece for Writer Unboxed, dividing all authors into three classes with the imperiousness of Caesar dividing Gaul.

He relegated self-publishers to "Freight" class, and the direct-to-paperback/ebook trad-pubbed authors to "Coach", while pronouncing the "First Class" artistic elite (like Snooki, Rush Limbaugh, and the Duck Dynasty guys, presumably) deserving of hardcovers, big bucks and the undying respect of the literati.

Many big-name indies rebutted him, but none with more passion than Dean Wesley Smith, who had apparently, up to that moment, enjoyed a cordial relationship with Mr. Maass. Or at least Mr. Maass thought so.

I agreed with much of what DWS had to say, until I read his remarks in the comment thread:

"He [Maass] thinks all writers need to rewrite and rewrite....He thinks that slowing down and writing less is a better way to become a better writer."

And

"I tell writers to write with passion and never rewrite."

I think DWS did more harm to the self-publishing movement with those statements than any of Maass's silly elitism.

He's reviving an old piece of advice from scifi great Robert Heinlein, excerpted from a 1947 essay, "On the Writing of Speculative Fiction", which offered the following counsel to young writers:

1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put the work on the market.
5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

I'm sure those were excellent rules for writing science fiction for pulp magazines 67 years ago—when writers were submitting to actual editors who would later give those "editorial orders".

But in the age of self-publishing, this stuff can be dangerous. It can derail a promising career and stoke the fears of every reader already cowering in dread of the indie "tsunami of crap."

Later in the thread, Donald Maass himself appeared, and I found myself agreeing with some of his points, like this one:

"What I advocate and teach is not any particular pace of output but the techniques that I’ve observed result in strong fiction. I do see that revision is pretty often part of getting that result."

My problem with both men in this argument is they're lumping together completely separate issues:

1) Writing fast

2) Self-publishing

3) Refusing to edit

So let's look at them separately:


1) Writing Fast: Authors have been urged to write faster for decades. Writing fast has nothing to do with the self-publishing movement.

As early as the 1970s, P.G. Wodehouse, prolific author of the "Jeeves" novels, gave this advice to new writers in the Paris Review, "I always feel the thing to go for is speed." 

In 2011, the trad-pubbed Sci-Fi author Rachel Aaron wrote an article for SFWA outlining how she built from a pathetic 2000 words a day to 10,000 words a day or more, when her publisher required it.

And this month, The New York Times reported, "The practice of spacing an author’s books at least one year apart is gradually being discarded as publishers appeal to the same “must-know-now” impulse that drives binge viewing of shows like 'House of Cards' and 'Breaking Bad.'" They say it's now ideal to come out with books in a series every three months.

2) Self Publishing: Many self-publishers are also traditionally published, and hybrid authors are the best paid in the business, so these ridiculous "either/or" arguments should be long over. Donald Maass's own hybrid client Delilah Marvelle wrote a rebuttal more eloquent than anything I could say.

"I have to say, Freight Class is awesome. The seats are bouncy and let me swivel any way I want so I can write and deliver the books in any way I want. And the conductor isn’t sticking his nose in on my business telling me what I can and can’t write. It’s soooo nice. I guess what you’re not seeing is that I learned to appreciate the wonders and the joys of Freight Class after being stuck in Coach Class for so long. I’m loving it back here and I kinda wish you’d actually rename all the classes. Because the people in Freight Class deserve more respect."

3) Refusing to edit: In telling writers they don't need to edit, Mr. Smith sounds as imperious as Mr. Maass. His statements remind me of a quote sometimes attributed to Oscar Wilde:

"I never rewrite my own work. Who am I to tamper with genius?"  

(Although it's said that Wilde actually edited his work meticulously.)

Maybe Mr. Smith himself can write a perfectly crafted novel in a weekend. He's had a lifetime of experience cranking out those puppies, so it's entirely possible.

Some people can jump off mountains with wooden planks strapped to their feet, do somersaults in the air and glide effortlessly to safety and Olympic glory.

But it's ridiculous to say that everybody can.

Or should.

Especially newbies.

A beginner can't do the same thing as a seasoned professional, no matter what skill set you're talking about.

I'm pretty sure Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn't vroom into a NASCAR race the day he got his learner's permit. Any music lover can tell you the notes produced by a first-year cello student won't fall as delightfully upon the ear as those of Yo-Yo Ma. And I promise you, nobody wants to wear a pair of socks created by a first-time knitter.

Why do people think it's different with writing? Telling beginning writers they should be able to do the same thing as a seasoned professional is not helpful. It can hurt the fledgling writer as well as the poor reader (who should factor into the equation somewhere, I think.)

And as far as the argument that writing lots of pages makes you a better writer—

That's only true if you get feedback. And learn from it.

Making the same mistake two hundred times is not an improvement over making it once. 

Getting back to the speed question:


In spite of my undying admiration for Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, I think it's important to remind people that not all bestselling authors write fast. Not even in the e-age.

Donna Tartt, whose brilliant novel The Goldfinch topped everybody's lists for the best book of 2013, has only written three novels since her first in 1992.

Lots of professional writers create slowly and edit as they go.

I do.

Okay, I've learned to compose a little faster than I could a few years ago. I've moved from a snail's pace to that of an arthritic penguin, but I still can't write much more than 1500 words a day on a WIP, combined with an average of maybe 500-1000 words of nonfic for blogs and social media. And maybe spend a few hours editing.

Am I a failure? I don't feel like one. I'm mostly published by small presses: one of Maass's pathetic mid-listers in "Coach" class. And I'm certainly not keeping the publishing industry afloat like those Duck Dynasty guys, but I have eight published books, several of which have made bestseller lists, and I'm being read all over the world.

Hey, I even have haters, which might be the real mark of success in today's snarky Internet culture.

The power of SLOW:


I remain a believer in doing things slowly.

  • This slow blog has received major awards usually reserved for the dailies. 
  • I read slowly, too—I hate to barrel through a book reading only for plot and missing the wit, nuances of character, and moments of insight that might expand my own mind. 
  • I eat slow food: I cook everything from scratch, buy from the local farmer's market, and never eat fast food unless I'm on the road (and it's an In-N-Out burger.) 
  • Hey, I even live in a place called SLO-town, which Oprah named the "happiest city in America."

And I'm here to tell you it's okay to be a slow writer.

Especially if you're a beginner. Write a little each day. Get joy from it. Feel pride when you get a page out.

Because a writing career is not a race or a contest.

It has to be a source of joy. It doesn't pay well enough to be anything else.

I'm not saying you can't be successful popping out a first draft at NaNoWriMo speed. In fact I encourage new writers to try NaNo at least once. It can help you overcome inhibitions and let your muse loose on the page. But afterward, you'll need to put in a lot of time editing, especially if you're a new writer.

No matter what Robert Heinlein said, I'm pretty sure no reader wants to pay money for your "sh***y first draft." As an editor, I had to read a lot of them, and I can tell you I wouldn't have finished 90% if I hadn't been paid.

If you properly edit your NaNo book, the bottom line of time spent is probably going to be about the same as if you wrote it slowly.

It's also wise to consider the following: 


1) Many editors dislike working with people who write to a high daily word count. Speed writers tend to fall in love with the very bulkiness of their own product. That high number of words feels valuable, so they can't let go.

2) It's also important to be aware that for some people, writing more than a certain number of hours a day can be dangerous to your mental health.

The New York Times reported a few years ago that scientists have discovered the part of the brain stimulated by deep thought is the same part activated in clinical depression. The reason so many writers suffer from depression isn't because we all started out miserable. Writing for long periods without a break can actually trigger the illness in some people.

I think there's a role for slow in today's publishing world. In fact, I believe it's the best way to build a career. It's worked for me. And I'm not the only one. Most writers who become "overnight successes" have actually been at it for years, maybe decades.

My friend and mentor Catherine Ryan Hyde, who became a publishing star with Pay it Forward in 2000, and has become an even bigger success (#1 seller on Amazon) since she went hybrid a couple of years ago, collected 1000s of rejections before her first novel, Funerals for Horses was accepted by a small press. She had a decade to create a body of work and learn her craft before she needed to start producing books on a regular schedule. This is how most writers build their careers.  

A slow writer who sells more than Asimov:


I've loved watching the career of sci-fi author Alex J. Cavanaugh. He's not a particularly fast writer. Yes, he's a prolific blogger, but he only puts out about a book a year. His career started out slow and he's still in "Coach class" with a small press. But last month he was outselling Isaac Asimov on Amazon.

Here's what he says:

"I am a slow writer. (Slow typist as well. Thirty words per minute if I’m lucky.) Since I also play in a band, I have to devote time to practicing my guitar every night. Plus spend time with my wife. I’m also juggling a busy blog schedule, not only with my own, but with the IWSG site and the A to Z Challenge. And yes, I work full time. So, cranking out a book or two a year just isn’t going to happen. Despite the fact my books aren’t very long. I know authors who can turn out quality books quickly, but I just don’t have that kind of time. I’d spend all my time writing and I don’t want to do that."

OMG, the man has a life.

And he's a bestselling author. Perhaps he might be a better role model for most of us than either Mr. Smith or Mr. Maass.

What about you, scriveners? Do you write slow? Have you been feeling pressure to write faster? Have you attempted NaNoWriMo? Did it improve your writing? How do you feel about being advised not to edit your work? 

We LOVE comments. If you have trouble commenting because the Blogger elves won't accept your ID (They prefer Google+ IDs, because they're owned by Google, alas) just email me through the "contact us" page and I'll personally post your comment.


BOOK OF THE WEEK


It's HERE: the new, improved, deluxe version of HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE: a Self Help Guide now published by Fast Foreword.

NOT JUST FOR INDIES: It's full of advice from NYT bestseller Catherine Ryan Hyde (and moi). There's a step-by-step guide to blogging, and self-help guidance for dealing with social media overload. Lots more on how to deal with rejection, bad critiques and troll reviewsas well as how to query, how to decide the right publishing path for you, and how to market without spamming. It's all in there! Do you know who the Big 5 are? What agent-assisted self-publishing is? How to tell if your book is ready to publish? We've got the answers!




You can pick it up for only $2.99 at Amazon US, and the equivalent at Amazon UK, Amazon CA, and all the other Amazons around the world! (Paper version to follow in about 6 weeks)

"Their prose is easy to read, warm, worldly, honest...instantly we are welcomed into their fold, and serious subjects (encompassing our dreams and livelihoods) become fun."...Joanna Celeste

"I so wish there had been a book like this back when I first started….The moment I started to read 'How to be a Writer in the E-Age' I knew it was a winner in every sense. The information is not only valuable to new authors, it's relevant to published authors." ...Ryan Field 
~

And I have to share with you this fabulous "magazine" ad created for me by Elizabeth Ann West. Each page has a different feel and vibe, but they work perfectly together. Seriously, the artistry in it is amazing. She will soon be offering this service on a commercial basis.



OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


Writers' Village International Short Fiction AwardEntry fee £15. This is a biggie. Stories in English up to 3000 words in any genre from anywhere in the world. £3000 First Prize. Judges include iconic mystery author Lawrence Block and Whitbread & Orange short-lister Jill Dawson. £4500 ($7200) in total prizes. The top 50 contestants also get a free critique of their stories. Deadline June 30th.

The 11th Yeovil International Literary Prize now open for entries  Prize categories for novels, short fiction, poetry. Entry fee £11 for novels. 1st prize £1000. Deadline May 31st.

Flash Prose Contest $15 ENTRY FEE. WriterAdvice seeks flash fiction, memoir, and creative non-fiction running 750 words or less. Enlighten, dazzle, and delight us. Finalists receive responses from all judges. First Place earns $200; Second Place earns $100; Third Place earns $50; Honorable Mentions will also be published. Deadline April 18th.

GLIMMER TRAIN FAMILY MATTERS CONTEST $1500 prize, plus publication in Glimmer Train Stories, plus 20 copies. $15 ENTRY FEE. They're looking for stories about families of all configurations. It's fine to draw on real experiences, but the work must read like fiction. Maximum word count: 12,000. Any shorter lengths are welcome. Deadline March 31.

 IMAGINE THIS! AN ARTPRIZE ANTHOLOGY  $20 ENTRY FEE. For writers of poetry, short stories (1,500 words) and personal essays (1,500 words), 2014. First Prize $1,000. Second Prize $500. Third Prize $250. Top 20 entries will be published in the anthology. ArtPrize is an international competition held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with over 1,000,000 visitors and 25,900,000 page views each year. Named by Time as one of the top five festivals of the year. Deadline March 31

138 comments:

  1. Anne—Thanks for a smart and sensible post. As usual. :-)

    I use a fast/slow approach: I write the first draft as fast as I can just so I have something to work with. Once that first draft is done, then comes the fun part: editing, revising, rewriting, rethinking. That's the part that takes time and creates a professional book.

    Very attractive "magazine ad." Delighted that "chick lit noir" actually turned out to be useful! ;-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ruth--"Chick lit noir" describes my work perfectly. Thanks for that stroke of genius. Isn't Elizabeth's work amazing/

      Delete
  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow - so all this time I've been trying to improve my writing I should have simply gotten published! Silly me. Why didn't I think of that? It's hard to imagine that DWS actually meant what he said. If he did mean what he said, & he finds no need to revise or edit, he may indeed be channeling Widle's genius.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. CS--I cringe every time I read people advising new writers to publish first novels and "let the market decide". When they don't sell, they give up, instead of learning to perfect their craft.

      Delete
  4. Ditto what Ruth said. I feel fortunate if I finish writing a single book a year. No matter how fast I start out the last third seems to always take a million years to finish. And thanks for the reminder to re-write. As a reader I definitely don't want to read anyone's first wip - maybe the 5th or 6th - and as a writer I'd really like the time to make my wip the best it can be. Thanks for helping me to feel okay with that :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ms--A book a year used to be considered prolific. Now they're telling us 4 books a year is slacking. I have a similar pattern, only it's the middle that takes a million years.: the first third comes out in a spurt of inspiration, then I usually write the end. Then the middle is a total slog. And if I helped you feel OK about polishing your work, I've done what I set out to do. Thanks

      Delete
  5. I don't think Dean nor his wife mean for you take their advice to the very note. They know all writers are different. Dean has said that many times that every writer is different and every writer has their own pace. You do what works for you and what ever advice you read or hear, you take what is useful to you and discard the rest.
    Some writers do write fast. I can write a 70-80,000 word novel in 2 months and I do spend about 1-2 months editing. I'm usually adding things in. I write sometimes write a bit skeletal in my first draft.
    I don't recommend revising a novel to death. You will ruin it. You're better to move on and write something else. Let others read it. I think that is what Dean is saying.
    In traditional publishing one or two books from an author is all you usually get. I think they are moving a bit faster but not much. I think readers want their books of course right away. I think the indie movement has a little something to do with that maybe.
    In any case, it's up to the writer to how he wants to steer his career.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope they don't mean for every writer to write at the pace he can write. Everybody's creativity works at a different pace.

      It's true you don't want to revise forever. And sometimes agents ask authors to revise for a particular trend rather than to improve the book. I had one agent offer representation for one of my books if I changed it from a mystery to a category romance. That I was not willing to do, and I haven't regretted it.

      Delete
  6. I've always had trouble with fast/slow writing. I THINK it should take me three months to write an 80,000 word novel. In actuality it takes six months or more. I edit as I go, so by the time I'm finished, my first draft is usually in its tenth or eleventh state, which my critique partners appreciate exceedingly.

    I've only participated in NaNo once, and I failed miserably. I can't churn out words just to satisfy a daily word count, and why create a "sh*tty first draft" when I'm only going to spend the same amount of time editing and rewriting it anyway. If I take my time and do it the way I want, it all comes out in the wash.

    As far as DWS goes, if you don't edit (especially newbies) then you're doomed ot end up in the tsunami of crap. In my opinion, I'd rather be read than be prolific.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anne--I've fallen into that trap so many times: I give myself a deadline I can never live up to, then beat myself up about it.

      I think the people who write fastest are outliners. Everything is pre-planned and they don't count that planning time in the "writing time". For a panster like me, it can take a week to write a scene because I don't know where it's going. But that's so much of the fun of writing--not knowing what will happen and allowing for serendipity.

      Delete
  7. I loved, loved, loved this post! It comes at a good time: I'm busy working on a mystery that I want to be good. For me, this means taking time and, yes, rewriting . . . rewriting a lot! Have a great day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Elizabeth--I run into a lot of mysteries that feel phoned in. Especially later books in a bestselling series. I'd rather read one by a new author who has something new to bring to the genre and has taken the time to craft something that's not just a formula. Take your time and do it right.

      Delete
  8. I average about 750 to 1000 words in an hour, writing in a stream of consciousness kind of way. It's fun for me to do it that way. I wrote my first book very slowly, agonizing over this and that, and hating it a lot of the time. I do revise (and DWS does also but I believe no more than three or so times) and that's fun as well.

    I've heard of people rewriting for YEARS, usually for an agent. I think that is insane! I can't imagine how miserable that must make a writer.

    Anyway, I think people should write so that they make themselves happy. Writers should enjoy their writing time and not rewrite and revise unless they want to.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cynthia--Congrats on being such a fast writer. As long as it's fun, that's great.

      I do think people need to edit and proofread before they publish, though. If they're only writing for themselves and a few un-picky friends, then it doesn't matter, but I think people should keep the reader in mind. Publishing a book that isn't polished isn't respectful of the reader.

      On the other hand, there are agents who ask for endless revisions and then often don't even take on the writer as a client. That's abusive and serves no purpose. I don't advise any writer to revise without a contract unless the changes are small and a specific contract is on offer.

      Delete
  9. An interesting post that I enjoyed reading. I'm writing a novel, and type at least three pages a day! That suits me fine.

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Words--Three pages a day is a nice pace. That's how I started out. Good luck on the novel!

      Delete
  10. I think that there is a difference between editing and rewriting. I do most of my work in my head--I try out different ways of phrasing a sentence before I type it out. I write very slowly, but what I write is polished by the time it gets to the page. So I tend not to do any rewriting on paper--my books are pretty much word for word my "first draft".

    On the other hand, all books need editing for grammar and spelling and punctuation and consistency of details. But that, in my opinion, is a different process than making a new draft of a manuscript--I'm not changing what I said the first time, I'm just making sure that what I actually said is what I meant to say.

    It's nice to see these comments, it seems I'm not the only writer who does the polishing as part of the writing process, rather than writing a fast first draft and fixing it later.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mis--As I say in the post, I'm a writer who edits as I go, just like you. I always read the chapter before and edit before I start the new day's pages. I know lots of professional writers who work that way.

      You've got a good point that there's a difference between an edit and a revision. A complete overhaul where you remove characters or change the McGuffin, or change a major character's gender is only useful if the book really isn't working.

      Again, this may be different for pantsers vs. outliners. Pantsers can go off on tangents that don't add to the storyline. Sometimes those have to be removed and put in a different book or story altogether. They can be great fun to write, but we need to be willing to remove what might slow down the story for the reader.

      I always say the first draft is for the writer and the final draft is for the reader.

      Delete
  11. I think you're missing a key point here with this. What Dean advocates is not revising because it's easy to revise your voice out of the story. Usually what you get down on the page on the first round has your voice. Then the perfectionist brain kicks in during a revision and starts changing sentences because they're not perfect, and the voice ends up being revised out.

    All my stories are done without revision. It's provided me with the most interesting experience because it forces me to make a real investment to making sure everything works as I write. When I "gave myself permission to write crap," I ended up relying on the revision to fix problems and that, in turn, created more problems.

    On the issue of writing fast, what almost never gets said that sometimes slow is because the writer isn't writing on a regular basis, not because they're sitting at a computer trying to bleed out one word at time. Just something for a little perspective.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Linda--We're going to have to agree to disagree on this. A good editor will not advise a writer to revise out their voice. Voice is what sells a book. But that has nothing to do with structure, which is usually what needs revision.

      But we agree that giving yourself permission to write crap very very fast doesn't always have good results, My one NaNo experiment resulted in an unpublishable mess. So I write slow and revise as I go, as I said in the post.

      And yes, some people write slowly because they've got a day job, a hungry kid or an aging parent to care for. Life does happen, even to people who can write 1000 words an hour.

      Delete
    2. This argument makes no sense to me. How could you possibly revise out your "voice" if you're the one doing the revising? They're still your words! You don't stop being you on draft 2 or 3. You just become a less wordy, boring, hard-to-follow version of you.

      I think people get sentimentally attached to their sh*tty first drafts. When you write your first draft, it's a rush--you feel accomplished, you read your words and think they're the most ingenious nuggets of prose ever to grace planet Earth with their presence. But then on rewrites, the high goes stale. You don't get the same kick out of reading your improved sentences. You think you've destroyed them by editing out your "voice," because they sounded so much better before.

      But really, you just got tired of them. It's like hearing your favorite song for the hundredth time on the radio--or at least it was your favorite song the first fifty times. The song didn't get worse, your reaction to it just changed.

      Delete
    3. Great insight, Tamara: "The song didn't get worse, your reaction to it just changed." I know that's true of me. When I spend a lot of hours revising, I can get sick of the whole process and usually go through a period thinking the book totally sux. That awful feeling may be what DWS is trying to help us avoid. But unfortunately, it usually is necessary, especially if structure isn't your strong point.

      Delete
    4. Tamara, it is possible to wreck a story with revision and take the voice out. A lot of writers overedit to the point where they take things that are voice, like description out. I read a indie book where the author very clearly had followed his critique group's guidance (having noted it in the comments) and removed the world building entirely from a fantasy story. What was left was stale and flat. It had a plot, it had words, but the voice that would have made it unique was completely missing. Critiques can be the worst culprit for this. I've seen writers come to message boards and be told there's problems with various sentences. They zoom back and fix the sentences based on what they were told and repost for more comments and repeat the process. No thought is often given if what is being changed is right for the story, and I'd often see those people come back and say they'd lost their story in revisions.

      Delete
    5. Linda, Catherine Ryan Hyde talks a lot about bad critiques and clueless feedback in our book HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE. She sure had her share. We met when somebody gave her the most clueless critique I ever heard. The trick is to learn to cherry pick the useful stuff from the crap and identify the critiquer's agendas.

      But it's not either/or. Yes, a bad editor can ruin your book. Just the way a bad mechanic can ruin your car or a bad hairdresser can destroy your hair. But that's not a reason never to get your car serviced or your hair cut. We need to learn to tell the good from the bad and learn from the experience.

      Delete
    6. I agree that we have to learn the good from the bad, but even that's hard in the current environment. There's so much pressure for writers to find that magic to get the foot in the door, and lot start out focusing on tweaking sentences and not fixing the story.

      Delete
    7. Linda--You're right that there's a particular segment of the writing population that spends ten years writing and rewriting that first chapter, trying to hit every note in Noah Lukeman's "First Five Pages". They need to start a new book--and finish it!

      Delete
  12. Anne, thank you so much for this post! Thank you for giving writers permission to take it 'slow' if that is their style. I think so much emphasis is put on fast drafts, fast publishing, getting that author platform built 'fast', it can be dizzying and disheartening for those of us who are beginners moving in the 'slow lane'. Which is not to give permission to those same writers for procrastination, but each writer's journey is uniquely theirs, and they should be encouraged to embrace it, not stuff themselves into the McFast mold if it doesn't fit. Wonderful post as always.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kristen--You're the kind of writer I hoped to reach with this post. I love the phrase "stuff themselves into the McFast mold." That's exactly what I'm talking about. It's fine to write fast if you can do it well, but for those of us who write slow, sometimes slow and steady can win the publishing race, too.

      Delete
  13. Yes, I have a life!
    (Thanks Anne, I got a good laugh over that today.)
    The most successful authors I know right now are hybrids, and they are enjoying the best of all worlds.
    One can have a career as a writer and not be a fast writer. It's like any job. Your job should not be your life.
    Now back to my thirty words a minute...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Alex--There you are! I hoped you'd get a kick out of this post. Thanks so much for taking the time to give me a quote!

      Hybrid authors are hitting the sweet spot in today's publishing world. I'm doing some self-publishing as well as publishing through a small press and it's working well. And Catherine Ryan Hyde is becoming the poster child for the hybrid author these days. She was interviewed in Publishers Weekly about her dual-path career last month. It's paying off handsomely.

      Delete
  14. "An arthritic penguin" - what a great image :-) With the publishing world going through such turbulence, I guess, one might expect heated arguments to break out pretty much every day. Thank goodness for this slow, polite, common sense blog that doesn't use swear words to make a point. Respect can be very hip.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Happy--Thanks! that one came to me in revision :-). You're right that big changes generate big fears. And fearful people tend to lash out. So I guess what Ruth and I are trying to do here is calm the waters and let people know it's all right to be a little different. Creativity can't fit into one little mold.

      Delete
  15. Is so nice to hear someone say it's okay to be slow. I think it's so hard with the rapidly changing world of publishing right now for people to not panic and write faster than they are comfortable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Southpaw--Panic is pretty much our most popular sport these days. We have whole news channels dedicated to generating it. We are going through a time rapid change, but humans aren't built for a turbo-charged life. We still need to do the same things to nurture our human spirits that our ancestors did.

      Delete
  16. Wow, Anne, this is such a good post. It's generating lots of terrific comments. I guess from my post last month, I'd be an outliner, but usually I write a rough one before I actually write. Then I work much more slowly to hit all the plot points as I go from scene to scene. One thing that helps is I write short without a lot of description and my chapters aren't much more than 750-1K words. I'm really glad you wrote this one because my novellas just came out in paperback and I've been pressuring myself to keep the momentum up and write another installment. The first pre-writing outline was a disaster. I soon realized I had to think thru the plot more carefully into something l'd want to spend a good amount of time revising--which I always do at least three or four times before submitting to my publisher. I'm very lucky because I'm a JMS Books author and my publisher assigns us an individual editor to work with us once the ms is submitted and the contract signed. Then more editors on her staff read the book to make sure there are no typos, grammar issue and other things that enter the picture unwanted.I'm very lucky indeed but with this post and all the comments made, I'm taking my time on the next installment in my Lovers and Liars series and am not rushing because I think I have to. Whew! I feel so good. Now to listen to some music and read someone else's book. :) Paul

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Paul, I'm glad this lets you give yourself permission to enjoy a day off. You're lucky to be with a traditional publisher who gives you editorial guidance.

      When Heinlein first wrote those rules, I'm sure that's what he was picturing: submitting to a publisher and getting "editorial orders" from a real editor. Then a proofread to follow the revisions. Without editors and proofreaders, we can't have an objective impression of our work. I am totally blind to my own errors. I think most writers are. I believe we owe it to our readers to put out the best possible work.

      Obviously, not all writers agree with me, but I think it's important to note that not all indies have that kind of cavalier attitude.

      Delete
  17. It's not so much permission, as simply knowing that YOU can see the value Anne. Honestly, I like the way you think so much you're like a one-person peer pressure mob. But a nice mob!
    I go both fast and slow when I write, but it's certainly not under my control. I see the tales very much in video- and my ability to skip ahead and write another section is terribly limited. So, when the action immediately ahead is tough, or complex, I think about it for an hour, sit and write- seriously- one sentence, walk away again, come back for another sentence (and a changed word in the previous). Suddenly, I hit a "smooth patch" where I recall well the tale, my vision of it is fresh- kaboom, hundreds of words in a burst faster than I ever type for work. It's like it's not even me. The fog rolls back in, I slow down, nudge, nudge...

    The one thing I would want to add is the eternity of volume, especially for us in "Steerage" (my revision!): write it fast or slow, but once you're happy with it, put it out there and your body of work builds. If the world stays all series-addicted, then your popularity should grow because you will be giving folks a longer head-start on your stuff with every new tale you publish.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Trekelny--Oh no! I don't want to be a "mob". I think most writers have those smooth-sailing patches and sloggy bits. I sure do. Right now my WIP is stalled out completely. But I'm grieving a death in my family and sometimes we're too busy processing a major event that there's no part of the brain left that can create.

      There are certainly two ways to do a series: Spaced well apart while you write the next one, or launched in rapid succession from a pre-written inventory, which is what Hugh Howey did with his Wool series, I think. But waiting until you've written a whole series to launch can be frustrating.

      I agree that "steerage" is probably a better term. Or maybe he was thinking of trains and meant riding in the boxcars like a 1930s tramp.

      Delete
  18. There's so much pressure nowadays to produce, produce, produce in order to earn more and to keep oneself from sinking under the weight of so many books being put out by the month, if not the week. Been there, done that - and what I got out of it was that it was a sure-fire formula for total burnout and sub-par efforts for me.

    I reined myself in for mental health's sake. Re-releases of old books aside, I'm content with publishing two new books per year at most. There's more to life than writing and publishing books, and I'd hate to miss out on what's there. I've also stopped looking at word counts and am happier writing a page a day, whatever number of words that might be. And it's the perfect pace, I'm discovering.

    I do revise as I go along. It's the only way for me to move forward with a story, and it's also something that happens whenever I open my file and reread what I've written so far. Minor corrections here and there, and maybe a deletion and/or addition to strengthen the scene or dialogue. There'll still be revisions after the first draft is done, but they end up being minimal, and my publisher's editor will help me polish the manuscript further as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hayden--It sounds as if you're doing the sensible thing to take care of yourself. Two books a year is still a very good pace, IMO. It sounds as if most of us do write the same way, editing as we go. Like Paul and me, you're also working with a "net". Knowing your publisher is going to give the book a final polish allows you to relax a bit.

      Delete
  19. I feel after this post what I often feel after reading you: Somebody finally got it right and could explain it too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Judith--Thanks! I'm glad the post is doing its job.

      Delete
  20. Thank you for this, Anne.
    I think we think speed is important because we believe that we need to pump out books. But J. D. Salinger wrote one book...what's the title, again? Oh, yeah, The Catcher in the Rye. I bet you knew that, didn't you? And that one book made his career. In fact, it made him so famous that he had to hide. Would that happen today? Would one book make an author's career? Hmm...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Leanne--I ask myself that question often and I don't know the answer. Could a Salinger or Harper Lee or Margaret Mitchell have a career these days? Could they even get published? Writers who put a lifetime of creativity into one great book might never be discovered in this era and that's too bad. We don't really need more books. But we can use more great books like Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird and Gone with the Wind.

      Delete
  21. Oh god, I have to be one of the slowest writers on the planet. Fast only works for me if a particular story idea grabs hold me and says, "WRITE ME!!!". The prevailing sentiment for me is slow. Originally not by choice as like Alex to a smaller degree, I have other things that vie for my attention, like work and family.

    However, these days, slow is a necessity. I have a neuro-muscular disease called Charcot-Marie-Tooth (or CMT for short), that cause my muscles to atrophy. For me, because it has settled in my hands, I suffer greatly from hand fatigue, muscle cramping and deadness. My typing speed is roughly between my daughter's age (13) and my son's age (21), on a good day. My typical output, on a good weekend, is about 75 words per hour (maximum of four hours), which makes for some very long days/weeks/months.

    And because I also print out hard copy as I write, so I can edit/take notes for the 2nd draft, it takes me on average, about 5 months to complete a first draft. To give you an example, I'm currently rewriting a novella. I started this around August/September '13. It is now the beginning of March and I'm only 3/4 of the way through. My goal is finish the 1st draft by the end of April/beginning of May.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. GB--Don't you love it when those "write me!" stories show up? I've written some in a couple of hours. It's like they were written by somebody else.

      But with your disability, those must be very tough. Have you thought of trying to dictate your first draft? You probably have. And you know, maybe the slowness of the typing is the right pace for your particular muse. There's no wrong way. The point is to keep writing, which you're obviously doing. Great!

      Delete
    2. Anne, I do have voice software but at the moment, I'm hip deep in a three year mental block of actually writing with it. For whatever reason, I can't bring myself to do original writing with it. So I have used it for dictation from time to time, but that's about it.

      Delete
  22. I do write slow. First, I'm writing an historical novel based on some real people, so I've taken up a lot of time with research. I will have to do more before I'm done.

    I don't think at word processor speeds, so I do a lot of composing with a mechanical pencil and an eraser. When my thoughts speed up, I move to the computer, but often I draft whole chapters on a clipboard with scratch paper.

    The pressure I feel about speeding up is completely internal. I spent my first career until about four years ago as a journalist/photographer and just couldn't get myself motivated to write at night when I was off duty, so I'm just starting what I consider my life's work. Trouble is, I'm retirement age, so I don't have a whole lifetime to complete the work I want to do.

    Last November, I had about a half a novel written, so I took the challenge hoping I could finish a complete draft (no matter how much editing I would need). By the end of the month, I had my 50,000 words and 3/4 of a novel. So I'm working on the last chapters now. I don't think NaNoWriMo improved my writing, it just allowed me to get deeper into my characters by spending more concentrated time with them. In fact, I realized I had them doing stuff they just wouldn't do, So when I finish these last chapters, I have to go back and adjust.

    Being advised not to edit my work seems pretty darned idiotic to me. Not only will I edit and rewrite (a lot), I'll be sending my book out to a beta reader or two and, when I've completed the changes I choose to make based on their suggestions, I will hire a really good editor. The fact is, I can't see the errors I make because I see what I thought I wrote.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Faith, An awful lot of Boomers are just starting their writing careers so you are not alone. We all feel "Time's winged chariot hovering near", but that's not a reason not to make it as good as it can be, IMO. You're not alone composing with paper and pencil. I've read that Neil Gaiman composes that way.

      Good for you for trying the NaNo experience. If you got deeper into the characters, maybe it was worth trying.

      It's very wise to use beta readers or a critique group before you hire an editor. They can only do so much. And you're right about not seeing our own errors. We know what ws in our heads when we typed, so we can't see what's actually there.

      Delete
    2. "Hurrying near". I meant "hurrying", not "hovering." See, if I'd taken the time to edit...

      Delete
  23. Anne, this is totally spot on. I do like DWS but was also a little thrown by his "never rewrite" line. In the last forty years I've written millions of words, several novels, short stories, and plays--and published very little of it, because I wasn't ready to make anything fit for public consumption, aka rewriting and editing. Some people would call that "growing up," or "getting serious." So I'm a late bloomer--sue me ;)

    You are correct to point out the relationship between writing pace and sanity. Part of learning the craft of writing is learning what is sustainable, that happy 3-way balance between output, quality of writing, and (for lack of a better word) joy. And that, of course, varies from writer to writer.

    I think I can now manage two books per year (unproven, but the groundwork is laid), but I'll be darned if I will risk my joy, my sanity, to churn out more, or to write books without layers or themes or metafictional elements. I might as well write for a Content mill as to do that.

    Freight? Coach? Sometimes I feel grateful to just get a place in the baggage hold, and other times I wanna be the pilot of my own literary Lear jet!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Meg--DWS has done a whole lot for indie authors and he and Kathryn have lots of wise things to say, but "don't revise" is not one of them. I think the vast majority of great literary works were edited and revised. The New Yorker ran an article a decade ago about the great Raymond Carver, showing much of his minimalist "genius" came from his editor, not Carver himself.

      The value of our sanity should not be underrated. I think it's possible to be a writer and still keep it!

      I think we all secretly picture ourselves in that Lear jet. :-)

      Delete
  24. Disagreeing with DWS in public? How daring! I tried it once and barely escaped with my neck. I still glance over my shoulder periodically, on the lookout for pitchforks and nooses.

    I believe Oscar was being facetious, as he seemed to have been 99% of the time. But he also lived in a different era, as did Robert A. Heinlein. In 1947, rewriting was a pain in the rear. You couldn't reword or move things around without redoing the whole dang thing. Until the 1990s, cutting and pasting was literally cutting and pasting, and if you missed a keystroke on your final draft, well, have fun retyping the entire page. Heinlein and his peers might well have wasted weeks on simple edits that didn't improve the quality of the end product enough to justify the time sink.

    But today, the mechanics of rewriting is a non-issue. It's a mental effort only--and one many people are too impatient to make. Good for you for taking the time to make sure you're producing quality work, without succumbing to the pressure to pound the keys and get 'em out, get 'em out, get 'em out.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Tamara--I know I'm taking a chance. Twitchforks will be rattling soon if they aren't already. Sorry you got attacked by a cybermob. People who follow blindly without thinking for themselves can be so dangerous

    Of course Mr. Wilde was making a great joke. Irony was his medium. He was making fun of exactly the kind of thing I'm warning against. Falling in love with one's own "genius" is never a good idea.

    You make a major point I should have thought of--rewriting on a typewriter was a tremendous pain. I'm old enough to remember when we had to literally cut and paste. And OMG if you were typing with carbons... so Heinlein wasn't just writing rules for people with editors, he was writing for people who had to buy another ream of paper and a new typewriter ribbon and spend weeks putting in each change.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Love this. I write slow in part because I enjoy writing. I also eat slowly because I enjoy food.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me too. People hate to go to restaurants with me, because they're ready to go when I'm still working on my salad. I've had to seek out other slow eaters. But since every calorie puts about ten pounds on my aging body, I figure I should enjoy each and every one. And since I'm a whole lot closer to grave than cradle, I have no desire to speed up the process. :-)

      Delete
  27. I was happy to read this post. Just yesterday I was listening to one of those self-publishing podcasts where the woman being interviewed stated "Oh, you need to have a back list of at least eight books to make the most money..."
    Maybe if I was writing an eight-part serial where each book was about 10K words each, that might work. Sure, I'd be able to push out a book a month if I was doing that. However, that's not how I write.
    I also participated in NaNoWriMo. I learned a great deal about myself as a writer from the experience. But the first draft I ended up with at the end of November was, to put it "politely," a cluster****. I'm still revising it, and it's March! I don't care! I don't want to put out a sub-par product. There is no way on Earth I could have even considered publishing that mess as it was. I would have been ashamed to turn it in to an editor as well, and not because it was rife with spelling or grammar mistakes, but because the plot had craters in it!
    When I publish my book, I want to make certain its the best it can be, and if that means I can "only" manage about three books in 2014, so be it.
    And you're quite right about editing as you go; I think that's the best method for getting words on paper that you won't actually trash after several revisions.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. SB--I don't think you need 8 books in the hopper before you start, although that's what the big success stories like Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey did. I do feel you need at least two before you publish (unless you're a hobbyist writer, which is fine) But it's very very hard to publicize one book while trying to write your second and a singleton book isn't likely to sell unless you've got a big publishing house behind you. Give yourself some learning time before you jump into the marketplace. It's a tough world out here. Nurture your muse and your creative self before you become a professional. Just the way you would if you were learning any other craft. I think you're doing it the right way.

      Delete
  28. What a great post! Thank you!

    I've always admired the speed at which Dean can write :) It truly amazes me. Although I've never participated in any of his workshops, from reading his blog, I suspect what he means is not rewriting a WIP to the death and eventually letting it out in the big wide world (after you've tied its shoe laces, wiped the snot from its face, and cleaned the dribble from its clothes).

    I'm so glad to read that you're also a 1000-2000 word a day writer, as are a lot of the writers who commented. I know many other authors who average this as well. Some days, I only make it to 500 (like today).

    Does knowing how fast other authors can write make me feel inadequate? It used to. But I know the writer in me better now :) I am a pantser and proud of it (although I do know how my novels start and kinda how they end before I start them!), I edit as I write (I once tried to pen out a new scene without editing the stuff I'd written the day before. Didn't go anywhere fast), and I write about 500-2000 words on a good day. On a great day, the fastest I got was 3500: these are usually end-of-novel writing days, when I just HAVE to type "The End".

    Although I've never formally participated in NanoMo, I kinda did my own NanoMo last November. I took the whole month off, locked myself in my house, and aimed to finish my third novel. I wrote about 46000 words in that month, while editing and rewriting, and made my deadline. Needless to say, the weight piled on and I looked like I might "sparkle" in the sunlight like a certain Twilight character when I came out of the house ;)

    I think everyone needs to discover what kind of writer they are. That only comes with putting the hours in, trying different things, and reviewing what you've learned from your various experiences. There's no point forcing yourself to be someone you cannot be and feel miserable about it when you fail. You must always strive to improve but you must also recognize when you've done your best.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. AD--I'm in awe of DWS too. If there were an Olympic writing team, he'd be on it. My only problem is that newbies feel they should to try his feats at home. Every artist needs time to learn the craft. Rushing to publish can lead to heartbreak.

      And trying to become a copy of somebody else instead of your own, authentic self is not the way to be a successful anything.

      I have lots of 500 word days. And those 500 are only blog comments. :-)

      Delete
  29. I am a slow writer, but I'm also a binge writer. No daily word count, but eventually I finish a first draft. And then I rewrite, probably too much. That's just the way it works best for me.

    All these experts who make rigid pronouncements about what's/who's good and what's/who's bad give me a headache.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I used to be a binge write, but I can't these days because my back and fingers can't take those 12 hour days at the keyboard. But I guess that's what I was trying to say--be yourself, no matter what speed that requires.

      Delete
  30. i think that if i was the type of writer that wrote full length novels, i would agree that slower is better. But I find my sweet spot is anywhere between 5-30,000. Not more. I'd go crazy editing more than that. Since I write shorter, I tend to write faster. It goes hand in hand in some cases.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. writery--Novellas are the new way to get more titles out there, and I think it's a great idea. We ran a post on how novellas are the hot new genre a couple of weeks ago. If that's your natural sweet spot, you're way ahead of the game.

      Delete
  31. Excellent breakdown of what the issues really are ... bravo!

    ReplyDelete
  32. Anne, this post really spoke to me. I am a very slow writer. I crank out a first draft during NaNo, but I take a looooong time to edit. Thank goodness. I do feel a slight amount of pressure to produce more work quickly, but I'm not going to drive myself crazy doing that.

    Case in point: today I planned on editing my current book. Sisters called. Let's get the family together. So I dropped everything and spent the day with family. The book will get finished. Life must be lived!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Julie--I think more writers are "slow" than admit it. But the gurus keep saying you have to crank out a book a month, so writers who can't keep quiet about it.

      Driving oneself crazy doesn't not seem a good career plan to me, although I realize their are differing opinions. :-)

      But for me, it's human connections that matter most, and you can't connect with many actual humans if you're writing and promoting 18 hours a day .

      Delete
    2. "Does not" seem a good career plan, not "doesn't not". It's late. Go to bed, Anne. :-)

      Delete
  33. Fab post, Anne! If I didn't think I'd be able to revise later, I'd be too scared to write the first draft at all. It's only by saying to myself: "I can fix it in draft 2" that I can grind out draft 1.

    I am a very slow writer, and I've always felt inadequate about that when I read the prevailing advice. I write historical mysteries, which is like a double-whammy for slowness: the research, and the meticulous plotting. Throw in there that I'm a former academic, and it can be a struggle when I can't find out something definitively.

    Your post was very reassuring; I'll keep moving things along as quickly as I can, but if the story needs more time, I have to trust that process. Thanks for the insight!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. KB--Very good point. Most of us would be petrified of writing at all if we didn't think we'd have a chance to revise.

      And historical novels take much longer to write, period. Comparing them with episodes in a contemp. series is comparing apples and oranges. It would be wrong if you DIDN'T take time to research and get every detail right. And I hear you about coming from academia. Even though I've never taught at the University level, both my parents were PhDs who taught at Ivy colleges, so I was taught to take my research seriously, even when I'm writing contemporary comedies. My current book involves the discovery of the body of Richard III, and the research is taking forever.

      Delete
  34. I'm not a writer; I'm an editor. And I can tell the difference in the writing of slow v. fast, edited v. not edited. If someone has given his/her manuscript a quick once-over for typos but hasn't really done revisions to strengthen it, it makes my job a lot more difficult. Sometimes it's more subtle and sometimes more blatant, but it's always spot-able.

    Thanks for a nicely argued post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lynda--Thanks for weighing in. I was hoping to hear from some editors. I know a lot of you get unpolished first draft NaNo books dumped on you and it can be a monumental task trying to shape them into anything readable. I once had somebody show up with a plastic bag full of cassette tapes and ask me to "edit" them into a book. That's not editing, it's ghostwriting. And some of those speed-written piles can be pretty much the same. An editor can't do everything. The book needs to be workable to begin with.

      Delete
  35. Authors are used to having the definitive view of their world, but when they think they can be as judgemental about the real world and about people they haven't created then they can come off as arrogant and self-important, which is what I think both Maass and Smith are suffering from in their respective statements. You can't condense the whole world of writing to three classes and you can't prescribe the same method for every writer. Although it does make for better copy when you do.

    mood
    Moody Writing

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mooderino--I tried to skirt around that in a polite way, but they did both come across like a couple of bulls fighting over territory. Some of us don't like being treated like "territory." I think they both have a problem with simplistic, "one-size-fits-all" thinking.

      Delete
  36. I missed the original debate over this so I'm glad for the recap. Like you, there were points on both sides of the fence I identify with and I think the commentary on speed is a really important reminder. We need to write, learn, evolve at our own pace - what's best for us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Katie--The problem is they both lump all writers into the same category, no matter what their level of expertise. We all need to learn. And we need to be allowed to do that at our own pace. The Kindleboards and FB writer groups are full of people who interpret the DWS gospel to mean anybody who doesn't throw an unedited first draft up on Amazon at least once a month isn't "professional.' Nothing could be farther from the truth.

      Delete
  37. I love this post. This is one of my favorites and speaks to me on many different levels. I wholeheartedly agree with the lack of editing and this need for speed. I am sharing with my writer's group and letting myself relax into a reasonable writing speed. I'm thrilled to have you say writer's can have a LIFE outside of writing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tam--Oh, good. Do relax. And share. I really appreciate you spreading the word. I think there's been too much bad information circulating recently.

      Delete
  38. Hi Anne, great thoughts. More and more, I read some of these "rules" and then promptly ignore them. Writers who write about writing must come up with new rules to be followed, or they will cease to have material to write about! For every rule out there, there is a counter-opinion. I am learning to read them, consider them and then move on. Otherwise, as a writer, I get too easily obsessed with some expert's "rules" and am paralyzed as a writer. Too many shoulds.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Julie--You're right that rules can be paralysing. I think it's good to remember Somerset Maugham's quote "there are three rules of writing; unfortunately, nobody knows what they are." So proceed at your own pace and ignore them all.

      Delete
  39. I write faster now than I did earlier in my career but when I worked a full time job and wrote, it took me about a hear to finish a book. Not sure how it will go now that I write full time. I try to have a live away from the keyboard also. There are a lot of elitist attitudes out there about how books should be created.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Susan--I wrote you a long response that the Blogger elves seem to have eaten. But I think you should feel very proud of getting out a book a year, especially with a full time job! And yes, I don't think we can be great writers if we're not experiencing actual life experiences.

      Delete
  40. I'm glad you wrote this just so that I don't feel like an utter failure for not pumping out complete books in a month or two. I thought that was just me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mardra--As you can see from the comments in this thread (and there are also a bunch on Google Plus) it's not just you! (Or me.) Humans need to live at human speed. We are not robots. The fact some writers can work at robot speed is lovely for them, but books can (and must) be created differently by each creator. And newbies must take the time to learn craft before becoming professionals.

      Delete
  41. Here's a comment from Beth Havey of Boomer Highway. Blogger is being very weird today. It's eaten two of my comments as well:

    I'm a slow writer. I take my time. I read through what I have written and then go back and edit, change, enlarge, rework. When a writer publishes 3-4 books a year, I feel strongly they have someone else helping them do the work. Beth Havey

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Beth--Blogger is being really squirrely today. Sorry.

      You have a point. Many of the big name trad pubbed authors like James Patterson and Janet Evanovich who come out with multiple books a year are working with collaborators. Others may be writing novella-length books or they're writing in a series where the characters and formula are well established.

      Delete
  42. Here's another comment that arrived via email:

    Loved the post. I had heard about a writer who wrote, maybe 10,000 words a day, who never revised or re-read her work and was an E market best seller. I'm always impressed with success, so I purchased a book. URGH! I slogged a little over halfway through the book and completely changed sides and was rooting for the bad king to just finish the job and kill the heroine. It was obvious the author never re-read her work. She used the same scene over an over, changing only the entities who were trying to off her. What a waste, in every sense of the word. I'll plug along, working on my ms to read to my tough critique partners, and count myself lucky AND happy.

    JoAnne Lucas

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. JoAnne--Thanks! That does reinforce what a lot of us have been thinking. I have to admit I shy away from books by authors who claim to be that prolific. If they don't even want to read their own books, why would I? There are too many great, polished books out there that I haven't read yet.

      Delete
  43. Loved the post. I haven't read too many people that have gone in depth about the speed of your writing. It always seems like the basis is fast and accurate, two things that can be hard to do together. Myself, I do set a word count for everyday, but I don't let it be my demand. If I hit it great, if I don't, that is also ok. I just try to get the story out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is good to do whatever gets butt in chair every day. I try to fill three pages, so that's a bit like word count, but it's not a high word count, obviously. And some days nothing comes. That's when I know I've got a plot problem or I'm trying force a character to do something they wouldn't do. Time for more thinking, not more typing. But an outliner probably doesn't run into those problems as much as a panster.

      Delete
  44. As a reader, I tire of reading books that are churned out according to formula. Reminds me too much of Hollywood. What is the difference between Jason Bourne, James Bond, and Jack Reacher anyway? If an author has something important to say, it doesn't matter if they say it in 3 months or 24, just say it well.
    As a writer, it's taken me 15 years to go from first word to taking the self-publishing plunge. That delay is more due to sloth and fear than anything else. I have to say that it's the "write faster" crowd that has motivated me to get it done.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gary--Funny how they all have J-names, isn't it? I have to admit, I'm not an action movie fan. I tell people "Three hours of watching Matt Damon running and jumping from rooftops isn't as entertaining to me as it is to most people. I like talking." I'm more of a Downton Abbey type. But I know people who like action movies find it a total snore.

      I think that's the real message I'm trying to get across here: different strokes for different folks. Some people write slow, deep literary works and other write shoot 'em up and bang action stuff. Both are valid. What's not valid is telling the other guy he's wrong if he's not like you.

      But if you're a perfectionist/procrastinator, sometimes a little motivation from the other side helps. Glad to hear you're finally getting your work out there!

      Delete
  45. Thank you for this post. I'm a slow writer, mainly because I do a lot of editing as I go. By the time I throw up my hands and call time, it's the equivalent of another writer's 4th or 5th draft. I appreciate you normalizing this. There's so much pressure to crank up the daily word count and I think this has resulted in a lot of self published books being turned loose in the wild well before they are ready. I read a lot and I've never had a "Did Not Finish" until recently. Now, I have a stack of them. Poorly constructed sentences, an overabundance of adverbs, adjectives and the word "said" seems to be a distant memory, ditched in favor of growled, snarled, snapped, smiled and grinned. The writing in my DNF stack is so subpar that I have no clue what the plot is supposed to be and I usually give a book about 5 chapters to work its charm and draw me in. My 10th grade Honors English teacher would have failed all of them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Teresa--I have had that experience with "not ready for prime time" books, too. Big DNF pile. We have similar pet peeves.Mostly I hate reading a book on an e-reader when I keep having to go back and try to make sense of things because they aren't clear. That's the #1 job an editor has: to make the story clear to the reader. What's clear in the writer's head doesn't always make it to the page.

      Now I always check the peek inside feature and reject about 90%. I admit I'm picky. After working as an editor, I can't bear a lot of things that probably don't bother the average reader, but why not make the book enjoyable for everybody?

      Delete
  46. Thank you, Anne, for the other perspective on this subject. I'm a fan of DWS's "write fast", but I don't publish at the speed of some others.
    Last year I wrote three novels, but only one of them was published, because the other two need re-drafting (I'm halfway through the first of these now, and boy! it's hard, because it's historical, and I need to add just the right amount of detail, and...)
    Time is always going to be an issue. I can throw words onto the page 1000 an hour, and when I'm rolling I can keep that up for a few hours, easy.
    But I spend a huge amount of time beforehand working out the structure of my novels, and when the first draft is over I spend more time thrashing out the problems. Sifting colour onto the page. Working out why my characters have developed alternative lives, and moving them back on track.
    As for wordcount, I'll ease up when I reach 70K. Even though I know there's probably another 30k left to write before the story is finished, there's also about 20k that will come out, and I'm happier when I have an end product I can prune instead of snipping off bits as I write.
    That said, I'd like to write shorter novels... must try harder :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lee--The thing I'm learning most from this thread is that every writer works differently, and we should do whatever works.

      Some write fast, then edit slowly. Some write slow and edit as they go. It's certainly not either/or. Both equally valid.

      But the write fast/never edit school doesn't seem the best learning method for those of us who don't have the same gifts as Mr. Smith. And I'll bet he had some time to learn to write before he jumped into the "no editing" pool.

      Delete
  47. I am slow, slow, slow. A slow writer, reader and editor. I just volunteered to read 140 manuscripts to be considered for an anthology. I admitted to my slow reading even though I was a bit embarrassed because I did not want the pressure if I didn't. And, I am now editing a manuscript that I thought was a pretty clean first draft. Yikes! Plot problems, motive problems. How embarrassing it would have been had I released it as is. Yikes, again! Great advice, Anne. And I agree, we can all afford to slow down in just about every aspect of our lives.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Christine, you are so brave to read 140 manuscripts! I think I'd start to cry after 50. I'm such a slow reader. But I guess you'll find out how agents feel.

      Plot holes! Boy do I hate reading a book with plot holes. Especially my own. Luckily, I have an good critique group :-)

      Delete
  48. Anne, you've done it again. You walk inside our brains and make us all feel better about what we do, try to do, and sometimes actually finish doing.

    There are hundreds ... no thousands of examples over the last few years of fast and slow ... the good, the bad and the very ugly of both schools. Tripe is often produced in both speeds and in all genres ... in all venues ... indie and Random House equally give us s_ _ t we could have left alone and read the comics instead.

    I love your take on slow, and like a very wise man wrote with the tortoise and the hare ... slow and steady often does win the race ... if we are foolish enough to think of this as a race, a competition or a game we think we can win.

    Thanks :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fois--Thanks! You're right that my message is as old as Aesop. And that it isn't a race at all. Or a contest.

      Some great books, like A Christmas Carol were produced at lightning speed (and written with a feather!) And lots of lousy books take dozens of years. I spent a decade, on and off, working on a book with a premise that just didn't fly.

      Delete
  49. Thank you, Anne. I hate the pressure of feeling like I have to write fast. It locks me up, creatively speaking. While I can whip out a first draft to get the basic plot down, my 2nd draft is where I add depth and it takes a lot longer to accomplish. Sometimes I think it makes more sense to write an entire series before publishing the first book, just so you can deal with voracious reader appetites without getting an ulcer. Voracious beta readers/critique partners as well. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  50. Joyce--NOT getting an ulcer is such a great plan. (My personal demon is IBS--when I get overloaded, my digestive system lets me know, and it's not subtle.) I think having an series of short, linked novels ready to go would be the ideal way to start a career.

    They used to tell you not to write more than one book in a series before you queried, because you wanted to make sure publishers wanted the first one. But with self-publishing, that's no longer important. If publishers don't want it, publish the series yourself, one book every three months. Then, if you still want to go trad, write something closer to what's trending while you're building a readership. And by then, your series idea will probably be back in style, anyway. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  51. A comment from Neils Knudsen:

    Thanks for that blog. I am a slow writer, reader and a newbie in creative writing. I've put my WIP through two editors, two critique groups as well as friends and relatives. It took 3 years to do that. I learned a lot. I'm very happy with the end product, but my biggest fear is to be picked up by a publisher who immediately demands the next book be ready tomorrow.

    It ain't gonna happen. So, I'm going to self publish. I am aware that if my book does well there will be demand for the next in the series. I'll do my best, but it will still take two years to go through that writing, editing and review process.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Niels--As frustrating as it seems, 3 years isn't very long to learn to be a writer. I'm going to urge you not to publish until you have a second novel at least in draft form. (Unless you don't plan a career in writing and this is a one-off.) All the self-publishing marketers agree it's almost impossible to sell a singleton title. You're asking for disappointment. None of the successful self-publishers did it with one title.

      It's true that agents don't want singleton titles either. They mostly want authors to have several books in the hopper before querying. It seems like it will take forever, but I promise you the next book will be easier. And so will the one after that.

      But if you do only feel you have one book in you and you're doing this for fun, not profit, then embrace the hobbyist role and have a blast with a big launch and have fun. More on that in my post on the value of writing as a hobby.

      Delete
  52. Good thoughts. It reminds me a little of a friend of mine, whose motto in life is "live slow and prosper." :-)

    It's usually presumptuous for anybody to tell other people how to write, as if there's only one way to do it.

    Some people outline, some people don't. Some people have to write page a day. Some people have fits of mad output followed by dry times.

    People are different and that's okay.

    It's one thing to have rules and standards for the final product, but it's another to try to create rules for how to get there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Crowhill--I love it: "LIVE SLOW AND PROSPER!" We need that on a bumper sticker!

      Lots of wisdom in your comment. Each of us has our own path. I'm amazed at how many people prefer to be bullied into following somebody else's.

      Delete
  53. Telling someone who "wants to write" to "write slow" is giving them a reason to NOT write or "wait for the muse." Few famous writers of the past only wrote a couple times a week or a month or waited for their muse.

    Today readers want fast paced writing style. And frankly, with all the garbage hitting the self-published e-shelves, I think readers want someone who actually edited their work. No writer likes the idea of editing. But that's a fact of life. Do you think the great guitar gods gave up practicing after their first album? No. If they did, they'd have dropped into obscurity.

    Writing is editing. Writing often all the time is paramount, whether fast or slow...steady and always. Anything else is just a bookworm who wants to write.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rene--I'm not sure you read the same post I wrote. Writing slow--a few thousand words a day--isn't the same as not writing at all. What an odd interpretation. Hard to know how to respond.

      But I'm glad you agree that editing is important.

      Delete
  54. Waiting for the Muse is like Waiting for Godot.

    I have read books from presses both big and small that could have used another rewrite. As has been said over and over again, there are some that can produce gold the moment the y put word to the page. Most of use produce crap that has to polished.

    http://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/mythbusters/videos/polishing-a-turd-minimyth.htm

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jesse--This is feeling kind of creepy. I didn't use the words "waiting for the muse" anywhere in my post. Now two commenters are arguing against something I never said.

      What I actually said is that writing slow and steady works for a lot of professional writers like me who edit as they go. But some writers need a NaNo pace to "let their muse loose on the page" (only time I mentioned "muse")

      HOWEVER, not editing that speed-written product in order to speed up the publishing process is something I don't recommend, and in that I differ from DWS.

      Delete
  55. Anne: Another great post. I read DWS too and ignore the "don't rewrite" stuff because he also reminds us we're all different. What's good for some (the woman in my class who rewrote the same chapter over and over every week) doesn't work for others. And Hugh Howey wrote a blog post last week titled, "My writing sucks," because he must improve that first draft. I do about a book a year, and the only reason I have nine novels on Amazon is because I started so long ago. I often quote your line, "Kindle no book before its time," because the goal always has to be to make it the best you can. We do get better with practice (as in anything) but I won't put out work until I think I fixed all flaws. All the thinking, plotting and research are part of writing too and slows us down.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Phyllis--I agree with so much of what he says. I still think his blog is one of the best ones for indies around. And you're right that perfectionists who rewrite the same thing over and over aren't doing themselves any favors. And they're offering a reason for justifiable homicide to their critique group. :-)

      Kindle no book before its time is a good motto. I'd forgotten I said that! We need it on a sampler. True: the actual writing is a small part of the process.

      Delete
  56. This post speaks to me. I have read so much pap lately that frankly, I do not see how it got published (and this includes novels ostensibly written by well-known authors). I suppose if one's primary concern is making a living with his or her writing, the pressure is there to write fast and write often. This is probably why the writers that history remembers are those who did not write for this reason. I suppose every writer would like to derive financial benefit from his craft (you don't write to worsen your lot in life), but, in my mind, the primary focus of a writer should be that he has a story to tell and cannot rest until it is told.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. DRJ--There is indeed too much sub-par stuff getting published right now, by indies and trads alike. People are told that if they just put enough stuff out there, regardless of quality, they will prosper. But many don't. I've seen their laments in many writing forums and threads.

      I've also seen readers' anti-author backlash in places like Amazon and Goodreads, because they have read so much trash, and the authors behave like amateurs when they get called on it by reviewers. (Not that all bad reviews reflect bad books. Many "reviewers" are just snark machines these days.)

      On the other hand, some enduring authors did write fast (especially considering they used feathers dipped in ink.) Dickens and Anthony Trollope put out great books at a pretty amazing pace considering their lack of technology. But they had professional editors and proofreaders. Even their stuff would probably not have endured, if they'd tossed it out into the marketplace unedited.

      Delete
  57. I'm very impressed by the depth and intelligence displayed in this post. You're brilliant, Anne, as always. Perhaps Maass and Smith should have spent more time editing and revising their own posts so they didn't come out looking like such giant arses.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lexa--Thanks! I've been waiting for somebody to mention my reference to Caesar's Gallic Wars. ("All Gaul is divided into three parts.") LOL. Of course, that doesn't show I'm smart--it shows my father was a Latin professor. But yes, I think neither man took time to think things through. But look how much less drama we'd have if people edited themselves and did a little less leaping and a little more looking! Conflict drives stories, and they provided plenty, so I guess I should be grateful.

      Delete
  58. I'm a slow writer and if that means I'll miss the boat, well, then I'll take the next one. Thanks for the thoughtful, interesting post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Christa--Great way to put it! There WILL always be another boat. Unless you're writing to a trend that's so big now that it will be over next week (never a good plan, anyway) there will always be time. My mom published her first novel at age 87, and enjoyed every part of the process.

      Delete
    2. Anne, congratulations to your mom. What a wonderful achievement!

      Delete
    3. Thanks, Christa, She died in December at age 92, but she published two wonderful novels that will live for a long time after she's gone. She was a remarkable lady. As my sister said, "She approached retirement as a competitive sport". Nothing ever got her down. And when she was ready to go, she went. We're still grieving, but we know she lived life to the fullest and on her own terms.

      Delete
  59. Wonderful post. I wasn't aware of the "verbal contretemps" Dean Wesley Smith got into with Donald Maass. I agree that they've both managed to do a disservice to the writing community.

    I wholeheartedly agree that we should write however it brings us joy. I'm still learning. I read a lot of writing blogs. And I write a lot slower than I used to. I'm still unpublished.

    I knew nothing about writing when I wrote my first book in four months, running on pure passion for the story I was setting to words. I've spent nearly ten years since, rewriting it, trying to get it right. It's been a positive experience. After realizing how bad the writing was (not the story, the writing) I put myself in sponge mode and learned. Hence my slower writing now.

    Editing? I won't publish a book until I have it right--with the help of a freelance editor. But I do read many, many books that make me want to email the author and tell them that they have a great story that's being highjacked by poor editing--or no editing.

    I'm babbling now. Time to go. Oh, I want to mention that I found my way here via Elizabeth Varadan's blog. She'd posted a link along with high recommendations for this post. A good call on her part.

    ReplyDelete
  60. Teresa--Thanks much for the heads-up about Elizabeth Varadan's blog. I've just popped over there. You're so right that story can flow long before we have the tools to do it justice. I hope you saw Ruth Harris's post last week with a bunch of great self-editing tricks. Good luck with your book!

    As I keep saying, the first draft is for the writer, and the final draft is for the reader. If we don't make the manuscript as clear as possible for the READER, we don't have a good book, no matter how much fun we had spilling it on paper.

    ReplyDelete
  61. Oy-- that was not a great comment about not rewriting. To me, 90% of the work is rewriting. And you know I'm with you on the SLOW train for blogs, short stories, and all of it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nina--Not rewriting is one of the DWS articles of faith, but I do think it's bad advice for most writers, especially newbies. As one commenter said, if we don't know that it's okay to write crap, and anything can be fixed in the rewrite, then many writers would feel paralyzed and never write a word. Thanks for the Tweets and shares. We need to spread the SLOW word!

      Delete
  62. I have traditionally been a slower writer. My last novel (as yet unpublished) required significant research and so it took several years to write. After I finished it and began looking for an agent, I realized that the traditional publishing world had been turned upside down by independent publishing. I also realized that I was writing much slower than most other writers. As an experiment, I started an e-book, which I finished and self-published in less than two months. It was a novella of around 18,500 words. True, it required little to no research but I still realized that if I wrote with speed in mind, I could do it. Nevertheless, I never could have written the first book I had (the full-length novel) without all the research, which required a lot of time. I don't regret it even if the book hasn't been published yet. I don't think the question should be do you write fast or slow; I think the question needs to be: Did you take as much time as you needed to write something you're proud of.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Joe--You're so right: some books take much longer to write because of research, complexity of plot and many other factors. Writing a novelization of a Star Trek episode, is not the same as writing a book like Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. Books take different times to read, as well. I'm going to read that Star Trek book at a faster pace than a literary masterpiece where every word has nuanced meaning. But most of the people in the speed-writing camp hate literary fiction, so they don't think anybody should write carefully chosen words with nuanced meaning. Which is why their opinion doesn't matter to me much. Keep working on your Big Book and don't put it out until it's as good as YOU want it. You're so right that it needs to be something you're proud of. Whether that means getting a traditional publisher or hiring an editor, do what's best for the book--and for you.

      Delete
  63. Thanks so much for this post! I'm a slow writer too, and sometimes I'm afraid I'm getting left behind in the dust.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Connie--I know that feeling. People love to put down other people on the Web for not being exactly like them. And there's so much either/or, black/white thinking. People who spend their days finding fault with other writers probably aren't doing a whole lot of writing anyway. I plug away at my WIP and try to stay away from snark infested waters. Slow and steady still wins the race.

      Delete
  64. Thank you for this encouraging and insightful post. I have used NaNoWriMo a few times, but I have discovered that the product is more like an extremely wordy outline than anything I would want anyone to read. NaNoWriMo helps me get the basic ideas for a story out on the page, and then I'm in for a full re-write -usually scrapping everything except 5-10 chapters and a few bits and pieces of dialogue or description. Most people don't want to scrap their first draft like that, but I find that it works for. My second and third drafts are where the story really comes together. I'm self-published, and I think we all need to write more than one draft, no matter who we are.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tyrean--that's pretty much what happened to me. "Wordy outline" is a perfect description. It also didn't make sense as a story, since I went off on a tangent that couldn't be worked into the completed novel. The book is still half-written--a mess I may never be able to salvage. I do admire people who can write great novels in a month, but I never could, and I don't personally know anybody who can.

      But I don't personally know Justin Beiber, either, and there is evidence he exists :-) So I'm willing to suspend disbelief. But I don't think the average new writer should be told they can write a book in a month and never rewrite it and have something a reader would want to buy.

      Delete
  65. I'm definitely a slow reader and writer. I can read faster sometimes but I really have to put out the effort and sometimes it can be off-putting. I tried writing a bigger word count than I was used to for a ghostwriting gig and for the first few days it worked. But then I fell into a slump literally unable to write a word. I learned my lesson after that burn out and proportion myself much better. Alex is definitely a great example for writers. The only thing I don't do rewrites for is fan fiction and that's because it's for fun and I focus almost solely on story and spelling. But I do have a few special ones that I look over more thoroughly before I post them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sheena-kay--Everybody's capacity for sitting on one's butt and stressing the old carpal tunnels is different. It's not just what the brain can do at one sitting, it's what the body can do. I'm not a big fan of abusing our bodies, since most of us have only been issued the one. :-) So for a ghostwriting gig that's not even your "baby" it's silly to stress yourself. Sounds like you figured that one out.

      Fan fiction is a different animal, and I'm sure readers expectations are different. If it's all for fun and nobody's paying for it, I don't think you'd need to polish the way you would for the marketplace. You just want it to be good enough that you don't embarrass yourself.

      Delete
  66. I think it is all relative - writers who are full-time writers theoretically should be able to write a couple novels a year (1000 words/day = 365,000 words). Even if you take off a few weeks, you should still break the 300,000 barrier each year, which works out to around three 100,000 word novels.

    For those of us who are part-timers with day jobs and families and other commitments, I think a book a year (and maybe a couple short stories thrown in for good measure) is pretty decent output.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. James--You're absolutely right that it's all relative. And I don't believe there are any "shoulds". Somebody writing a novelization of a Star Trek episode is going to write faster than somebody writing a long, nuanced literary novel like The Goldfinch--no matter how many other obligations they have. Creative writing isn't the same as typing, which some of these "gurus" seem to imply.

      Delete
  67. I am happy that 18 months after having the opportunity to move an occasional hobby forward, I am still learning as a writer. 500 words per day, alongside my other duties/responsibilities and the like gives me a good number of words per month to play with. I've had flash, written in 20 minutes, sell; its a blast! But I know I don't have the story writing chops yet, and am happy to be learning them. Thanks for a good article.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Stuart--It sounds as if you're doing it just right! Even Tiger Woods didn't win his first golf tournament. Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to learn to do something well. Keep at it. You're on the road to success!

      Delete

We LOVE comments, but we can't allow anonymous ones because of spam problems (like hundreds a day). If you have a WordPress blog ID, try signing into Wordpress before you comment with that ID. If you have trouble commenting, email your comment to Anne at annerallen dot allen at gmail dot com and she'll post it for you.