Someone asked me how fast I write; I think what they mean is, how fast should they write.
People are seldom worried about writing too fast; rather, the concern is, Am I writing too slow? What are publisher expectations? My advice is to write at a good pace, challenging yourself to move with more trust through your material (a little faster, that is). Publishers will want you to build a readership, and this is hard to do with a book every three years.
When Not to Write Fast
Sometimes life dictates writing speed. You are caring for an aged parent or young children. You’ve been laid off and the job hunt is consuming. You know what I mean. There truly are times in your life when you can only get a half a page a day, and we don’t need to beat ourselves up over this. But our lives will likely always be too busy, so if you want to be a writer, eventually you gotta make room for it. Put butt in chair. And stay there.
What’s in your excuse bucket? How do you justify spending only a couple hours this week writing? Mine used to be–for many years, I’m embarrassed to admit–that mornings were my absolute best times, and if the morning got eaten by the dog or a dental appointment, then in the afternoon I would fuss on the internet or poke at editing. (Yeah, those were bad years. I even broke my cardinal rule about rewriting unfinished manuscripts.) These were excuses. I was pretending to write. Make out a list of reasons why you can only write X number of pages a day. Take a hard look. These may be your writing demons.
Look, I’m not a saint, and neither are you. Sometimes we drive to the coffee shop and order the largest cinnamon role in the joint. We bring our laptop and dink around on the web, trying not to get crumbs in the keyboard. These things happen.
But then we go home, turn off the phone and get four pages while the spaghetti sauce is simmering. Thus the magic of the weekly page count. If I promise myself 25 draft pages a week and by Thursday I only have twelve . . . Friday and Saturday I’ll have an iron butt.
Style, Voice, and the Siren Call of Good Writing
Is writing an artistic endeavor for you? Oh boy. How’s the weather on your planet?
If you’re striving for lovely prose and stylistic invention, then you’re writing literary fiction. Such attention to the way things are said in a novel may stretch the endeavor to three years–or thirty. You’re up against some mighty stylists. Are you sure you want to do this? But that’s a topic for another day.
If you’re writing commercial fiction in the sense that you don’t hope to be in the running for the Man Booker prize, then you gotta get a grip on that runaway voice. That brilliant metaphor? Unless it’s swift and sure–and oh so apropos–cut it. The self-conscious phrasing that sets you apart? Cut. Even fine writing can annoy a potential publisher. If it calls attention to itself, it’s in the way. I’m not going into a style primer here, but suffice it to say that direct, simple, clear are words of high praise from an editor.
So, question is, if you’re a slow writer, is it because you’re spending a lot of time combing the words instead of combing the story?
OK, now I’ll answer the question. I write six pages a day. Bear in mind, that’s for a full-time writer with a fifteen pound cat in her lap. You can probably do way better. As for me, it hasn’t been easy emptying the bucket of excuses, and I do have a bad back. But I’ve also published ten novels, and in the end? Yeah, so worth it.