Writing faster seems to be something that is dominating the conversation around writing lately. Like many of you I’ve been a working writer for 25 years and have had more than 100 books published. I’ve always been a “quick” writer compared to others. When I first started writing I heard comments about how I was “churning out books,” which made me try for one book to slow down my writing process. The thing was, I couldn’t. The story comes to me in a way that flows out of my fingers quickly. That’s just the way I am.
Recently, I was on a Zoom call with a group of authors and editors who work with one of my publishers, and the discussion turned to how to write faster. This isn’t the first time I’ve been around this conversation where writers as a group are talking about their process and how they need to write faster.
Faster doesn’t mean better or even more money. I guess if you have eight books out a year instead of four you would net more money overall. But for me, my books tend to earn out the same amount. Occasionally, I’ll get a boost from a three-book series, but for the most part (other than some small, incremental increases) my readers are finding my books and buying them. Regardless of whether I have three books out in a year (2021) or eight books (2022), I try to follow the same writing process.
Over the years, I have found that when I’m my happiest writer self and my most productive is when I’m writing consistently. The books that are written fast come out clearer in one way. There’s no time to explore an interesting side idea that comes into play. I have to keep moving toward the end. I’ve noticed my self-talk changes as well during these rushed books from ‘writing is fun and easy for me’ to ‘I hate this stupid book.’ To be fair, at that point I’m sure the book hates me too. I’m just writing frantically and angrily at my keyboard to meet a deadline.
I should say that this seems to be cyclical for me. I write consistently and then something happens that pushes me off balance. For me, those triggers are moves and a divorce. Suddenly my carefully planned out writing time is thrown into chaos and I have a deadline to meet. I’m traditionally published, so for me to miss a deadline means my slot will be given to someone else. For indie authors, I think if you miss a deadline then you can lose the ability to do pre-orders. So deadlines are important and need to be met.
That’s when I’m in frantic writing-three-chapters-a-day mode. I’ve always been sort of anal about my chapter length and write in three, 1,000-word scenes per chapter. Don’t judge me. I know how kooky that sounds. So now I’m writing fast, and those frantic books linger in my mind. I end up wishing I’d had more time at the pages, more time with those characters in my head, and it feels like a missed opportunity. I want to say here that my readers seem to enjoy the books I write in a mad rush as well as the ones I write via one chapter a day. I think that it’s my writer self who doesn’t enjoy the process as much.
Writing faster has never seemed something I want to do. To be fair, I think I write a respectable amount each day as 3,000 words is my goal. It’s a nice amount for me and when I’m finished, I’m happy and looking forward to coming back to the story the next day.
I hate that the conversations with writers have become about writing to a different pace than we do naturally. I’m a woman and it just makes me feel a bit like when I was growing up and felt that pressure to be something that I wasn’t. In my case, that would have been thin, blond, and more outgoing. As I matured, I found peace with who I am as a woman. As a writer I have found my peace too.
I think our focus should be on writing the way that suits us and not having to apologize because we write faster than some of our friends, or those same friends apologizing that they don’t write at our pace. Let’s just normalize our own writing process and treat each other with some respect there.
But back to writing. A few years ago when I was frantically writing and freaking out (which is just part of my process when I’ve procrastinated most of my writing time), one of my long-time writing friends and critique partners was consistently writing around 300-400 words a day and finishing books then starting the next one. That year she and I had the same number of releases. It made me realize how crazy I was making myself. I could be writing every day and actually not having the stress that went along with writing “faster.”
It was such an eye-opening experience, and after that I just made a commitment to myself to write every day at the same time. I can’t say it was easy at first. I was too used to doing nothing productive all day. But I used a version of the Pomodoro method to get myself on track. Since I like my breaks, I set my timer for 20 minutes and then wrote. And it worked.
I realize that this might not work for everyone. You might be like, “That’s fine for her, but I have little kids, a day job, a life. Sounds like all she does is sit around procrastinating or writing.” It’s true that it might not work for you. Something else will. You know your writing self better than anyone. If feeling better about the writing process and the stories you are writing is important to you, you’ll figure out what works for you.
Here are my tips for writing consistently:
- Have a dedicated time and place to write. For me, I have an office that I can go into. It has a nice window so I can look outside, which I like. I start writing at 10 a.m., and continue for an hour and a half. I do 20-minute writing sprints, followed by 10-minute breaks. If I don’t get my chapter finished in the morning, then I have writing time in the afternoon from 3-4:30.
- Get up. I take a walk at 1 p.m. every day. It gives me time to get out of the house, and I leave my phone behind. I’m not online or reachable for the 20 minutes that I’m on my walk. I love it. It’s great to be outside, even in the UK where it is often cold and rainy for this Florida girl. It also gives my brain a chance to noodle around story ideas.
- Celebrate. I write a few sentences in my planner/journal about what I accomplished each day. It’s not much, just talking about the story I’m working on and what I did that I liked. This is so different from the exhaustion I used to feel every night when writing frantically.
- Accept your pace. You’re writing exactly the pace you should be. Readers are going to be buying your books whether you have one book out this year or 12. If you are always beating yourself up about your writing pace, your actual writing will suffer. You’re bringing that negativity to the page with you.
- Breathe. Remember why you started writing. I doubt at first you were thinking, “I’ll only be successful if I write 12 books a year.”
Writing has always been something I’ve been compelled to do. I’m happier when I’m writing, and I imagine it’s the same for you. I hope that you can find a way to make peace with your pace and enjoy it.