On Writing: Writing Fast, Writing Slower

Today’s word count: 1,819 words

NANTUCKET total word count: 55,733 words

HARPER total word count: 5,435 words

I didn’t quite make my word count goal today, but it’s very late and I did finish two scenes. I also spent far longer than normal pulling these 1,819 words out of me, so I figured it was fine to stop since my daily one-hour goal was met.

Usually, it takes me about 40 minutes to write my 2000 words. I write very fast, and I don’t take any sort of special care with the words that spill out. I just type them out as I feel them in my mind, so no time is spent searching for the right words or the perfect turn of phrase. The words that tumble out tend to be utilitarian, fulfilling one basic need: getting the story down on paper.

I was glad, actually, to come across this post written by author Jay Lake for the Tor Books blog. I must admit, sometimes I think about how fast I write, and I worry a little about that, worry that it reflects badly on the quality of the words. But Jay Lake is also a fast writer, and he notes that “It’s just that I’m not writing fast, I’m drafting fast.” And that’s what I’m dong too. I’m drafting fast. I’m laying down a lot of words so I’ll have something to work with when I do all the shaping up that needs to be done during the revision stage.

I also caught this post today at Fran Caldwell’s Notebook, about writing speeds. It’s funny how things show up online when you’ve got something on your mind. Fran works differently than I do, in that she also revises as she goes, but just the same, while she’s drafting, it’s fast: “If my writing isn’t moving like a torrent, I become irritable. For me, revision can only come after those exuberant words have been poured out onto the pages en masse.”

I’ve decided the best thing to do when I start thinking about my writing speed is to keep in mind Anne Lamott’s words in Bird by Bird about shitty first drafts:

Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments is the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.

For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.

As to why today was a lot slower (it took me an hour and seven minutes today to get those 1,819 words out): I decided today that I absolutely had to go back and write some of the missing scenes. There was, in particular, one quite pivotal one involving a major discovery, and it just needed to be written. But like I discussed in this post about writing chronologically, I’m not as comfortable going back and writing scenes out of chronological sequence, and this discomfort slowed me down a bit.

Either way, whether I write fast, and doubt the value of the words because I’m writing so fast, or I write slower, and doubt the value of the words because of the discomfort of pulling each one out, I’m working on that shitty first draft.

I’m okay with that, I think.

6 thoughts on “On Writing: Writing Fast, Writing Slower

  1. Fran

    Wow, about your chronological order, if I didn’t write stuff out of sequence, going back and popping things in, I don’t think I’d have much of a book. I think I’ll do my blog about that today, because it’s something I hadn’t even considered as unusual.
    .-= Fran´s last blog ..How do you write? Fast or slow? =-.

  2. MarthaAndMe

    I’ve long been a believer in Anne LaMott’s wisdom. My daughter was working on a term paper last week and was stressing over it. I told her that I must say to myself at least 5 times a day “I’ll just write something and fix it later.” It’s like a mantra that runs through my head. It’s too easy to get caught up in trying to write perfectly, when almost everything needs polishing after the fact. So I just pour junk out and deal with it later.

  3. Belle Post author

    Fran, I think the popping back and forth is necessary for this book because of the multiple POVs I’m working with, and also the gap between the time I wrote the first 30,000 pages and what I’ve been working on now. But because I just want to get the whole book down on paper first, I think otherwise I’d be popping back and forth during revisions rather than during the drafting stage.

    MarthaAndMe, yes, writing it down first and then fixing it later is so much better than getting tied up in knots and possibly not getting it done at all. I just need to keep remembering that.

  4. Cathryn

    Wow, 2000 words in forty minutes. That’s very impressive. I thought I was fast and I can write about 1800-2000 words in an hour.

    Thanks for the reminder, both of Bird By Bird and to write fast. It’s amazing how often I forget. I’ll check out what Fran has to say about it.
    .-= Cathryn´s last blog ..Rejection =-.

  5. Ann-Kat

    Bird by Bird is an all-time love for me. I remember laughing out loud while reading it and bobbing my head up and down in accordance with Lammott’s wisdom–funny how you already know something, but don’t truly consider it until someone else tells you to. Some of the stuff she dishes out is common sense, but it seems people just love to make things more complicated than they need to be. 😀

    And I’m completely impressed with your speed, Belle. I’m a slower writer. I pine over the right words to use, and whether they’ll set the tone for the scene that’s being written. (Yes, I just used pine’s archaic meaning in a sentence.) Lately, however, I’ve been trying my hand at the quick utilitarian writing style. Just get the idea on paper, and revise later. It seems to be working for a short story that was screaming to be written. (And…I’m actually writing this story in chronological order–no jumping back and forth for me. It’s quite interesting. LOL)
    .-= Ann-Kat´s last blog ..Blacklisted by Gena Showalter Book Notes and Sunday Sketch (yes, I know it’s not Sunday yet) =-.

  6. Belle Post author

    Cathryn, I’ve been feeling much better about writing fast ever since I wrote this post. Which is a good thing!

    Ann-Kat, let me know how it goes. I’ve read your fiction before, and I know you write beautifully. I’d love to see how the fast, utilitarian “let’s just get this down” type of writing works for you. I find it very easy to lose myself in the writing when I’m writing fast. When I stop to think, it’s not as fun anymore. When I write fast, it’s like I’m watching/feeling a movie.


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