It’s Not About Speed

Red QuillI’ve heard a good average for writers is one book a year. For some of us aspiring writers, that seems like a break-neck pace. Then there are those that whip out a novel in a month’s time for NaNoWriMo each year, and there’s a girl in my class who participated in a 365 stories project where she wrote a story a day for a year. Many of us may not write that fast though. I’ve done NaNoWriMo twice unsuccessfully. Those who do finish may have something that resembles a novel, but it’s far from a polished manuscript. It’s good to be able to write fast if you’re writing to deadline or if you want to make a living as a novelist, producing one or more books per year. But the fact of the matter is, it’s not how fast you write that is important, as much as it is that what you write is good, quality writing.
What is important, my instructors at Western State will tell you, is that you find a writing speed that is comfortable for you, that allows you to produce quality writing and set your own pace. I’ve heard it suggested that if you write three hundred words a day, which probably adds up to a couple of hours on slow days, you can complete a novel in a year, and supposedly, that’s a reasonable pace. That’s probably true, and it at least shows dedication, but some writers may find that even meeting that three hundred word per day mark is difficult at times. I know for me, if I have what I want to write, firmly planted in my head before I start, I can write a lot faster than that. But, if I start out with only a vague idea that I’m not sure how I want to express it, those three hundred words may come agonizingly slow, like pulling cactus needles from my derriere after not choosing my seat carefully on a long mountain hike.
I wrote the first draft of my first novel, Delilah, in six months, which I’m told is pretty good. I wrote between 600 and 1,000 words a day on the days I actively wrote. But honestly, I didn’t write on Delilah every single day of that six months. Many days I just worked out stuff in my head, figuring out what I wanted to write and how I would write it. It was a pace that worked for me. I didn’t feel I was pushing it too hard I sand I still produced some quality writing. I still have a lot of work to do on the rewrites, but it feels good to know I have a good solid base that can withstand some minor alterations or even major reconstruction if necessary.
Writers are human beings, and just as each and every one of us are unique individuals with different strengths and weaknesses, every writer has their own speed at which they write. Can someone else write a first draft faster than I did? Yes, my instructor, Barb Chepaitis, wrote a novel in a weekend. It probably took her longer to regain her sanity afterwards, than it did to write the story, but it is possible. She did it to see if she could. It’s not her normal writing speed, but she does write much faster than I do. Other writers struggle to get a first draft done in a year.
On the first day of class last summer, Barb asked us if we knew how many words we could write in an hour. Being beginning MFA students, most of us did not. She said it was important that we know how fast we write, but she didn’t say it was important that we write fast. Finding that comfortable rhythm where the story flows out without being forced is what produces good quality writing. It doesn’t matter if you only put down two hundred words a day, as long as they are good words. It’s not about speed. The story will always get told in its own time. It’s our job to our job as writers to make sure it’s told well.

7 Comments on “It’s Not About Speed”

  1. Thanks for posting this. I’m an article writer. So I write thousands of words a day. However, my second novella is still not done. I’m really pissed at myself about it. Your post makes me feel better.


  2. A subject much (too much!) on my mind of late, as I endeavor to write (or rather complete) my first novel. I keep telling myself it’s no different than a novella, and I’ve written several of those–and they’ve also taken FOREVER!! Alack, patience be not amongst mine alleged virtues… I’ve speculated it’ll be about a year to finish my rough draft, and that’s really only writing on the weekends. I think the most difficult part about it is the commitment to just keep trudging away. A YEAR is (relatively speaking) a long time. And it can be difficult to stay mindful, to keep the substance of your endeavor fresh and alive… I think it’s important (for me, at least) to feel the push, the pressure–have to be writing more!! But there are also the necessary moments when I have to step back and let it go for awhile… hopefully for days or a week or two–not months or years (of which, yes, I am guilty, having two unfinished novels that have been gathering dust for over a decade… sigh~)

    So, yes, this article is helpful in the sense that I am not unique–either in my concern over speed or in the pace in which I am actually accomplishing my novel… but in the sense of creating well-being and contentment in my writing? Well, come on–I’m still a WRITER!! (sheeshh!~) In the end, I take greater joy in “having written” than in “am (or will be) writing”. (But maybe that’s just me…)


  3. nancyloswald says:

    Great post. I’m sure this is something every writer newbie or not has thought about. Here’s another interesting blog that talks about word count. Maybe it will work for some people, but I agree with you, finding your own flow and methods is best.


  4. Aaron Speca says:

    Thanks for this. We’ve been working on our novel for nearly two years. Both I and my writing partner work, I have three very active kids, and it is just very difficult to get the time and focus to write. And I do best with at least one or two uninterrupted hours to write with. We are definitely striving for quality over quantity.


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