Q&A: Help! I Need to Write Faster!
“Always write as if you will never have the blessed chance to write again, so this has to be the best thing you’ve ever done. Do that, and it will be.”
— Joe Gores
Q: For my second manuscript, I’m trying to reduce the number of pages I have to throw out or rewrite since I’ve heard it’s important for popular-fiction novelists to be fast writers. Do you have any tips for writing more efficiently? Should I be worried that my first manuscript took me so long to finish?
A: Five different answers all popped into my head at once when I read your question. I’m not sure there’s a single “correct” reply, so I offer all five for your consideration:
- Don’t worry. It’s perfectly normal to take a long time to write your first novel. Your first book is your learning book. You’re discovering all the elements of craft and technique needed to create a story that will sell, and that usually takes a couple of years. With experience and practice, you’ll be able to pull those elements together much more quickly, with fewer “newbie” mistakes along the way.
- Write at the speed that’s right for you. I would love to be as prolific as Nora Roberts. I would also love to be 21 years old and a size 6, but that ain’t gonna happen, either. Nora is Nora, and you are you. Follow your own path at your own pace. The reader will never know whether you took three months or three years to write your story. That information isn’t printed anywhere in the book. She will know whether your story touched her heart, surprised her, entertained her, exceeded her expectations, and made her want to buy another book with your name on the cover. When it comes to fiction, speedy is nice, but special and satisfying matter more.
- Have a life. Writing faster is fine–as long as you’re not doing it at the expense of family, friends, health, hobbies, and everything else that makes life worth living. Becoming a published novelist isn’t like becoming a ballerina: you don’t have to quit at age 35 when your knees give out. You have lots of years to write lots of wonderful books. Take your time. Enjoy. Gather experiences and emotions so you’ll have something interesting to say when you sit down at the keyboard.
- You’re right. There’s a ton of pressure on authors of popular fiction (romance, mystery, science fiction, thrillers, etc.) to write fast. The average mass-market paperback has a shelf life that’s just slightly longer than a carton of milk. Your book is here today, cleared out tomorrow to make room for the next wave of new releases. You will be pressured (sometimes subtly, sometimes not) to write at least two books a year. That’s simply the name of the game in the world of mass-market paperbacks. Every author has to decide for herself whether she can be happy playing that game. Remember: you always have the right to say no to any offer, opportunity or contract that comes your way if you feel the cost is too high.
- If you decide that speed is your priority, try these tips:
- Set monthly, weekly and daily page goals. Commit your goals to a writing buddy who will whack you with a stick if you fall behind.
- Post a calendar next to your computer. Every day, jot down the number of pages you wrote. Review your output at the end of each week, and increase your hours at the keyboard as necessary. (More productivity pointers can be found in my “Get Thee to the Keyboard” workshop.)
- Outline your book before you begin. By plotting in advance, you’ll make fewer wrong turns and spend less time on revisions. (For an in-depth exploration of fast-paced plotting, try my most popular workshop, “Hooks & Grabbers to the Rescue.”)
- Write your book in drafts, straight through. Don’t allow yourself to stop and tinker along the way.
USA Today bestselling author Shelly Thacker has earned lavish praise from Publishers Weekly, Locus, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Detroit Free Press and booksellers who have called her “a virtuoso beyond compare.” A two-time RWA RITA Finalist, she has won numerous other honors for her fiction, including a National Readers’ Choice Award and many Romantic Times Certificates of Excellence. There are more than one million copies of her novels in print.
Copyright © 2004 by Shelly Thacker. All rights reserved. Permission is granted for individual writers to print one copy of this article for personal use. Any other reproduction by any means, print or electronic, is strictly prohibited without written permission of the author.