When I made my first attempt at writing a novel many years ago, I had read nothing about how to write. I had read thousands of novels. I was reading as many as three books a day and was sure I could write one. I gave myself a challenge. Could I write a book in a week?
The answer was “no”. I didn’t have the writing skills. It took me five years of writing and re-writing to finish and the result was a short story, Grun on the Run.
I can now write a short story in a day. That’s how fast I wrote Oliver Troubles. That’s 1825 times faster.
But, Grun on the Run was 8000 words while Oliver Troubles was only 4000, so that’s only 912 times faster.
But, the Grun on the Run writing was off and on while I worked and did other things. Let’s say only a tenth of those days were spent writing. That drops the difference to only 91 times faster.
But, I did spend some time editing and proofreading Oliver Troubles the next day before posting it. That makes it a two day effort, so that’s only 45 times faster.
Only 45 times faster. That’s some difference. Why did my writing speed improve so much?
How Did I Learn to Write 45 Times Faster?
Every writer knows the simple answer to this question. Study how to write from many different sources and do lots of writing.
Studying how to write improves the quality of your writing and you don’t get stuck as often wondering what to write next. Writing a lot improves your writing speed in general and you learn how to write through more and more kinds of story problems and blocks.
While writing Grun on the Run, I subscribed to Writer’s Digest magazine and read it every month for years. Then I switched to reading books on writing. I always have another of those lined up and hang on to the best. Steven King’s On Writing and William Zinsser’s On Writing Well are on my shelf now waiting to be read again.
It is estimated to take 10,000 hours to develop a skill. How does that translate for writing. A couple of years ago, I assumed that would mean about 10,000 pages. The following was my estimate of the pages I’d written at the time.
600 pages writing and re-writing Grun on the Run and the even shorter short stories I wrote for practice at the time. Grun on the Run was as long as 60,000 words in some drafts, but publishers demanded 100,000 words for a novel back then.
2000 pages of non-fiction writing during my Bachelor of Arts degree.
200 pages of psychology and philosophy after university to get some ideas out of my system.
100 pages on an attempt at a crime novel without using an outline.
800 pages of journal entries.
1000 pages of short articles and blog posts.
300 pages on another attempt at a crime novel.
A total of 5000 pages and now I’ve learned that the 10,000 hours to develop writing skill is estimated as 1 million words. Since the average page has about 330 words, I’ve written about 1.6 million. I guess that’s one hurdle out of the way. It’s no guarantee that I’ve become a good writer, only proficient.
Current Writing Speed
The one liner for Oliver Troubles was in my writing ideas file for years and I kept passing it over. It said, “An incompetent crook tries robbing drug dealers and has a hard time”. Meh. Then one day it caused me to imagine how the whole story could go, I looked up a bit on Asperger’s Syndrome, wrote an outline, and then wrote the story. All in one day.
If I could write 4000 words a day consistently, I could write a 100,000 word novel in 25 days. I wrote Oliver Troubles on a day off and I only get two of those a week. I would estimate work days as half the output, so (2000 x 5) + 8000 = 18,000 words per week. It would take 5.6 weeks to write 100,000 words.
But one good writing day doesn’t make every day a good writing day. I would need to be on my game every day. That just doesn’t happen. Life gets in the way and always will. What can I do to get even faster and closer to being a prolific writer? If I can do it, you can too.
Prolific Writers Show Us How to Write Faster
I’ve been researching and writing about a few prolific writers lately. Most of them wrote 100s of novels. The Prolific Writing section of my site map has links to those articles if you’re interested, but I’ll summarize here. How did they get so fast?
John Creasey wrote 10 novels before reaching a point where every novel he wrote got accepted. Then he wrote over 600. His average output was between six and seven thousand words a day. The writing practice from those first nine novels appears to have taught him to write in one draft. No outline. No revision.
Martin Caiden also seems to have written his novels in one draft. He doesn’t mention failed novels that I could find, but he was writing documents for NASA for many years before he started writing novels. He claims to have written his novels in one sitting of many days without eating or sleeping. Many of his novels were made into movies.
Ryoki Inoue wrote up to three 100 page pulp fiction novels a day and produced over 1000. He’s another one who wrote all of his novels in one draft.
It may sound like the theme here is one draft writing. It’s not. One draft writing is possible, but that’s after a ton of writing practice and getting your writing speed up. If you can write a book in a couple of weeks or less, you don’t really need an outline. If you write enough books, you may not need to revise. On the other hand, those authors went through traditional publishers. There may have been in-house editors and proofreaders helping out.
The short answer. You become a faster writer by writing a lot.
I want to be a prolific writer. So do you, if you’ve read this far.
My challenge, to myself and you, is to keep writing every day in order to become faster; so fast that it becomes possible to write a novel in less than two weeks.
What it takes is writing more fiction every day, even if it’s only for half an hour. The more hours you can put into it, the faster you will improve your speed.
I’m working on it already with a three step daily writing plan.
1. Journal to get writing by working on something throw away.
2. My current important writing assignment. I switch between non-fiction and fiction, but stick with the same assignment type for at least a month. Right now, my important writing is articles about writing.
3. Other writing if I have time.
The research for my writing articles teaches me more writing tips and tricks. The work on my novel teaches me to write fiction faster and I’ve noticed I’m catching and correcting more errors as I write new material.
Will you take up the challenge and become a faster writer?
Article by Ivan Izo.