What is slow?

I just read this article about slow writers, and their place in the current Amazon world. They make some valid points about certain authors who advocate for writing fast and not editing. I also advocate just getting that first draft out and on the page, and then turning it over and writing something else. That is because a person who writes often, and a lot, has more practice then someone who does not.

But I digress, the question today is “what is slow?”

I know the guys over at Self Publishing Podcast can crank out the wordage. They managed to publish quite a few books last year. I think they are slowing down this year to focus a little more on their brand and put a little more time into their writing, but even then they still crank out more words in a month then I do in three.

Dean Wesley Smith writes TONS of words every single day. He also advocates Heinlein’s Rules about writing fast and not editing (unless your editor tells you to.) He has some great reasons to do so. He also has good examples of published writers who do write incredibly fast. Nora Roberts, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury and every other author on this list. From authors that wrote a short story every week (because no one can write 52 bad short stories) to those who wrote several novels a year.

Then there are others who wrote one single book and earned great acclaim. Withering Heights by Emily Bronte. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. Gone with the Wind by Margret Michelle. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. All books that have made their way into the national culture, film, cartoons, spin offs, etc.

A huge difference between Ralph Ellison and Stephen King… One makes a living as an author. The other made his living in other things and also wrote a fantastic book that has inspired generations. Not to say that Stephen King hasn’t written some wonderful things, some of which might inspire others along their path. Ray Bradbury, Philip K Dick and Isaac Asimov were all extremely prolific authors who made their living writing. Their works are now considered classics that will inspire and influence our culture for a very long time.

To me I suppose when I say I am slow it is because I am unsatisfied with how quickly I am writing. I know I can do more, spend more time at it, and get the ideas out of my head and on to the paper.

I think if you want to make a living at being a writer then you have to write enough to sustain that career. Every author who has come forward to say they are currently making a comfortable living off of their writing has said the same thing: they write almost every day, and they write a lot. You can not sustain a house, cell phone, car, water, and electricity off of one book in a lifetime… not unless that was a REALLY good book. And striking that really good book isn’t likely. It happens to one author every couple of years. Do you know how many authors there are out there right now?

There is something to be said for writers who are still learning their craft, honing their skills, and fine tuning their instruments. A pianist doesn’t go out to play in front of a crowd until he’s had years of practice. And those of us who started writing as children have an advantage. We had those years of honing our skills while others were out playing kick ball and hop scotch. You, the beginning writer, need to take that time to hone those skills and become more comfortable with your words. Take that time, get it right, and then decide what you want to do with those words. What level are you comfortable at.

There is also room for the part time author. The author who has a “day job” while they write. (That’s what I’m doing.) I am still an author. That is how I think of myself, and how I introduce myself, because that is what I am even if I don’t make my entire living off of it.

How slow is slow? That depends on your goals. For me I feel slow because I know I can do more, and I feel that I need to because I want more then anything to be writing full time. To get out of the rat race once and for all. I need to write faster, which for me just means less time gaming and more time on scrivener.

But you have to make your own decision. You have to find what your comfortable with, and decide if that fits the life style you eventually want. It might mean you are perfectly happy with exactly where you are. It might mean putting in extra hours every week to learn that skill, to get better on your instrument so that you can finally play for the crowd.

(Also listen to this great podcast with Neil Gaiman who comments on the subject of writing every day, finishing, and breaking through the wall.)


Around the Web

This month has been busy, busy, busy. My car broke down, I’ve writen another few thousand words and edited a few chapters, I overwrote some of my files, and did a couple more episodes of Story Telling podcast.  I’ve also found some really interesting things for you guys.

Books are EXACTLY like razors! a message from Hugh Howey

Neil Gaiman: ‘Terry Pratchett isn’t jolly. He’s angry’

Fiction Lag: Becoming the characters you read about. (video)

Gif of North America, and who controlled the land over time. Watch the territories move across the land.

11 sequels you probably didn’t know existed. (Hint, there was one for 101 Dalmatians.)

Mathematician and comedian, Matt Parker, asks the nine publishers participating in the auction for his book to submit bids in prime numbers and derivatives of pi.

Stephen King offers up some of his stories to film students to make films, for $1.

Stephen King interview about teaching children the art of writing.

Millions of historical (and copyright free) images posted to flicker by academics. And another collection from the British Library, also copyright free. (There are some great pictures in here. Hopefully people help tag them.)

Important life lessons learned from children’s books.


FAQ – Should I Really “Write What I Know?”

writeYou see this advice everywhere. New authors asking how to write, or what to write, and other authors telling them “Write what you know.”

This is a quote from Mark Twain. It is fantastic, amazing advice, and yet people constantly miss understand it.

“How do I write about dragons? I’ve never seen one.”

“How do I write about love? I’ve never been in love.”

I hope to all that’s good that VC Andrews did not know about incest and child abuse first hand. Or that Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov had first hand knowledge of what is in Lolita. Stephen King probably hasn’t met a giant spider that makes children hallucinate evil clowns. Yet, they exist. And they are some of the most read books out there.

There are many things that I, personally do not know about. I have never experienced the death of a loved one, but I know what it’s like to loose someone. I don’t know the thrill of climbing Mount Everest, but I know the joy of accomplishing something I’ve never been able to do before.

We all have loves, tragedies, heart felt moments, days when we want to pull our hair out, and days when we think we’ve never felt happier. The trick isn’t to “write what you know” but to draw on the experiences, the hopes, the dreams, and the very essence of life, and create a realistic narrative.

If you don’t “know” something, then go learn something! Watch people. See how they react. Take a class. Live and love, and learn and exist in this great big world we call home. And then write about living.

“Has anyone been afraid to write their own novel?”

This was a question on Reddit not long ago. There was a lot of discussion, and some good personal stories. I thought I’d share my answer. I added some extra notes that I didn’t put on the original post.

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About 10 years ago I got traditionally published (a few articles, some poetry, even a short story) in magazines and zines. I was suppose to get paid, but never actually did. (This was due to some confusion about foreign checks, and my bank which hadn’t ever seen one before.)

Then there was my marriage. It was falling apart around me and I wasn’t feeling confident about anything anymore.

So one part said my writing wasn’t good enough to actually get paid, and there was my marriage that made me feel like I wasn’t good enough for anything.. I ended up quitting writing for 8 years.

Every time I looked at my manuscripts during that time I would freeze up. The ideas were their, the stories were fully formed in my head, but I had been convinced that I could never possibly do it myself. I even went so far as to look into ghost writers or collaborations a few times to no avail.

In the end I had to learn to trust myself again, and my writing. After the divorce I started working on little bits here and there, trying to get myself to work more each day. It wasn’t easy.

I started showing small bits to people, and they encouraged me often. Told me how great it was. Showed me where I could improve. Gave me honest feedback and criticism.

Lets be honest. Your first draft is going to be terrible. It always is. Even Stephen King has to completely rewrite stuff now and then. But that’s what edits are for. (Note I said “edits”, not “editors”. There is a HUGE difference.)

Don’t let your subconscious take away from what you truly love. And don’t let anyone else tell you differently. The mechanics of writing can be learned. It’s the passion, and the gift of a good story, that make a true writer.