The Perils of Being Fast

I read a fascinating Slate article today on how to write faster. This is, either fortunately or not, something I never struggle with.

Blogging helped me learn how to write quickly, for one. Blogging is a terrific way to hone writing skills, because it’s almost always really easy to write a blog post when you’ve got one roiling around in your brain. NaNoWriMo helped too, because you have such a huge daily word requirement that you have no choice but to just get stuff on the page.

So how fast is fast? I’d consider myself a fast writer. I can consistently churn out about 1,000 words per hour, but this number can go up or down depending on how much research I have to do. If writing was all I did every day, I could conceivably write a handful of novels and short stories every year providing my fingers and supply of ideas held up.

Still, there are pros and cons to writing fast. On the pro side, if you have a short attention span (like me, and almost everyone I know who’s my age {darn Internet, making it easy to access short, easy-to-digest morsels of information}) it’s much easier to stay engaged and interested in a story if you’re able to write it quickly. Plus, it’s a huge rush to complete an entire novel in a month or two. I met people at the writer’s conference earlier this month who’d been writing their books for years. I was almost a little afraid to tell them I wrote my first draft in a month.

On the con side, quantity doesn’t always equate to quality. The more I learn about writing, the more I realize this. For example, the value of an outline. I don’t outline, as a rule. I like to meet my characters, get them in trouble, and then watch how they get themselves out of it. It’s fun to write this way, and can lead to some surprising twists.

However, this also means I end up with some pretty ragged first drafts. Take the novel I’m working on right now, Enemy Accountant. I wrote the first draft last November, and now I’m “revising” it. And by “revising” it I mean I’m rewriting the whole freaking thing because I know I’m capable of telling the story so much better and I’m unwilling to send it off to agents and publishers when it’s anything less than the best I can possibly do.

One could argue that my first draft has become my outline. Bob Mayer has a great quote about this, he says, “I would offer that all writers outline. Some just write a really extensive outline called the first draft.”

My writing style is consistent with my personality type, though. I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kinda person, whose¬†spontaneity works out great sometimes and gets me in huge trouble at other times. I admire people who think things through and have a perfect plan and know exactly where they’re going with their writing. That’s just never going to be me.

So I guess it’s a good thing I write so dang fast. This way I can just proliferate bunches of mediocre first drafts every year, and then spend the rest of my time cleaning those drafts up and rewriting them entirely. This makes me feel like a crappy carpenter who’s perpetually measuring once and cutting twice, but hey. It’s working for me so far.

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