There was a time I wrote a short story in six months. I took days to write it, weeks to lovingly polish it, MONTHS of agonizing over every word. Then I sent it out. And it was rejected. (All but one, which was accepted eight times, but killed magazines and/or editors. No, I don’t know why.)
Then I attended the Kris and Dean Oregon Coast Professional Writers Workshop (the first) and in those two weeks we HAD to — had to — produce five short stories and two novel proposals. I did. Also, at this point all of those short stories have sold.
After that I launched into a year of a short story a week (while writing two novels.) It was a challenge of my writers’ group.
We didn’t succeed. I think I ONLY wrote forty short stories.
The funny thing was, recently, reading over my past stories (I was transferring things from diskette) that the quality difference, after about a quarter of a story a week, more or less, was marked, visible and obvious. I was much better after a quarter of forced production. And from that point on, pretty much all the short stories have sold.
Novels too started being much faster. Honestly, if I can stabilize my health at some point, a novel a month is neither unfeasible nor unreasonable. I once wrote two novels (Heart and Soul and Plain Jane) in a month, and finished another one, though I can’t remember which (might have been one of the Musketeer books.) In fact the main reason I didn’t write a book a month back when I was healthy was that in traditional publishing there was nothing I could do with that many books. (Ah, for a way to send my old-self a little note.)
One of you emailed me last week and asked me if writing that fast was some trick that could be taught.
Sort of. I’m not sure it can be taught, but it can be learned. It’s a frame of mind you put yourself in, a mental block you remove. And the only way to put it firmly in place is if you PRACTICE it and set yourself deadlines and goals.
However to the extent I can help, there are some principles to keep in mind that might help break the barrier.
1- how long you take to write a story doesn’t make it better or worse. My highest-selling book was written in two days, and the next-highest-selling in two weeks. By the standard that counts “how many people pay out good money to read this?” my faster written books are the best.
2- nine times out of ten the things you’re agonizing about on the story aren’t really important. No, seriously. Things like passive voice, overuse of to-be and too many adjectives and adverbs are things editors and critics care about, but most readers don’t notice, not if your voice is confident and strong enough.
3- Keeping a strong voice is much easier if you write the story fast.
So, that’s why. Now HOW to do it.
1- Write as fast as you can. If you are a slow typist, try voice dictation. Put your mind in the story and write as fast as humanly possible.
2- Don’t edit. I can’t say that enough DO NOT EDIT. Write to the end without editing. If you typed teh instead of the, it will wait till you’re done.
3- To facilitate do not edit, DO NOT read back to see what you did yesterday. For best results leave yourself a sticky note about where you are going next. That way you don’t need to read what you wrote and be tempted into editing.
4- if you’re an outliner, have a complete outline before you start, and then mark on the outline what you’re doing tomorrow.
5- if you’re a partial outliner like me, outline what you’re doing tomorrow at the end of the work day.
6- Did I mention write as fast as you possibly can? Short story or novel race to the end.
7- Once you’re done fix typos then let it sit for a week. This is an excellent time to send it to your betas, unless like me your idea changed in the middle and your beginning and end don’t match.
8- Fix continuity issues.
9- Make sure all your foreshadowing points right.
10- Make sure you got all your points in.
11- Do not revise/get caught in rewrites more than three times. Three times, and let it go.
12 – move on to the next project.
Now I can say all this till I’m blue in the face, but you HAVE to practice it. You HAVE TO PRACTICE it. But if you do, I guarantee you’ll get better.