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Writing at Speed: Good, Bad, or Painful?

I tend to write faster than some, slower than some. This isn’t really good or bad, except that in the indie market, quantity helps increase (sales) quality. I wrote 93K words on a novel between July 4 and August 8, with a few days off due to Life. As well as writing most of four short stories, plus blogging.

That’s not a brag, just a statement. My schedule gives me three months (mostly) off, and so I made the best of my time. Most people don’t have that luxury. Plus, as I said above, I can write very quickly when the story moves me.

This isn’t always good.

Last year I participated in NaNoWriMo. I got a book written. It has some enormous problems which my alpha readers caught, leading to a major re-working of half the story. I’d written so fast and under such pressure that I missed some pretty important things.  That’s not good. The reports from the Alpha Readers led me through the Stages of Authorial Mourning: denial, anger, grief, teeth-gritting, and re-writing.

The last four days of Shikhari 6 I wrote at the pace of about 1000 words/hour. I hurt. Physically hurt. Which is why, if you are going to do a major push in a relatively limited time, I offer the following bits of advice.

1. Prepare your workspace – is your desk/writing table set up properly, with your screen at eye-level so you don’t bend your neck more than you have to? Is the chair at the right height, ditto foot-rest if you need one? Do you have any reference notes or books at hand where you can get to them?

2. Let family or friends know that you need to make a push, and get as much done around the house in advance as possible. You may need to draw on your stash of brownie points and good will before you are finished, so build them up in advance.

3. Build in breaks – I heard one author who wrote a 75K word novel in 36 hours non-stop. She was in tears and physical agony by the time she finished, but she’d met the deadline and saved someone else’s bacon. Don’t be that person if you can avoid it. Your eyes, back, shoulders, et al will thank you.

4. When you start hurting, stop writing. OK, I broke this rule in two ways. One, I increased the magnification of the text so I could go longer before the eye-strain headache stopped me. Two, I popped an ibuprofen in advance and wore wrist braces.* I assure you, the sick headache from eye-strain and tension is probably not worth it, and does not improve your writing.

5. Drink plenty of fluids. This keeps your kidneys and other things happy, and forces you to get up every so often to un-fill and refill. And while you are up…

6. Stretch and walk around. Get blood moving. “I finished the novel but was hospitalized for a DVT” is not conducive to long-term productivity.

7. If you need to schedule breaks every thirty minutes or so, do it, and stick to them. Do not push through and just reset the clock.

 

If you are crazy enough, or the deadline is close enough, then go for it, write at white-heat, and push on to victory. If this is not something you can do, then don’t try. I don’t recommend it, personally, but sometimes I have to do what I have to do in order to get books written. I do know that I won’t be doing NaNoWriMo this year, because my day-job workload has gone up by 30%.

*I’ve worn wrist braces when I type for at least a decade. I gave myself carpel tunnel when I was in college the first time. I only wear them when I write, a rigid one on the left side and a soft one on the right. Don’t do that to yourself, either. I was also a week out from a new eyeglasses prescription, further exacerbating the strain. I don’t recommend doing that to yourself.

9 Comments
  1. Christopher M. Chupik #

    If you write at speed you should edit at leisure.

    August 18, 2019
  2. Brett Baker #

    “hospitalized for a DVT” would make a great cover quote!

    August 18, 2019
  3. Write at YOUR speed, whenever you can. And, check your ergonomics first thing, before you do anything else.

    August 18, 2019
  4. Zsuzsa #

    I will say that for me, NaNo has it right: a month is about the amount of time I should spend turning my outline into a first draft. Past that, I’m more likely to lose the thread of the narrative and have to spend a lot of editing time trying to force it into coherence than I am to produce something truly inspired.

    August 18, 2019
    • NaNo is great for making you concentrate and focus. And it helps you have a goal to reach, and people to bounce ideas off of (the discussion threads can be interesting). It also falls in a really busy time-window for Day Job.

      August 18, 2019
  5. Mary #

    It can be interesting that sometimes it comes when I am just sitting down to push out SOME prose today because I am feeling uninspired and I then churn out a thousand words without noticing.

    August 18, 2019
  6. OldNFO #

    I can’t churn one out that fast. If I do, it would be UGLY! I write at my speed and let the chips fall where they may.

    August 18, 2019
  7. Pam Uphoff #

    I have a sufficient compulsion to write that my long term productivity is excellent. But NaNoWriMo makes me try to do it every day and establish a routine, and stop editing before it’s done.

    I treat it like a once-a-year reminder, and usually finish.

    August 19, 2019
    • Mary #

      I’ve done it several times and the only year I failed I was experimenting with something new.

      August 20, 2019

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