January 19th, 2007


There is more to life than simply increasing its speed. (Gandhi)

A lot of people use word count to try and chart their progress. I can understand this. It's a solid-looking thing. The hours spent thinking about the story are abstract. Some of that might even happen while you're sleeping. The things one might learn from writing the previous story (or the one before, or the one before that) are also part of the process of the new material. Again, hard to measure. So, things like NaNoWriMo or novel_in_90 are spawned to try and create writing time as habit, with structure, even. Because in today's world it's hard to find time to sit and write. The soccer moms do it while they're sitting in the minvan waiting for practice to be over. Commuters that use mass transit steal time between work and home. Or it's after the kids go to bed or before the kids get up. It takes dedication... obsession... a certain level of insanity...

But, today, around the blogosphere, I am seeing entry after entry crop up about writing speed: like what John Scalzi says, and truepenny sensibly advises, and then matociquala contributes, plus Tobias Buckell links to a few more and offers his own insight. The thing is -- it's all relative. And you'll get a different answer from nearly every writer about their own process.

Yes, the going knowledge among editors and agents is that a professional writer of fiction should attempt to turn in at least one book a year to keep their name on the shelves and build some sort of sales momentum. It generally seems that most careers will need that sort of goal-posting despite there being cases *cough* Peter Beagle *cough* Thomas Pynchon *cough* where it's been shown not to be a hard-and-fast rule. Thus, there is a certain economic value to writing steadily (for some variable value of steady). But. If you rush that book and then it doesn't sell, that won't help with that equation at all.

I have a client who turns in a book about once every four years. I have another who wrote several books in one year. And I have everything in between. From my perspective, the book takes as long as it's going to take. I expect writers to honestly assess their productivity levels when we're discussing dates for contracts, and to keep me advised if they're going to miss a deadline. (I hope they never have to. I'd recommend avoiding that if at all possible because it does, indeed, have a ripple effect on things such as production schedules and so forth.) I don't ask a writer what their daily wordcount is when I sign them up. Quality is more important than quantity for the long haul, and I anticipate working with the writer for years.

As Caitlin Kiernan said: one should not ever think this is a race, the writing. It is not a race. Speed is mostly irrelevant, unless we are to concern ourselves solely with matters of deadlines imposed and finances and other things that actually have very little to do with writing.
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