by Larry Kahaner
I write fast.
I write fast because that’s just how I learned to write, lo those many years ago, when I was a newspaper reporter. You wrote fast because the job demanded it. You had your notes in front of you, the clock was ticking, editors were waiting for copy, and you hit the keys and didn’t pick your head up until the story was done.
You read it over quickly, made your changes, made sure you didn’t say something dumb or wrong, and handed it in. You didn’t use fancy words or clever turns if it meant that you slowed down the process. If you weren’t sure of something you either left it out or used some weasel words to make it accurate and beyond the reach of libel lawyers. The key was to do the best you could in the time you had. I write fast. What of it?
It was the finest training for any writer, and I’m grateful to have had that experience.
Even now, when I don’t have to write fast, I still do.
There are benefits. For one thing, you get done with your work sooner. Who doesn’t want that?
Second, there’s no time for self-censorship which is the bane of many writers. Sure, you make mistakes, don’t use exactly the word you want but you can fix it later in the editing process, which is a slower and more thoughtful activity.
I have a buddy who’s working on a thriller and he stopped in mid-sentence and asked me about which firearm his hero should be using in a specific situation. (I’m the author of a book about the AK-47 , so I know some stuff about guns.) Anyway, I gave him the answer off the top of my head but then told him that it didn’t matter right now. I told him to just write the word “rifle” and fix it later. By stopping to think about the perfect rifle, he not only lost his train of narrative thought, but slowed his writing momentum. Writing is physical exercise, like walking or running, and when you stop, it’s sometimes difficult to get moving again.
Third, you don’t suffer writer’s block. How can you if you never stop moving? As I’ve said many times before, there’s really no such thing as writer’s block even though some writers insist on believing that it exists.
Over the years, people have asked me how long it takes to write a particular story, article or book. When I answer, I often have to endure the usual comments about how can I write well if I do it so fast. If I’m even inclined to answer, which sometimes I’m not, I point to other writers who’ve written quickly.
- William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks.
- Ernest Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises in six weeks.
- After being mocked by a fellow writer that writing so fast created junk, John D. MacDonald wrote The Executioners in a month. Simon & Schuster published it in hardback. It was also serialized in a magazine, selected by a book club, and turned into the movie Cape Fear
- Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in nine days on a rented typewriter.
- Isaac Asimov was the author/editor of over 700 books during the course of his career.
- Stephen King writes 1,500 words a day every day of the year except his birthday. He’s published over fifty novels, and I don’t even know how many short stories and novellas. Let’s just say he’s written a LOT. Could he have done this writing a book every three years? Every five?
The truth is that just because you write quickly does not indicate that your writing is either good or bad, which brings me to National Novel Writing Month. [ ] For those of you unfamiliar with it, every November, participants aim to write 50,000 words during the month. NaNoWriMo, as it’s called, is voluntary and you can keep track on line. If you accomplish the goal, you receive bragging rights and some words that you can rewrite at a more measured pace.
One of the main objectives of this exercise is to keep would-be writers as well as experienced authors from slogging along in misery whilst trying to write their novels. By moving so quickly, you don’t have time for self-flagellation, malingering or complaining about how difficult writing can be (boo-hoo).
Does NaNoWriMo produce some solid books? Yes, it does. Some great books. It also produces some awful crap, because speed has nothing to do with quality.
I’m not ashamed of being a fast writer. Still, this is one of those times that I’m not going to tell you how long it took me to write this blog post. Just reread the author list above, okay?
Guest post contributed by Larry Kahaner. Larry is the author of more than 15 non-fiction books and has just completed a thriller. Check out his blog at The Non-Fiction Novelist.
Reblogged this on Kim's Musings.
It’s the best way to get a first draft done – just keep going and don’t look back.
Writing fast is necessary in some professions. It does not mean the writing is writ right, as this blog indicates.
Interesting. I would write faster if my typing skills were better, but according to Larry it doesn’t matter! That gives me comfort, sort of. I have to try not to read what I have written yesterday or I won’t get any further today, only re-write.
Your post came at a perfect time. I’m in one of those funky types of moments where I’m afraid I’ll get it wrong. Now my mind is clicking into over drive and telling me to write the damn thing. That’s what first drafts are all about.
Glad you appreciate the many blessings of speed writing. It’s my way too and I love it. Hard to teach a perfectionist though!
I too write quickly. I type fast too.
Writers block, in my opinion is less about being stuck because you stopped. It’s because you don’t feel inspired to write anything new. The blank page and blinking cursor can feel like they’re mocking you because there’s nothing to start writing.
I usually don’t have it because when I draw a blank I stop thinking and just let my fingers do their thing. Sometimes it’s just junk. Sometimes it’s something I can work with. Sometimes it’s my actual finished product minus some glaring red underlined where my spelling is so terrible even the computer/phone doesn’t have a chance of deciphering it.