Writing Fast is Interesting and Fun

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Seventeen days ago I quit medicine. I was a pathologist. I didn’t quit to become a writer, there were other reasons. But I’ve always loved writing, so I’m going to do it full-time now.

That means I have to start thinking differently.

If I’m going to make it as an indie writer I’ll have to write a ton of books. Realizing this is an important step ahead for me. I have to change my writing habits to have a snowball’s chance.

An indie writer must be prolific because each book is unlikely, statistically speaking, to bring big sales. An indie book is, however, likely to bring in a steady stream of sales for a long time.

So if you’ve got fifty novels each bringing in a modest steady income, you’ve got a nice business. If you’ve got only one or two, not so much.

That means you either have to write very fast or very long. Both seem to be viable.

One prolific indie writer says he doesn’t write fast, he just writes for prolonged hours each day. I already do that and it doesn’t work for me because I edit obsessively and take too many breaks.

Another prolific indie writer says she writes only five hours a day, five days a week, but at the blistering rate of 10,000 words per day. She explains how she does it in a blog which I’ll link to at the bottom. It’s an amazing article.

The main thing she does is a brief dream walk through the scenes she’s about to write.

I’ve tried it. I take a tablet of paper and force myself to see the scene in my head as I create it for the first time. I take sketchy notes by hand on a pad and then start writing, referring to the notes occasionally.

Notice that we’re not talking about the familiar (arguably optional) detailed outline done days or months in advance of the writing.

This remarkably efficient author is talking about spending at least five minutes at the beginning of each writing session to create (visualize) the next little part of your story in your head (some dialogue is included) while you jot down notes by hand on paper.

To me, doing the preview in the same sitting as the writing session seems to be the key. And it really works. It’s fast, tiring and fun!

Obviously you have to note the time you begin and end each portion of a session if you take breaks like I do. For me, that’s tough to remember. I take a lot of breaks because I have Halo, my dog, here demanding attention at random intervals.

My fastest writing so far has been 3,562 words in 5 hours and 55 minutes. It took me basically all day to do that, though, with all my breaks. I didn’t realize I take this many breaks until I started timing myself!

Like everybody who’s a little old school, I was concerned that the quality of my writing might suffer if I pushed my speed. So far it seems OK. In fact, my storytelling (as opposed to wordsmithing) has improved, probably because I now weigh the options at every little turn, listing several and picking the best. Before adopting this preview approach, I always went with whatever popped into my wee little head – on minor twists, anyway. (Update 5/15/15: The fast approach, in retrospect, led me away from the detailed emotional connection with Johanna – my protagonist – and all the minute important things that bring her alive for me as the writer. As a result, I left this version of the story and began searching to connect with Johanna in the first-person story that’s posted here. I talked about this in detail at the end of chapter 9 of Hapa Girl DNA, here. All in all, I think the technique of a dream walk prior to writing is potentially quite helpful to plotting, but writing at a breakneck pace tends to disconnect me from the viewpoint character, so I need a balance. I need to minimize editing during first drafts to move ahead faster, but I must go slowly enough to see and feel the little details of past present and future character emotion. William Greenleaf is the brilliant author and book doctor who helped me come to this realization. I highly recommend him! You don’t have to wait until your first draft is finished to ask for his help.)

Here’s the prolific author’s article. Rachel Aaron writes 10,000 words in an average five-hour session, and does it five days a week: http://www.sfwa.org/2011/12/guest-post-how-i-went-from-writing-2000-words-a-day-to-10000-words-a-day/

Wow. I’ll have what she’s having.

By the way, I’m back to using my real name on my blogs again. The identity theft scare that made me use a pen name (Talmage Eastland) seems to have blown over without materializing. Maybe it was a false alarm.

Take care,

Morrill Talmage Moorehead, MD

If you’re interested in intelligent design, weird artifacts, genetics and psychology from the perspective of a nineteen-year-old “Hapa Girl,” my in-progress novel may be a fun read. The protagonist, Johanna, is a genius geneticist with a younger brother who struggles with depression, though you wouldn’t know it to meet him. Her evolving story starts here.

It’s an experiment called, Hapa Girl DNA, and is a hybrid itself – a tightrope crossing of fiction and non-fiction. “Hapa” is the Hawaiian term for “half.” Johanna is half Japanese and half Jewish. In writing her novel, she and I ignore some important fiction-writing rules, partly because we like to test dogmas and partly because it’s fun to try new things.

But the “rules” are essential knowledge to anyone crazy enough to either break them or follow them mindlessly.

So you could download my e-book on fiction writing, the second to last chapter of which gives my current opinions on many of the dogmatic rules of fiction writing. Downloading that 19,000 word pdf will place you on my short list of people who will be politely notified when my traditional novel is done – possibly before the next ice age. (No spam or sharing of your info. I haven’t sent an email to my list yet. It’s been over a year.)

Next time you’re writing emails, if you think of it, please tell your best and hopefully weirdest friend about my blog (www.storiform.com). Thanks! I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Talmage

41 thoughts on “Writing Fast is Interesting and Fun

  1. Jacqueline F. Holmes

    I enjoyed this blog. I have fallen in love with writing. It amazes me when I finish writing and read what flowed out of me. The many wonders the Lord can do with us if we only allow him. Thank you for following me. I look forward to reading more of what you have.

  2. I like the concept…I often work out my blog post in my head before writing it; it helps me focus. Thank you for following me at Triggershorse. – Fawn

  3. Adan Ramie

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. I’ve never heard of using a dream-quality walk-through before a session, but it sounds workable. My problem is I rarely know what’ll happen next, especially in short stories. It’s like I’m possessed by the story; once my fingers start moving, it’s like they have a collective mind of their own. However, with my current novel WIP, I’m having to do a lot more planning, so I will have to try this method and see how it works for me. Good luck in your writing!

    • I hope it works for you. To me, it feels like writing twice. First, “writing” with only sketchy notes scribbled on a pad , and then the second write where I look at what’s on the pad only when I can’t remember where I was going. It’s odd that writing twice (which this sort of is) turns out to be much faster for me. I guess it’s because it helps me isolate the creative dreaming part from the physical writing part, allowing me to re-dream scenes and parts of scenes before anything is committed to paper. Who knows? Good luck and thanks for your thoughts!

  4. Thanks for stopping by our blog. I am a psychiatric nurse turned writer. I write about the human animal bond and human mental health-
    also a bit of mindfulness and mischief. My therapy dog Junior is my muse. He has a lot of opinions.
    Looking forward to reading more of your writing.

    Paws up!
    Jill (andJunior)

  5. mzpresser

    Thanks for stopping by my blog! I too am following my dream of leaving my career as an attorney and becoming a writer. Just started working on my first book. I love this post you wrote and am so looking forward to reading your books and blog!

      • mzpresser

        Yes we encourage each other! Haven’t left my job yet but praying for clear guidance from the Lord. I’m so looking forward to following your journey!!!

        • You know, lately I’ve realized that it is the journey that matters. Sounds trite, but someone said that the surest way to kill your dreams is to reach them. I think there’s truth to that. If the destination or the outcome is all that matters, the journey gets buried in the stress and anxiety of the all-important goal… Usually a goal that you can’t reach unless you’re enjoying the journey towards it.

  6. I struggle with quality vs. quantity as well–usually erring too far on the side of quality. It takes me too years to finish a book to my expectations including multiple rounds of critiquing and revision. I can’t imagine sitting down to punch out 10,000 words in 5 hours–yeesh! 🙂

    • I don’t have any OCD whatsoever. None. Denial, yes, but OCD?

      My natural thing is to spend three to ten days re-working one day of writing. When I read that 10,000 words a day was humanly possible I almost dropped my pacifier on the floor. OK, it was William’s pacifier, but he lets me hold it sometimes, now that he’s two years old.

      Still, I’m a guy who likes to push envelopes and try anything that will keep my brain young, so I gave writing fast a whirl and was pleasantly shocked at what I did.

      Having said that, I haven’t been keeping it up because I’ve gotten re-hooked on blogging lately. It’s always something, yeah?

      I enjoyed your blog at http://smilekiddo.wordpress.com/

      Here’s a quote about your visit to Vegas that really spoke to my heart:

      “My family and I had a lovely time taking in the free sights of the city, and enjoyed losing and winning conservative amounts of cash.”

      If that doesn’t speak volumes of warmth, positivity and family love, what does?

      Thanks,

      Talmage

      • I didn’t write that blog, but it looks interesting. Thanks for the link. 🙂 Anyway, you’ve inspired me to try out more free-writing and not always bang my head against the notebook. Thank you!

        • Sorry for my mistake.

          I seem to have found a post of yours this time, right here: http://michellejoycebond.wordpress.com/

          And here’s the part that I love:

          “I don’t want fame. I want people to have read my words, empathize with the characters, lose themselves a little bit in their lives, and be haunted by the ghost of the book even after they turned the last page. I want them to think about it later. That would mean something in the essence of the book moved from short-term enjoyment to long-term effect. I want to–as corny as it sounds–move someone.”

          There’s nothing corny about that to me. It’s exactly what I want. More than anything.

          I’m thankful if I’ve inspired you to try more free-writing… or inspired you in any way at all. 🙂

  7. I’m a slow writer, too, although I’ve been known to burst into action when faced with an upcoming conference or hard core deadline. I’m learning to honor my creative process–push for speed when it feels right. Slow down when it doesn’t. I think the thing that works best for me is, ironically, consistency. As long as I’m working on a project– a little or a lot each day as my schedule allows–I’m happy.

    As a side note, I have to say I’m loving the dog pics. We lost our beautiful Golden Retriever to cancer last week. We still have a black lab — but she’s the kind of dog that says, “Really? You want to snuggle? In this heat???” Then I read her unspoken words and it’s something like “She must be off her rocker….”

    • I’m so glad to hear your voice. Consistency is the message you brought me that has a transcendent ring, if you know what I mean. I’ve been blogging all day for three days in a row, neglecting my novel. I’m starting to feel separation anxiety. Thanks for sharing your wisdom! It’s going to get me back to my novel today, I promise you. 🙂

      Golden Retrievers are almost human. I’m sorry you lost that member of your family. It hurts so bad and for so long. I lost my first dog, Cortana, about 18 months ago. She cared more about how I feel than I do. I could see it in her eyes. Look at me, I’m crying right now.

      Dang! This could ruin my macho image.

      Hang in there and you’ll get through this.

      • It takes a dog person to get this kind of pain. Yes, they are human. Bella touched my life in the simplest, most basic way. She loved me. I miss her so.

        (AndI know all about the writer-separation-anxiety thing. I was an avid blogger a few years back and had to take a break. I’m enjoying it now – and just starting up again. It’s a tricky balance -finding time to write and building relationships.)

          • balance is a tricky thing. Writing has to come first for me, though. The blog must support that effort.
            But blogging is still worth it. I’ve developed some wonderful buddies through my blog. Some of the best supporters I have out there in cyberworld.

  8. I certainly agree with the premise that indie writers need to produce more. But I believe the element of the equation which matters most is “quality.” Presumably, your fiction is as well-written as your blog, and that suggests the probability of happy readers who will look for and buy your future work. Good for you!

    That said, I’m continually amazed by the volume of poorly executed work which lands on the virtual shelves of Amazon, Smashwords, and others. It tends to give a bad name to those of us who spend the extra time required to produce reader-worthy material.

    So, yes, by all means, write fast. But please continue to edit, and to agonize, and to do everything else needed to produce good stuff. It’s way better to have a modest pile of that than a gigantic pile of crap.

    • Excellent points, and thank you for the kind and encouraging words!

      I’m an outlier when it comes to editing my fiction, I think. I naturally tend to spend three to ten days of editing for every day of first draft writing. It’s a sickness that will get me nowhere. 🙂 My medicine turns out to be writing fast towards a goal of many many words per day.

      But one writer’s medicine is another’s poison. And the dose can be the only difference in some cases.

      Every one of us who can afford it should probably hire a professional editor. I’m going to, if my wife will let me spend the money. 🙂

  9. Interesting link. I began writing fiction during grad school (MS in Healthcare Admin), which was sort of like having a puling preschooler with term papers to interrupt my creativity. I did the things she recommends, but not all together, so I was – and still am – slow. My best creative writing time is 2200-0200; during daylight my creativity dribbles, so that’s when I do revising and research. Grad school is long over, and I published in paperback 15 months ago, so the first novel is now the preschooler (requiring frequent tweaking as I engineer e-book, audiobook and hardcover formats), and blogging is a babe-in-arms. But I’m also gestating a prelude, so if I want to birth the rest of my 10 bucket-list books, I’d better tighten up my technique.

    • I’ve always been extremely slow at writing fiction. After reading the linked article a few weeks ago I’ve cranked out 20,000 words that, surprisingly, aren’t much different from my usual prose. But I’ve found that I have to go back and do some editing and some fleshing in of the physical environment (of scenes) before I can go on much further, because I’m not able to feel the character’s emotions and see them in my head clearly without seeing the ceilings, floors, walls, etc. It just doesn’t feel real after awhile if I blaze ahead with dialogue and plot but not enough description. This fits with the concept connecting emotion with description (in my post “J.T. Bushnell is Brilliant”).

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