We live in an Amazon Prime, Netflix, fast food, “I want it NOW” kinda world.
Life moves fast, and when we decide we want something, we generally can get it fairly quickly. No more waiting for a movie to come out or the VHS to get returned to Blockbuster. We just stream it. We get items we’ve ordered in a day or two.
Sadly (in my mind at least), writing and producing books quickly has not escaped the “right now” push in modern society.
The internet is filled with programs to help you write your book in 90 days, 60 days, 30 days, or even a weekend though these books are often in the range of 15-25,000 words while the average novel is between 65,000-95,000 words.
There’s nothing wrong with these programs. The focus is on productivity, efficiency, and publishing to make some moolah. It’s all about speed.
But when it comes to creative work, to sharing messages and stories that we’re drawn to, that we feel deeply, is speed the most important piece of writing?
Honestly, that depends. If you want to make a full-time living as an author, you need to produce books quickly and to market. You need to build up a hefty backlist and probably write series. If you want your book to be an entry point into your business offerings, you need to get your book out and market the heck out of it. These goals depend on writing quickly and efficiently.
I don’t necessarily want to write multiple books a year, but this past spring, I decided to see if I could speed up my own writing process because I am, most decidedly, not a fast writer. I’ve written 4.75 novels in the past ten years, and published three of them. There were several years in there where I didn’t write much at all as I was caregiving for my husband who had a major health crisis and for my father who passed from lung cancer in 2017. Life happens, and my focus was not on my writing career at all during that time period of about two years.
It also takes me a solid year to write a novel. There. I said it. I’m owning it. I’m a slow writer. And, I’m okay with that.
Okay, back to my experiment to see if I could write faster.
After tracking my writing sessions and paying attention to the details of each session, I learned that:
- I thought morning writing sessions were best for me, but afternoons work pretty good too.
- I can write for about four hours max in a day and then I’m fried. I need a good break.
- I can get more written if I totally unplug and focus (duh).
- Giving myself a clear starting spot and knowing what I’m going to write makes for a more productive session.
- I can write non-fiction ie. blog posts, social media captions much faster than I can write fiction.
But, my most important lesson was that when I focused on speed and efficiency during every writing session, writing words felt so much harder. Focusing on speed took the joy out of the process.
I would set these ridiculous goals for myself that I couldn’t reach which made me feel like a failure at the end of the day.
It’s not just about the book and the word count.
Writing is a personal process. It’s art.
We are creating work that means something to us and to our readers. Pushing myself to write at a speed that wasn’t aligned with my own creative processes brought up all the writing mindset issues that used to plague me regularly but now rarely do.
- Who am I to do this? I’m not smart enough or creative enough to have ideas come so fast. (imposter syndrome)
- My writing is awful. I suck at this. (perfectionism)
- Why can other people write a great book every month and it takes me twelve? (comparisonitis)
- How can I find the time to write, even if it’s fast, when life is already so busy? (procrastination)
There’s a process to writing a book. Like any big project, it can bring up a lot of “stuff.” You think you’re merely putting words on the page, but you’re putting much of yourself on the page and bringing all of you to the writing process. It’s a vulnerable thing to do.
Writing in a way that wasn’t aligned with how my ideas flow and my creative process works made me actually write slower than I have in the past – not what I wanted to happen.
I got anxious, frustrated, and super annoyed with myself. Yuck.
So, rather than trying to write at a speed that didn’t feel fun or creative or aligned with my own creative process, I have since decided to just embrace how I write though I did find some tricks to help make sessions more productive (which I share below).
As you work through the personal stuff and self-doubt, there are the practical elements to actually writing and learning your craft.
Ideas take time as does the writing process to convey those ideas in the best way possible.
Remember being a kid and looking forward to your favorite holiday, vacation, or your birthday? So much of the fun was in the anticipating, the planning, the dreaming. I want to allow for that for my own books as well. Let’s enJOY that piece as we continue writing rather than demanding that our creative process join Amazon Prime and becomes a race to deliver your book too quickly before it’s ready and fully developed.
If it takes you a year, or two, or ten, that’s okay.
As long as we just keep at it, keep writing, keep working, it’s all good.
To be clear, I’m not arguing that you cannot create great work quickly. You can.
But it’s probably not going to happen with your first book. Nor are you going to be able to write a full-length book that quickly.
And I’ve learned that I don’t particularly enjoy focusing on speed and efficiency when it comes to writing fiction.
How long does it take to write a book?
I’m going to give you the answer that used to annoy the hell of me when my mom would give it to me as a kid.
Writing your book will take as long as it takes!
From the day I started my first novel, to its publication, was about six years. It took a little over three years to learn the craft of writing (and not just analyzing) fiction, researching my book, and actually writing The Overlander’s Daughter.
Despite a degree in English and an M.A. in lit, I soon realized that while I could spit out an essay or analysis of fiction pretty quickly, writing fiction took a different set of skills which I had to figure out. Many books, conferences, and workshops later, I learned how to put a whole novel together.
That first book ended up being right around 85,000 words, but I have another 40,000 words in scenes and chapters that didn’t make the final book. Why did I cut them? Because as I said, I was learning to write fiction, and those pieces didn’t belong in the final book.
It took another few months to edit it on my own. I then hired a professional editor and managed to sign with an agent. Unfortunately, he was unable to sell my manuscript, but he held the rights to it for two years. By the time I got it back and made the decision to self-publish, figured out how to format it and get it ready for publication, and had a cover designed, six years had passed.
And I’m totally okay with this. I’ve since written over four novels and hundreds (if not thousands) of blog posts and newsletters.
I’m a more confident writer. I’m enjoying the journey.
Giving yourself time to play with and learn your craft, expand ideas, and explore the best ways to convey your story, craft a solid narrative arc for your reader, and revise/rearrange and polish is absolutely worth it.
Can you purchase a program and learn a speedy system to expedite the process? Sure. And it can work if that process is aligned with your own creative flow and process.
Instead, I’d encourage you to either work with a coach or in a writing group where you can feel into and figure out your process first while you tackle some of that mindset stuff I mentioned earlier.
Those issues will come up.
Can you speed up the process?
Sure! There are definitely strategies that work to make writing sessions more efficient and productive. I use them and share them with clients all the time.
But my focus for my own writing and even for my clients is on writing a deep and meaningful piece, NOT on writing it to some arbitrary deadline. We need to hold ourselves accountable but there are days, despite using these strategies, that as writers we get sucked down research holes or just spend time staring off into space between each sentence. It is what it is!
Here are a few tips to help make your sessions more efficient:
- Write regularly – several 1-2 hour blocks per week at a minimum to keep your momentum going
- Know what you’re going to write – have a plan and use it. When you end one session, jot some notes on what comes next so you can dive right in and get going.
- Go silent – unplug your phone or go on airplane mode. Close out your email. Turn off notifications. Give yourself space to create.
- Use a timer like a pomodoro timer to keep you focused for a set period of time which helps your brain know that it can take a break soon.
- Write in community – that accountability is HUGE to keeping your momentum going.
- Figure out when and where you write the best – write at those times in those places.
- Write by hand when you’re feeling stuck
There is a reason that we refer to our “writing process.” We do so because it is a process and it can take time. Sometimes we can crank out words quickly but this whole idea of writing fast and that being the primary objective for writers to GET YOUR WORK OUT THERE NOW can create an unnecessary pressure filled space.
If you are writing to deadline, yes, put your butt in the chair, figure it out and write. But if you are beginning, starting your first book, allow yourself the time and space to learn, to figure out what works for you, to feel into your own creative process and be kind to yourself as you figure it out.