The Need for Speed:
How Does Writing Faster Make You A Better Writer?
by Jim Denney
GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS
Some years back, I submitted a novel proposal to a publisher. The publisher replied, “We’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is we want to publish your book. In fact, we’d like to sign you to a four-book series.”
Well, that wasn’t just good news, that was incredible news. So how bad could the bad news be?
Pretty bad, as it turned out. For starters, the advance they offered was (to put it politely) modest. The deadline they offered was humanly impossible—they wanted me to write four books in four months. Oh, and one more thing—the contract contained a $100 per day fine for late delivery.
I didn’t have an agent or attorney at the time. I did my own negotiating—something I would not do again and do not recommend to anyone else. But I will say this: I can be a tough negotiator when I need to be.
They wouldn’t budge on money, but did agree to a deadline extension. I tried to negotiate away the $100 late delivery penalty. “It’s hard to be creative,” I explained, “with that gun pointed at my wallet.” The argument fell on deaf ears. So I asked for a 30-day grace period before the fine kicked in—and they agreed.
So I got a contract I could live with—barely. But even with the deadline extensions and concessions I had gotten, it was going to be tight. In the end, I delivered Book 1 ahead of deadline, Book 2 right on deadline, Book 3 two weeks late, and Book 4 almost a month late. But I stayed within the grace period, and I didn’t incur the $100-a-day penalty.
In the process I learned I could write a lot faster than I ever imagined—and I could do so without sacrificing quality. In fact, writing under intense pressure was actually liberating, because it forced me to free up my intuition and creativity. I didn’t have time to think about what I was writing, and those four books seemed to pour out onto the page in a burst of uninhibited creativity. I believe the books are actually better than they might have been if I’d had more time to ponder and analyze what I was writing.
It’s a paradox but it’s true: The faster you write, the better the quality of your writing.
Fast enough to stay ahead of the doubts
In Ray Bradbury’s noir novel A Graveyard for Lunatics, there’s a scene in which the unnamed narrator-protagonist (a fictionalized version of Bradbury himself) hands a movie script to Fritz the movie director (who is based on Bradbury’s friend, director Fritz Lang, and Bradbury’s nemesis, director John Huston). The shocked director gulps his glass of wine and can’t believe the writer has produced this script in less than a day.
“Cut the comedy!” Fritz says. “You couldn’t have written that in a few hours!”
“Sorry,” the narrator replies. “Only the fast stuff is good. Slow down, you think what you’re doing and it gets bad.”1
This is not just a scene in a Bradbury novel. This is the essence of Bradbury’s philosophy of writing, and it’s the way he approached every story, novel, and screenplay he ever wrote. As he told Writer’s Digest in a February 1976 interview, “The only good writing is intuitive writing. It would be a big bore if you knew where it was going. It has to be exciting, instantaneous and it has to be a surprise. Then it all comes blurting out and it’s beautiful. I’ve had a sign by my typewriter for 25 years now which reads, ‘Don’t Think!’”
Other great novelists agree. Detective fiction writer Raymond Chandler, author of Farewell, My Lovely, put it this way: “The faster I write the better my output. If I’m going slow, I’m in trouble. It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.”
And Stephen King, in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, also wrote about the need for speed: “With the door shut, downloading what’s in my head directly to the page, I write as fast as I can and still remain comfortable. Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There is plenty of opportunity for self-doubt. If I write rapidly, putting down my story exactly as it comes into my mind, only looking back to check the names of my characters and the relevant parts of their back stories, I find that I can keep up with my original enthusiasm and at the same time outrun the self-doubt that’s always waiting to settle in.”2
To put it simply, King says we must write fast enough to stay ahead of the doubts. As writers, we all have plenty of self-doubt. I certainly doubted my ability to write four novels in six months. But my deadlines gave me no choice, so I had no time for doubts.
The ability to write fast not only frees up your intuition and creativity. It keeps you in closer contact with your story and characters. The faster you write, the less likely you are to forget what your characters did and said in earlier chapters. By writing quickly, you keep the entire story fresh and alive in your mind as you write, enhancing the cohesion and flow of your story. Your mind stays focused on your story even when you’re away from the keyboard. Ideas keep surfacing like bubbles in champagne.
Check back tomorrow so you can learn the SEVEN STEPS TO WRITING FAST.
Jim Denney is a professional writer with more than 90 published books to his credit, including the Timebenders science-fantasy series for young readers.
Jim’s writing career has introduced him to many fascinating people. “I’m a big Star Trek fan,” he says, “so one of the great joys of my career was working with actress Grace Lee Whitney on her autobiography THE LONGEST TREK. I’ve also written books with supermodel Kim Alexis, Orlando Magic co-founder Pat Williams, and two Super Bowl champions, quarterback Bob Griese and ‘The Minister of Defense,’ Reggie White.
Thanks Jim Denney for guest posting today! Follow him on Twitter here
If you’d like to learn more of Jim’s writing tips please visit his blog here
Jim’s Timebenders blogsite here.
To learn more about Jim’s Timebenders books, Battle Before Time here.
and Doorway to Doom here.
Jim also has a book on writing for a living, Quit Your Day Job here.
1. Ray Bradbury, A Graveyard for Lunatics (New York: Perennial/HarperCollins, 2001), 268-269.
2. Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), 209.
3. Maxim Gorky, Aleksandr Kuprin, and I. A. Bunin, Reminiscences of Anton Chekhov (New York: B. W. Huebsch, 1921), 62.
4. Ibid., 63.