How Fast Must You Write To Be A Successful Author?

How to Write Faster (and Why Maybe You Shouldn’t)

How Fast Must You Write To Be A Successful Author?

Today, I’m going to be contradictory: first, I’m going to show you how to master a killer skill (namely, how to write faster)–and then I’m going to tell you why you shouldn’t use it.

There are two reasons you might be interested in learning how to write faster:

1. Your daily word count is abysmal and you’re having trouble creating any kind of forward momentum in your daily writing sessions.

2. You want to write faster in order to finish and publish more books more quickly, in order to meet the demands and take advantage of the opportunities provided by today’s book market.

The first reason is pretty self-explanatory. But let’s take just a minute to look more closely at the second.

The 3-Step Formula for Being a Successful Author

Did you know there is a (not-so-)secret formula for succeeding as an author these days? It’s a three-part formula:

1. Write awesome books (preferably genre and preferably in a series).

2. Learn a few important marketing hacks.

3. Write at least one book a year.

If you want to make a living in the Wild West of today’s independent digital gold rush, then this is the formula that represents just about every novelist who’s made it work for them.

This presents a tremendous opportunity for talented, determined writers. It also puts a lot of pressure on young, hungry authors to write fast and churn out books. There are both pros and cons to that realization.

(Probable) Benefits to Writing Faster

  • More books/more earnings
  • Good writing habits of discipline, focus, and drive
  • Compounded writing experience (the more books you write, the more you learn about the process)

(Potential) Drawbacks to Writing Faster

  • Lower quality of story and prose
  • Less enjoyment in the process
  • More stress
  • Muddied priorities

All of these considerations should give you pause for thought (both excited and cautious), since every single one will affect your writing, your career, and even your life. In weighing these considerations, what it all comes down to is your personal priorities–which we’re going to talk about more in just a sec. But, first, the practicalities of how you can learn to write like the wind!

Write Like the Wind Bullseye

How to Write Faster in 3 Steps

I’m not the fastest writer on the planet, but neither am I the slowest. For me, 1,500 (good) words an hour isn’t unusual. This isn’t anywhere close to, say, Chris Fox’s impressive 5,000 words an hour. But it was enough to have one guy insist I either had to be lying or writing the sloppiest first draft of the century.

I consider this rate neither slow nor super-speedy. It’s a rate I’m quite happy with. I have to push myself a little to achieve it, but I don’t have to sacrifice quality, hurt my wrists, or feel stressed out by this pace.

Please note, this is only a guideline idea against which to measure your own pace. I’m not saying this is the right pace: I’m saying this is my pace.

Here’s how to write faster and achieve your optimal writing pace:

1. Plan

Achieving success begins and ends with having a realistic goal. How many words do you want to write in an hour? Once you know that, you can start breaking your overall goal down into bite-sized chunks. I divide my hour into quarters. My goal is to write 300 words every 15 minutes (a goal I often surpass by 100 words or so).

I know this is an achievable goal for me, since this is a rate at which I can easily write without unnecessarily pushing myself, as long as I don’t let myself stop.

To start with, figure out a pace at which you’re comfortable right now. This isn’t necessarily the pace you want to be at, but you have to start where you’re at. Don’t make things unnecessarily difficult for yourself in the beginning. Start within your comfort zone. As you accustom yourself to your new habits, you can raise your goals,

2. Practice

The idea of writing faster can be intimidating at first. It’s a muscle you must build, like any other. Start with something easy: say, 100 words per 15 minutes. If you achieve that easily, up it to 200 words, then 300, until you find your ceiling.

Find a pattern that’s comfortable. I’ll write for 15 minutes, check my word count, take a drink of water, eat a piece of chocolate, whatever, then start the next 15-minute cycle. You could get up from the computer, stretch, fold the laundry–whatever feels right after your first 15 minutes.

As soon as you’re comfortable with your current mini-goal, up it just a little bit–but nothing too overwhelming. All you need to do is take baby steps, one at a time, until you reach the top of the mountain. You don’t have to climb it all in one day.

3. Prioritize

Writing quickly requires absolute focus. This means eliminating distractions. Go to the bathroom, put your earbuds in, lock the dog outside, and for heaven’s sakes turn off the Internet. You need 15 minutes to hour an of uninterrupted writing time.

If you want to achieve quality writing right out of the gate–the kind that doesn’t require twice as much time to edit afterwards–you also need to have a clear understanding of what you will be writing today. I couldn’t achieve the word counts, the quality first drafts, or the intensity of focus I do without my detailed outlines. Because I already have my story plotted and my scenes choreographed, I don’t have to stop and think about what happens next: I can simply write.

Speed vs. Stamina: They’re Not the Same Thing

See? Writing fast is actually very easy. The hardest thing about it is just sitting down to do it. In fact, this intense amount of required discipline is probably the single greatest benefit you’ll gain from learning how to write faster. That acquired discipline is also the reason I would never discourage a writer who wants to learn how to write faster.

In short, as Rachel Aaron talks about in her book 2,000 to 10,000, stamina is by far the more valuable asset than is the speed itself. Stamina/discipline is arguably the single greatest quality of any successful writer.

In 5000 Words Per Hour, Chris Fox teaches you how to write faster.I often talk about how finishing novels is one of the most important habits any author can establish. In 5,000 Words Per Hour, Chris Fox astutely points out that:

The vast majority of writers will never finish a short story, much less a novel…. Completing projects teaches characterization, plotting, pacing, and a whole host of other parts to your craft. You complete entire novels by cranking out thousands of words each and every day. As of this writing I’ve written seven novels. Every last one has massively improved my skills, and I now crank out better novels faster than ever.

Learning to write faster teaches you to write with stamina. Sitting down for an hour to write 1,500 (or more) words is not the same as sitting down for an hour to write 300 words. This isn’t to say those hard-fought, carefully-considered 300 words aren’t useful and important, but grinding out 5 words a minute–with lots of thinking, tinkering, hemming, hawing, and (probably) hair-pulling mixed in–doesn’t instill the same powerful habits of stamina and discipline as does writing 20 or more words per minute.

However (big however here): stamina and speed are not the same thing. Don’t feel you can achieve admirable stamina only by writing a gazillion words per hour. Stamina is stamina. Focus is focus. Discipline is discipline. When you’ve gained these habits, you’ll know it–and it’s no knock on your accomplishment if you’re not writing thousands of words to the hour.

That brings to me to my entire reason for sharing this post.

Why I Refuse to Write Faster

You see it everywhere these days: the demand for speed. We all want to be successful writers, and if the hack for achieving that success is to write faster and produce more books, then how can we help feeling the pressure to reach that goal?

I feel that pressure–perhaps more than most, since my fiction defies the common-sense marketing formula in just about every way possible: I don’t write genre fiction, I don’t even write the same genre every time, I don’t write series (yet), and I publish only one novel every three years.

Whenever I sit down to brainstorm marketing techniques for my fiction, I see the biggest answer staring me right in the face: write for the market. Write faster, churn out a couple books a year–heck maybe even one every other month. (And, shoot, why not just go ahead and start writing romance or thrillers while I’m at it?) I have absolutely zero doubt that if I were to do this, my fiction sales would easily double or triple within the first year.

Believe me. I feel the pressure.

And I fight it.

I fight it for two reasons. The first reason is, simply, that I don’t feel I could maintain the same level of quality in my books if I were to rush the overall process. (And that’s just me: there are certainly writers out there who can write an awesome book in a month.)

The second reason is, by far, the more important. It’s the trump card. It’s what reins in my marketing brain’s enthusiasm every single time. The second reason is this:

If I were to force myself to write any faster, I would lose something precious.

Learning how to write faster isn't always a good thing for your happiness as a writer.

Simply put, I don’t want to write my novels any faster. I enjoy the fact that a first draft generally takes me about a year to write. I love getting to spend that amount of time on one story. I love that each story gets to have a sense of weight within my life. Indeed, each book gets to be an entire chapter in my life–rather than a TV serial on binge-watch, quickly conceived, quickly enjoyed, quickly discarded.

I feel very blessed to be able to write full-time, but that experience has also made me aware of how easy it is to lose your passion and joy in something once you try to start monetizing it. I have to make it a conscious priority every single day not to let the obvious path to a dollar dictate to my art–not to let it overwhelm or destroy what is the heart of it all, the reason for it all.

I write because I love it. I would write if I never earned a dollar, if I were never read. That is why I do not make choices for my fiction based on what is best for the market. That is why I choose (at this stage in my life anyway) not to write any faster than I already do.

That’s my priority.

Who’s Dictating Your Writing Speed: You or the Market?

If you haven’t figured this out already, let me say it point-blank: There’s no right speed at which to write your novel. There is only the right speed for you based on your personal priorities.

Should You Be Writing Faster Infographic Helping Writers Become Authors K.M. Weiland

What’s most important for you is figuring out what those priorities are. Ask yourself:

  • Do you have trouble finishing novels?
  • Do you have trouble mustering daily discipline or regular word counts?
  • Do you have trouble focusing during your writing session?
  • Do you struggle to stop tinkering with your unfinished first draft?

Then you will undoubtedly find answers and personal improvement in following the above tips for learning how to write faster.

  • Do you want to be able to take advantage of more marketing tricks for your fiction?
  • Do you want to sell more books?
  • Do you want to build your audience faster?

Then, very likely, writing faster and publishing more frequently will help you accomplish that. (By the way, this is a totally legitimate quest. I’m in no way suggesting you’re selling out, if this what you desire and this is the route you decide to take. Just make sure you’re taking it for the right reasons and with a full awareness of what you may be sacrificing.)

  • Are you already a consistent writer with a steady, disciplined daily pace?
  • Do you enjoy the pace at which you’re currently writing?
  • If you had to choose between selling more books and following your own artistic preferences, would you choose the latter?
  • Do you believe you would compromise the quality of your writing if you produced faster?

If so, don’t pressure yourself into feeling you must double, triple, or quadruple your daily word count. If you choose this route, will you, too, be called upon to make sacrifices? Absolutely. Will you sell as many books and make as much money as authors who are writing faster? Impossible to say for certain, but it does lower the odds.

No answer to any of these questions is the wrong answer. None of these is a wrong choice. But make sure you understand your priorities, your goals, and the pros and cons of each decision you make as a writer.

Not too long ago, as I was just beginning to contemplate this post, I received an email from Patrick Hart, who wrote:

I just finished listening to an episode [of your podcast] in which you discussed how fast one should write their novel. It is nice to know there are others out there like myself that take the tortoise route…. So thank you for the renewed faith in my work ethic.

Learning how to be a successful writer is a goal we all share. But I think we can all agree that learning to be a happy writer is even more important. Finding the right pace for your writing can help you balance both success and happiness. Here’s to that!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Do you feel that learning how to write faster would help or hinder your writing process at this point? Tell me why in the comments!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in iTunes).

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. One of the things I love about you above many (I won’t say most, but plenty) other authors who teach about writing is that you don’t rely on absolutes. I’ve seen writers insist that if you don’t outline, you will never finish your book; if you don’t sit down at the computer every single day and write xxx amount, you’ll never finish your book; if you don’t spend x amount of time writing and y amount editing, you’ll never finish your book; if you don’t hold to this standard or that standard, etc., you’ll never finish your book. (Replace “never finish your book” with “only create sub-par work” on occasion.) I think I even remember a writer saying something along the lines of, think of how devastated you would feel if you could only complete one book a year– or worse! (I dunno, YOU don’t look too devastated to me, but I could be wrong. I honestly thought that was standard among most novelists.) And yet, there have been writers out there who have, time and time again, proven otherwise quite successfully.

    Mind you, most of these writers I’m talking about aren’t wrong about things all the time– they often provide pure goldmines for the pre-published author. But those absolutes sound so condescending sometimes. Either that, or willfully ignorant of the way the world works sometimes (and so far have not interfered with THEIR processes of writing).

    I think recently you mentioned that even pantsers can still benefit from outlining occasionally, and that’s just about the best advice I’ve seen about pantsers vs. outliners– just figure out your method, and be ready to adjust it if and when it’s necessary, and be open-minded and even curious about many different methods.

    🙂

    • “Mind you, most of these writers I’m talking about aren’t wrong about things all the time– they often provide pure goldmines in other areas of their teaching for the pre-published author. ”

      Missed a few words first time. Sorry.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        Only the Sith believe in absolutes. 😉

        Actually, I totally *do* believe in absolutes for *everything* about writing, but mostly in the sense that every cause has an equal effect. The thing is: not every writer is in pursuit of the same effect. This is why it’s so important for each of us to understand ourselves and our personal priorities–so we’ll know how best to achieve that. For some of us that means writing six books a year, for some of us that means pantsing, for some of us that means being traditionally published.

        None are wrong answers. They’re just different ends that require different roads to get there.

        • I prefer to quote Cmdr. William T. Riker: “There can be no justice so long as laws are absolute.”

          Don’t matter if you’re talking about the political variety, or writing–or anything else, for that matter.

  2. I should definitely work on my writing, but not so much I don’t spend time with my family. Connections are important, yes, and family and friends are part of them as well as positive people. I should spend time with people that love me. Not sit on the computer too much.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Good balance! It’s so important for us to understand and respect the priorities that are important to us.

  3. Why write faster? For one, I’ve got a lot of ideas I want to put to paper. For another, I’m broke. I’m not worried about losing quality–my usual response to a writing block is to polish what I’ve already written. I transcribed a book for a friend–it ended up taking me almost two years. Partially because I was doing other things, partially because his style was rather different from mine (and needed a lot of editing), and partially because as hard as I tried to push my typing speed, I couldn’t get much above 20 wpm–and that only after I got an ergonomic keyboard. With a standard keyboard, I’ve got so many “unheard” keystrokes and catching other keys–incidentally, I never had either of those problems until about ten years ago–I often ended up with less than 16 wpm. With an on-line typing test, I can get sometimes hit 50 wpm, but when I have to look at a source that isn’t on-screen, or have to think about how exactly I want to phrase something, my typing speed tanks. I’ve tried dictation software that’s gotten me up to 90 wpm, but (even if I cut out the time I spend laughing at the mistranscriptions) by the time I edit all the errors, my net speed has dropped back to 20 wpm.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Source: How to Write Faster (and Why Maybe You Shouldn’t) | Helping Writers Become Authors […]

  2. […] I loved K.M.’s take on the issue of writing faster, which she explores eloquently in How to Write Faster (and Why Maybe You Shouldn’t): […]

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