Writing Fast, by May Burnett

Some self-appointed experts claim you do not come into your own as a writer until after you’ve written at least a million words. Even the admired classic writers of any genre needed to develop their voice and skill over time. When you compare the first novel of Georgette Heyer to those she wrote ten or twenty years later, it is undeniable how the style and technique improved, though perhaps not the plotting. Yet by my count, unless she discarded a lot of pages, it did not take her anything like a million words until she produced one of my favorites, These Old Shades.
Since publishing my first historical romance, The Impostor Debutante, in the summer of 2014, I have written thirteen more, counting the current work that is yet unpublished. At an average length of 62 000 words, that comes to a total of 868 000 words, written and edited – the editing is perhaps more time-consuming, if done properly. If I also count my writing in other genres, mainly fantasy, then I am just about at the threshold of those one million words. It took me less than three years altogether, with several month-long pauses while I travelled to three other continents.
Even so, I am not the fastest writer around by any means. There are writers who publish a well-edited novel per month. They have learned to delegate effectively, and write fast on a schedule. Some of them make an excellent living out of their self-published novels (no trade publisher will publish so many, so fast.)
I am currently collaborating on a series with a (former) professional ghostwriter – she publishes it under her pen name, while I figure as the editor. She managed to write 12 000 words one day not long ago. My own record is 8000, but that is not a speed I can keep up consistently. On a good day, I will write around 5000 words. Then my brain goes on strike and wants to do something else, like housework, shopping, or playing games on my tablet.
Can anyone learn to write so fast? I believe the ability can be trained, to an extent. In my former profession I often had to write reports under time pressure. I also tried to write fiction in my off time, but never got to any like these speeds, at least not consistently. A demanding job, and a family to look after, make such concentration very hard. It is only since I am retired, and free of constant interruptions, that I am able to write a whole novel draft in two to three weeks. When I am in the zone, often listening to instrumental music, the story just comes bubbling up from the unconscious, without any effort required. My greatest regret is that I waited all these years before getting into writing full-time. Of course, the empowering option of self-publishing did not exist when I was younger. I might have written dozens more novels, otherwise… and become a much better writer by now. But better late than never.
This “pulp” speed, as a well-known blogger calls it, also has the advantage that one does not tire of the story and characters long before finishing. Like riding a bicycle, by charging straight ahead, without pause, you keep up your momentum. I find it hard to imagine spending a whole year or more on just one novel, without losing all enthusiasm for it. As it is, I make an effort not to repeat myself, to have each book be different and unique and unpredictable, at least within genre confines.


Writing fast also affords me the luxury to write in more than one genre. Currently I’m dividing my time between Urban Fantasy and historical romance, and I’m toying with the idea of branching out into cozy mysteries, either contemporary or historical, with a strong romantic subplot. The advantage is that I could use the same main characters over and over, and with luck, build a loyal readership interested in their adventures. With romance, that is much harder to do, for if you write long past the happy conclusion of the central relationship, the resulting book is no longer strictly romance.
I’d better get back to my current WiP (work in progress) now, for there is an infinity of stories still waiting to be told…


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