Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.

 There’s one writing myth I have to lay to rest, once and for all.

I never thought I’d have to. Dean Wesley Smith covered this beautifully a long time ago, but every time I turn around, there it is again.

If you create something quickly, it must be crap.

We just love the image of an artist pining over a single work for decades. We’re still mystified that Harper Lee never wrote another book (that we know of). Creative people who are prolific, on the other hand, have tons of derogatory terms slung at them.

They “churn” the work out. (Not unless they work for a dairy.)

Or they “crank” it.

They “slap” something down on paper.

This myth becomes hugely powerful in the aftermath of National Novel Writing Month. During NaNoWriMo people all over the world are encouraged to write 50,000 words in thirty days.

In case you didn’t already know this, I will tell you a secret.

50,000 words in thirty days is not that fast.

I’m not saying it’s not a great accomplishment! It is. But let’s do some writerly math.

50,000 in thirty days = approximately 1,667 words a day. For convenience’s sake, let’s round that up to 2,000 words per day.

I don’t know about you, but I typically write 2,000 words in 90 minutes. On a really good day, I can do it in 60. On a horrible day, it might take me three hours.

Let’s assume other people might take even more time. Okay, four hours a day. That’s a bit more than 90 minutes, but is it doable, especially for full-time writers? Sure.

If you write 2,000 words every day for a year, you’ll have 730,000. As most novels written for adults are around the 90,000-word mark, that’s eight novels a year.

So why aren’t most traditionally published authors “churning” out eight books a year?

Here’s the other big secret–they probably are.

Publishers have to deal with lots of considerations when they release a book. They don’t want to release something when it will be in competition with the house’s similar titles; they don’t want one of their authors to “over-saturate” the market, etc.

If you self-publish, you can release a novel whenever you want, which has resulted in some pretty incredible back lists of over thirty titles or more from a single author. Some self-published authors I know aim to release six or more books per year. Some release nine or twelve.

But unfortunately, there’s that nasty myth that writing fast = writing crap, and I believe that myth has hurt the self-published.

You may have noticed Stephen King is writing a lot more these days. Instead of waiting an entire year for a new King release, we’re now able to read three or more. But I’m willing to bet that he’s not writing more–his publisher is releasing more. I’m also willing to bet King has a still-unpublished back list that would blow our minds.

(Even King has said that he writes slower these days. So the increase in King books has nothing to do with his productivity.)

If the average writer can produce eight books a year by writing just 2,000 words per day, imagine what King, as an expert writer, can do.

And just in case you’re one of those people who turn their nose up at him (and to them I say, he makes it look easy by being really, really good at it), National Book Award-winner Jacqueline Woodson wrote one of her books in two weeks. 

And it needed almost no changes.

Think of the assembly-line worker for a minute. When he first starts at the factory, his fingers are slow and clumsy. He makes mistakes. But in time, he gets better. Faster. By the time he’s worked at that factory for ten years, his hands are a blur.

The more you do something, the better you become. (Usually.) Your mind and body become trained to do that task, and are able to complete it in a shorter amount of time.

This is why I cringe when I hear all the rhetoric about churning and slapping and cranking at this time of year.

Sure, some NaNoWriMo books are crap. But that has more to do with the writer and their level of craft, experience, and skill than it has to do with time frame.

Writing fast ≠ writing crap.

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  1. aquawrites

    This is so true Holli. I believed in all the Nanowrimo first drafts will be crap hype, until I read my very first draft with Nanowrimo. It wasn’t crap. I loved it. Over 75% of it still exists in my revised draft.

    I work full time, yet to finish 50,0000 words in 30 days only required an hour a day. That’s really not difficult to fit in. Kudos to you for slapping down that horrible myth.

    • J.H. Moncrieff

      Thanks so much for commenting, Bonnie. I believed in it too. There are so many people who turn their noses up at NaNoWriMo, saying it produces crap novels. It may, but it really doesn’t have to.

      My first NaNoWriMo resulted in a fairly clean first draft that required fewer changes than books I’d written with more time. For me, momentum is key. If I’m not taking long breaks from the story, it usually turns out better.

      And who can’t spare an hour a day to focus on their dream? Thanks for helping me shoot that particular myth down!

  2. Elle

    This myth should die a hard and ugly death. Speed and quality aren’t the same thing. In fact, I want to write faster than I do now, and I’m not a slowpoke.

    • J.H. Moncrieff

      Thanks for commenting, Elle. It’s nice to hear from other writers. Lots are reading, but they’re all staying quiet. 😉

      As for speed, me too. Or, keep the speed but up the consistency. That would be nice.

  3. Stephanie Faris

    I think the biggest mistake writers make is in comparing ourselves to other writers. Other writers tell us a “good book” goes through months of revisions, but that’s just not always the case. Some people are perfectionists and spend years revising the same manuscript, while others rush it out there and it works out fine. It’s just different work styles and none of us should feel bad if the way we do things is different from others.

    (Stephen King is great but VERY wordy…he could do with some editing and I have a feeling his editors don’t even try. He’s Stephen King, after all! But his books would be MUCH more powerful if they were a little more concise.)

    • J.H. Moncrieff

      I agree Stephanie, and I’d add that a lot of writers who don’t spend months and years writing and revising SAY they do, because it sounds better. Both perpetuate the myth. I wrote one of my strongest books very quickly, but will I advertise that? Hell no! At least not until it’s safe.

      No arguments with your point on Stephen King, either. A lot of his books would be much shorter without the repetition. One of my favourite King books, Bag of Bones, must have the first line from Rebecca repeated every few pages. Even I was screaming, “I get it, Steve! I get it! That line is foreboding, but I got it the first time.”

      Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  4. Samantha Warren

    Thank you! I’m a fast writer and editor and I always feel guilty because I’m not spending ages on the books. But I don’t feel I need to. I’m happy with my books, and my core readers are, too. I’m learning that those are the people that I write for, not the people who think books have to be 90,000 words and take 3 years to write.

    • J.H. Moncrieff

      Welcome, Samantha, and thanks for commenting! Thanks also for being one of my myth busters.

      I think the only rules in writing are “There are no rules.”

      Congrats on your success! I was the kid who waited until other kids handed their tests in because I was embarrassed about being finished first.

    • Andrew

      I personely think their should be stil be roolz about grammer and speling.

    • J.H. Moncrieff

      Perhaps. But what fun would that be.

      PS…You spelled your name correctly.

  5. Susan Scott

    Message received loud and clear! Thanks for a great post J.H.

    • J.H. Moncrieff

      You’re very welcome, Susan. Thanks for all the support and encouragement. I really appreciate it.


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