In July I had the opportunity to travel to New York for the International Thriller Writers’ summer conference, ThrillerFest. The conference lasts four days and is broken into two parts. CraftFest, which takes place the first two days, comprises various breakout sessions about the craft of writing novels in general and thrillers in particular. The second two days are a fan/reader appreciation event, with various thriller writers speaking about their books and their careers.
This was my third ThrillerFest and every year the experiences there have been more amazing. This year, while having lunch with fellow writers and authors – many of them bestselling authors – I had a profound “ah ha” moment.
After spending several days listening to authors talk about their work and work habits, I began to identify a pattern. Again and again, I observed a correlation with the really successful novelists and their ability to produce output quickly. Almost without exception, these authors wrote every day (with Sunday sometimes being the exception) and they pumped out the pages. For them it’s not just good enough to have Butt Time in front of the computer; they demand output.
So, I wondered, is that the key? Writing fast? Is it that simple?
You might be thinking quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quality, and I would agree. Many of these authors write quickly because they have to write quickly. They are under contract to write one (and sometimes two) books a year. With a schedule like that, you pretty much have to write fast.
Yet there is something to be said for churning out the pages. Like anything, the more you practice, the better you get. Is it just me or have you ever noticed that your best writing is almost always your most recent project?
One might also argue that the more products you have to sell, the greater your chances of success.
The fallacy with writing quickly is that you have to get a lot done in a short amount of writing time, when in fact it is more about writing consistently over time. Think about it. Even we writers with day jobs can set a small but reasonable daily word count, say of five hundred words a day, and produce an eighty thousand word first draft in less than six months. What is that old saying? Slow and steady wins the race.
Five hundred words — two double-spaced, Times New Roman pages — a day seems utterly doable. Even one page would mean producing a book a year. How many of us can say we write a book a year?
What holds you back? I’d love to read your comments.
Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.