Fast Writers and Slow Writers

By Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

The prevailing advice for better sales seems to be to write fastefile9271237667217r.  I think this may be true.  I did find that my self-published sales really picked up after book three so why not get to book three faster, right?

But this is frustrating advice for writers.  Some writers have  demanding schedules in which it’s tough to schedule in writing time.  Some are just thoughtful writers who take either a lot of time to warm up or who are deliberate about their word choice or story direction.

I read a post by Ken Rahmoeller last week on his blog: “Being a Slow Writer in This Day and Age.” Ken expressed his worry about being a slow writer when the trend is to fly through writing and production.

As many before me have pointed out, this business is a marathon, not a sprint.

You are not behind. If you feel you need to catch up, it may stress you out more.

One book is better than no book.

What you probably shouldn’t do if you have only one book:

Facebook ads

Long-term free book strategies

Extensive social media platform building.

What you might want to consider if you have only one book:

Ways to get more reviews/reads.  Consider Goodreads giveaways and short term free promos (some will disagree with me here, but I do think the reviews are worth any loss of sales).

Put time into building a decent website instead of updating on every social media platform. See industry expert Jane Friedman’s post, “The Basic Components of an Author Website.”

Build up subscribers to your newsletter by having the link in your email signature, on your website, and in the back of your book.  Another nice article from Jane Friedman on the how-tos: “Email Newsletters for Authors: Get Started Guide.”

But do reserve your name on various social media platforms for later.  We need to build our online profile around our name, not our book.

Continue setting time aside for both reading and writing.

Make manageable goals for the writing.  And I mean manageableSet the bar low.  It’s more important to build the habit than it is to score a bunch of words.

Never try to catch up.

Remember…even if it takes you more than a year to write a book, you’re still on par with trad published authors.  My books were in production forever.

If you want to write faster, here are some tips:

Consider outlining.  Might mean that you need to fluff up any flatness later, but if you try this approach, you may find your speed increases dramatically.  Results vary, but might be worth a go.

If you don’t want to outline, consider just a two sentence directional prompt for the following day at the end of your writing session.

Get your head into your writing before you open your laptop.  Think about your story as you’re getting your coffee in the morning, eating your breakfast, pulling out your laundry, driving home from the store.  Prime the pump before you sit in front of your text.

If there are particular elements of writing that are bound to slow you down (character naming, research, writing description), bundle those together to knock out all at once and after the first draft is completed.  Mark the omission in your manuscript so that you can find it later (track changes comments, highlighter on Word, or using ***).

Learn how to write in short blocks of time.  Learn how to write when surrounded by distractions.  Learn how to write when on the go (dead time in doctor’s office waiting rooms, carpool lines, during commutes).  Upload your book to Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive so your book and/or outline will always be with you.

But…you don’t have to write faster.  Especially not if it means writing faster makes you not want to write at all.

Do you consider yourself a fast or slower writer? What do you think of the advice to write faster?


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44 thoughts on “Fast Writers and Slow Writers

  1. Great post, Elizabeth. I’m a panster, and traditionally published (although I’m open to self-pub). I often leave a bracketed prompt to “jump-start” my next day’s writing. I WISH I could write faster, but I have anxiety problems, and to add to those would be detrimental to me, IMHO. A book a year, possibly two, would be my foreseeable/reasonable limit. To be honest, I don’t believe I could put out “quality” work if I were to try to increase my production. That’s simply me. A friend of mine (a very productive self-publisher–and one who does things right!–cranks out a book each quarter. AND, he produces quality work! Such production/creativity is beyond my comprehension. I am what I am, and I’ve learned to accept that. Thanks again for a wonderful and informative post! –Michael

    1. Michael–That’s exactly what worries me. If trying to write faster is stressful/makes writers pull away from writing at all, then ‘writing faster’ is writing advice that needs to be ignored!

      Hope you have a great week!

  2. Hi Elizabeth – such great pointers here .. for any type of writer. The idea of be prepared for the next day makes so much sense … that list of ‘to dos’ for the morrow and some jottings as to what you were going to write about.

    I’m sure many authors will find your thoughts here so appropriate – cheers Hilary

  3. I write at the speed of a slug.
    I wish I could write faster. (And I mean that literally. If I type three hundred words in an hour, I’m happy.) But then, my writing career would’ve ended sooner since I’ve only written four books and not sure I will continue with more. (Short stories, yes.)

  4. S L O O O O O W w w w w w writer here. Sigh. But I yam what I yam. I utilize all your suggestions to write faster, and they do work, because they give me the sense that I’m on track, which eases my anxiety, which in turn keeps me going instead of freaking out.

    I was hoping that starting out with a comprehensive outline would shave a couple of months off the time it takes to write a novel, but it doesn’t appear to be working, at least not in terms of temporal time. It did, however, keep me from going off on tangents and made it easier to pick up where I left off. Whether or not this reduction in tangents is good for me creatively and spiritually remains to be seen.

    1. Meg–That’s a good thing…feeling as though you’re on track and not falling behind.

      There are parts of me that absolutely *hate* outlining. But after 2 disasters when I *didn’t* outline, I no longer allow myself to write organically. :(

  5. I love your advice here, Elizabeth! I try to think of writing as one would any career. There are many things involved in writing. The big part of it is actually sitting at the keyboard and, well, writing. But it’s not the only thing. Anything that you do, whether it’s sketching out that next scene, checking your blog links to be sure they work, or interviewing a resource for research, is part of that writing career. I see no sense in ‘beating yourself up’ if you don’t write 3k or 4k words per day. Even writers on deadlines learn to pace themselves.

    1. Margot–Good point that the other things we’ve got to do as writers (build our sites, build our platform) are writing-related and nearly as important as the writing itself. Slow and steady wins the race.

  6. Lincoln advice on length of leg? “Long enough to reach the ground.”

    Great post. Pantser. Plotter. Plodder.

    More of the last for me. The lesson? Only one until done. Too easy for us slow writers to get distracted. One project until finished or trashed.


  7. Sooo many thoughts on this. In brief, what’s frustrating for me is that I am a fast writer- that’s how I roll- but the people I depend on to push my book from draft to published are overwhelmed (and not just by me). I am not exaggerating when I say that I have FIVE manuscripts waiting for the next steps; unfortunately I can’t edit my own work or design my own book covers. I suspect I’m not the only one in this boat.

    1. Deborah–I hear you on this. I’ve been in the same boat before. Now I’ve got more than 1 editor and can format, myself, in a pinch. And I get my covers done 6-9 months in advance. That’s not for everyone (I come up with cover copy, etc. very early and am not even close to writing the book when I commission the cover), but it can help with publication stress.

  8. Oh, this makes my head hurt. I type very very fast. I would have said I’m a fast writer, but I think the truth is I get down a first draft pretty fast but then it takes years, and that’s literally years, to polish and get it where it needs to be. And I don’t see that changing any time soon. But who knows?

  9. “Get your head into your writing before you open your laptop.” That’s the best advice right there. I think of stuff offline that’s better than the ideas I come up with while staring at my existing manuscript. I see the bigger picture better.

    James Patterson has a good idea for when your pace is off: take out a scratch pad and jot down the wildest ideas for what could happen next. Five, ten, fifteen wildest, most impossible plot twists and one will jump out at you. You might have to alter the outline :)

    Thanks for doing what you do, Ms. E! You’re the best!

    Peace, Seeley

  10. I write fast. Way fast. But not as fast as I’d like. I know if I organized myself better I could produce 4 books a year without lowering my standards (though you’ll note I’m not necessarily claiming high standards here.)

    Good advice on not spending money too early. Advertising is a multiplier, not an adder. It multiplies what exists. If you’re invisible, a new author, no matter how many times you multiply zero you still get zero.

    Build an audience, get some traction, then spend if it still makes sense.

  11. I’m waiting to pub my books until I have at least 2 (hopefully 3) ready to go!
    I’ve been using your tip to leave myself a line or 2 about where I want to head for the next day’s writing- it’s great!

  12. I’m not a slow writer, but I have limited writing time—demanding full time job, even more demanding young kids, and upcoming house move. Hence, I’m lucky to have more than 2-3 hours a week to writer. I just aim for a chapter a week. However, I have several stories at various stages of outlining because outlining doesn’t need my full immersion into the story like the actual writing itself does. I make the best use of whatever time I have.


  13. Thank you so much for this thoughtful post, especially the last few lines. I’m one of those who is finding that the pressure to write fast is making me not want to write at all. My problem isn’t so much the writing – when I get going, I am pretty fast – but the thinking. I need time to get to know my characters before I understand how they’re going to react and change. My process appears to be about a year on the first few chapters and then zipping through the rest. But without that year of thinking, my stories go nowhere. It’s frustrating, and made more so by the constant mental refrain that if I could just write faster, I’d be doing better.

    1. Sarah–I think that you’re doing well to remember that this mulling-over process is a vital part of your writing. That you *are* writing when you’re doing it…the same as if it’s going on paper. What it produces is a more thoughtful, better story in the end. Not everyone writes the same way. :)

  14. Thank you for this. I have a backlist I have to re-vamp for self-publishing, having gotten the rights back to it earlier this year from a publisher I lost confidence in, and one book coming out next month that took me a long time to complete.

    While part of my slow pace was anxiety brought on by a really loud Internal Editor, I also had (and still have) outside stressors that I didn’t use to have. Still, I often wonder where my discipline went. I wonder if I’ll ever get it back. Just sitting down to start the next story, which I’ve roughly outlined and which I think could be good, gives me an upset stomach. I think, after the last one took so long, it’s hard to “start over”.

    When you’re inside your own head all day and only see the times other authors talk about their astronomical word counts and upcoming releases and “[book] hit [low number] on the bestseller list!” and “new five-star review” and on and on… You know you should celebrate the successes of your fellow writers and yet it’s sometimes difficult not to feel jealous and petty. You can’t help but compare. I can’t, at least.

    Hah, I tried to wrap this up with something semi-positive, but “misery loves company” isn’t all that sunshine-y. But the reminder that other authors do struggle makes that daily anxiety a little quieter today, which *is* a good thing.

    1. Katy–I think it’s only natural to feel that way. More of a regret or a wistfulness than a pettiness I think. Besides, really, that type of author bragging needs to stay on our product page on Amazon. My opinion, anyway. :)

      I’d stay focused on all the things you’ve already accomplished. Because it’s a lot! Just getting our rights back is a huge step and making the decision to self-publish is another. And I know many of us suffer all kinds of insecurities about writing–I know the story in my head is never as good as the one I put on paper. That’s not easy to grapple with.

      1. Just wanted to say thanks for the reply. It and your original post both really buoyed me today into a more productive state. Thank you!

  15. Hi Elizabeth.
    Thank you for this. I haven’t stopped by in a while as I stepped back from writing, reading and publishing to get caught up on work projects. It is great to get back to it and to revisit your site. I’ve missed it. Over the past week there has been a flurry on the internet about writing speed and how much production is too much. I find articles like yours much more inspiring. I believe we all have different styles and talents that influence our speed and production. I find your advice in this article very sound and useful, regardless of how fast or slow someone writes.

  16. Thanks, Elizabeth, for some great advice. Slow, fast, or in-between, the best thing you can do is write without adding artificial pressure (unless your publisher is adding the pressure). I wonder sometimes if having multiple books (3 or more) gives potential readers more confidence in trying a new writer. It could help explain why self-published sales pick up a bit. Thanks again, Elizabeth!

    1. Kellie—I think they’re feeling it’s worth the time investment in the writer–that if they get to know the characters and like them, there are more adventures for the character ahead?

      Or maybe they feel they won’t be subjected to cliffhangers because the next book will be right there and they can immediately pick up to see what happens next?

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