by Scott D. Parker
I learned something while participating in NaNoWriMo last month: I don’t write very fast.
When I started NaNoWriMo, I had been reading Doc Savage, Tarzan, and Gabriel Hunt stories. Edgar Rice Burroughs and Lester Dent made their living writing and writing a lot. Famously, the first Doc Savage novel was written in less than a month. With the type of story I was writing and the reading I was doing, I figured I could blaze through my entire 50,000-word novel in 30 days.
I didn’t. Sure, there were days in which I wrote 1,800 to 2,000 words. Those were good days. It was those days that I wanted to channel more of since the words flowed like butter on a hot roll. It was those types of days I figured I could do every time I sat down to write.
Real life, however, is different. For every 1,800-word day, I had a 800-word day. There were some days, of course, where the writing was less a thing of leisure than a grueling slog. Now, all you professional writers out there know that writing is a job and, like a 9-to-5 gig, there are days when you just don’t want to friggin’ write and, yet, you have to. And you do. You’ll make it up with a 3,000-word day.
That’s not me. Yet. I’m working on a new short story and I know all the contours of the tale before I even began. I see the ‘movie’ in my head and I know the bulk of the action and the dialogue. Yesterday, however, as I was putting pixel to screen, the words emerged from me less like butter on a hot roll but more like syrup in January. A couple of passages were agony, so bad that I had to get up and refill my coffee (Eggnog Spice from Rao’s) just to get some breathing room.
It was yesterday that the realization truly crystalized: I’m not a fast writer even though I think I am. To be honest, I’m not slow either. I’m medium. Dave White, in a previous column, also commented that he doesn’t write fast. He wrote again about it two days ago.
In that realization, I couldn’t help but remember James Reasoner’s recent post that he hit the million-word mark the other day. Actually, it was 1 December. Do the math: 1,000,000 words in 334 days = 2,994 words/day. Yowza! But that’s why he’s a pro and I’m not.
But I want to be. To that end, in the coming year, for every project, I’ll be setting word-count goals (weekly, to allow for life to interfere) to reach and surpass. I may not be able to increase the speed of my writing but I will be able to increase the quality of my writing. I suspect that the more seasoned I get, the better the writing will become and, naturally, I’ll write “faster” since I may have fewer edits.
Elmore Leonard once said that he found his voice after writing around a million words. Well, I guess I’d better get started...