Spending Time in the Chair

Hi Folks,

There is a pervasive myth that writing “fast” is writing bad. The myth is based on the notion that if you write a novel in a period of days instead of at least several months, it must be badly written. That’s just not true.

Productivity in writing boils down to two things: discipline (which is to say, a work ethic) and Heinlein’s Rules, especially Rule 3 in this case.

Not too long ago one woman told me she could spend all day on one sentence.

Seriously? How boring must that be?

If you’re going over and over and over your writing, counting the number of times you use “that” or “which” and making sure you alternate them (they’re not interchangeable) or checking sentence structure (yaaawn, stretch), then yeah, it’s gonna take you a year or two or ten to write your novel.

And you know what? When you finally finish, it’s going to be horrible. You will have polished all the good off of your work.

Write the thing. Just write it.

Write it as well as you can per your current skill level, finish it, ship it off to a first reader and maybe a proofreader to look for mixups between things like “waist” and “waste” or “rode” and “road.”

Then publish it.

Then start the next one.

All of that comprises step one to being a professional writer.

Step two is spending time in the chair.

I was saying in a presentation a few days ago (as I write this), would you call yourself a mechanic if you only spent a few hours a month under the hood of a car?

Now learning is good. In fact, it’s essential. But no matter how much you learn about being a mechanic, you aren’t a mechanic if you don’t spend some time fixing cars.

Endlessly attending seminars and conferences about being a mechanic is not being a mechanic.

Talking about being a mechanic is not being a mechanic.

Thinking about being a mechanic is not being a mechanic.

Being a mechanic means getting under the hood and doing your job.

Same thing goes for writing.

If you call yourself a writer, shouldn’t you actually write? Okay, it’s a free country. You certainly may call yourself anything you want, but you can’t actually BE a writer if you don’t write.

I write 1,000 words per hour. If that sounds like a lot, do the math. It’s 17 words per minute. That leaves me a lot of time for staring off into space, researching the name of that particular type of pastry the character wants to buy, etc.

Then I spend three or four or five hours in the chair. Every day.

Yep, I have a job that I only have to work three or four or five hours per day.

If you spend only three hours per day doing your job, Mr. or Ms. Writer Person, and if you hit around 17 words per minute, and if you do that only five days per week, taking weekends off, you will write 15,000 words per week. That’s a 60,000 word novel in 4 weeks.

Now why again do you think it should take a year or two to write a novel?

Decide to write the best story you can the first time through, then spend the time in the chair, and you’ll be amazed at how much good writing you turn out.

Happy writing!



5 thoughts on “Spending Time in the Chair”

  1. Slow Poke. 🙂

    1K words per hour is really good. On most days I can usually hit 1500-2000 words per hour. All depends on where I’m at in a book. If I have a scene fully fleshed out in my mind, it falls onto the page. If I’m stuck, it’ll be far slower while my brain works it out. My biggest challenge in the past was consistency. Hopefully, I’ve got that demon beat.

    • 1000 words per hour is only about 17 WPM. Leaves a lot of time for staring off into space. But I never have anything fully fleshed out. I just write the next sentence, write the next sentence, etc. until the characters lead me to the end of their story. The only time I know in advance (sometimes) what’s coming is a thousand or two words from the end (not the final climax, but the end). Then I rush through that so I can get to the next one. If I knew what was going to happen in a story, I literally wouldn’t write it. I’d go to the next one.

    • Oh, JR, I also use a first reader. I never do more than spell check my work. While I’m cycling through part of what I recently wrote, I will change this or that, but never from a critical, aware voice. Always it’s the characters. It’s their story, so I let them tell it. I have a very good first reader who catches any typos (I’m infamous for leaving the “ed” off past-tense verbs) and inconsistencies. Otherwise he notes only anything that “kicked him out” of the story. I learn almost constantly, and I apply some new technique to almost every new writing, so that I’m always practicing and always putting more work out there. 🙂

  2. The biggest wakeup call I had was when I was working with a cowriter. We had a full novel in submission, and I spoke to him about writing faster. We’d taken far longer than a year to do the book, writing mainly on the weekends and obviously not very much. I was afraid we were going to have a tight deadline from a publisher if it got accepted and didn’t want to end up on the wrong side of that. He poo-pooed it saying everything was negotiable. I had this instant vision of me scrambling to make a publisher’s deadline, doing all of the writing and stressing out, and him getting half the money while he did nothing. And it hit me that everything starts with making writing a priority. Writing was nowhere on co-writer’s priority list.

    So when I hear people say it took that 2 or 3 or 10 years to write a book I know that the writing wasn’t all that important to them. It’s not about making a mad dash to finish the book and writing sloppy; it’s about simply making the time to do it and actually doing it. If you only wrote 250 words a day, you’d have a book in a year. The only way it could take ten years was not writing regularly.

    (Co-writer and I self-destructed soon after this point. He had rampant fear of finishing and did everything he could to kill any attempts at submitting to agents.)

    • I agree 100%. Most often writers who take years to write a novel have zero idea how much time they actually spend writing. I don’t mean researching or looking at cover designs, I mean putting new words on the page. For me, only that is writing. It would astound most of them to know it took them the same 60 hours of actual writing time to turn out a 60,000 word novel in that two or three (or more) years as it took me in two or three weeks. The thing is, 60 hours is 60 hours. And yes, absolutely, it’s all a matter of priorities. After they say something like “It took me 8 years to write this novel,” I have asked writers in public, “How many hours did you spend actually writing?” 🙂 One guy actually said, “I don’t know, but it felt like sheer slavery.” I actually held the laughter until I got out of the room, but only barely.

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