Sometimes I wonder what it is that other “aspiring” writers like myself do for a living. For some reason it seems rude to just come out and ask, almost like asking someone how much they make in the year.
It’s not something people volunteer a lot of information about either. Well, some people don’t. People like me who work in dead end soul-sucking jobs, we have the attitude that if we’re going to be miserable, at least people are going to know about it. They’re going to look at us and say, “He is at the bottom rung of the work ladder, but that simply makes him more appealing as an underdog figure. Did not that excellent fellow Chuck Palahniuk write his famous novel Fight Club while he was working at a job he hated? Truly, we must eschew the ever-growing influx of ivory-tower, white-collar writers that the various hosts on NPR seem to love so much. What dedication, what drive, what boundless character this man must have!”
Hey, I can dream right?
But today I’m not here to talk to you about what I do. I’m here to tell you what I don’t do. Because in the flurry of writing advice that I see flying around out there in the blogosphere, it seems there’s a bit of a trend to push writers to work harder and faster all the time. Writers talking about fast-drafting, posting how many words they’ve completed on Twitter, gasping in astonishment when someone like Matt Forebeck resolves to crank out a novel every month for a year. We have National Novel Writing Month, Novel Writing Weekend, books about how to write edit and sell your novel in a year.
And I hope no one takes this the wrong way, but I gotta say…
I mean really, write at whatever speed you want. If you’re comfortable cranking out five thousand words a day then great. More? Fantastic.
But hear me when I say this: there is no virtue to speed. A faster novel is not a better novel. It’s just faster.
And I wouldn’t even bring this up except, for those writers out there who are like me, who do have jobs and obligations outside of writing it seems there’s a great deal of peer pressure to work faster and faster. And under that pressure, along with everything else we have to do, I fear there are many of us in danger of burning out.
Dedication and hard work are good and admirable things. But the simple fact is, your brain can only handle so much. If you work for eight hours at anything and then you come home and try to write three or four thousand words every day? You’re gonna get sick of that real fast.
People like to go on and on about how life is so short, and I suppose it is, but it isn’t likely you’re going to die tomorrow. And assuming you don’t die tomorrow, I seriously doubt you’ll be laying on your death-bed however many years from now and thinking, “Verily, my only regret is that I wish I had managed to write at least a thousand words on August 28th, in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Twelve.”
What is the right amount of writing for a day? That I can’t answer. It’s going to be different from person to person. But generally it’s whatever amount that you can do and still come back the next day excited about the work.
And maybe wordcount goals aren’t the thing to do. I’ve mentioned here before that most of the time I write within a set time period, the one hour lunch break I have at that dead-end job I was telling you about. I sit down, eat my sandwich, call my wife, and then pull out my Alphasmart 3000 and get cracking. How far does that get me? Well I’ve been working on my serial story Sons of the Damned since around early May and I’ve only recently hit the forty-five-thousand word mark. So we’re looking at a rate of a little better than ten thousand words a month, a whopping three hundred and seventy-five words a day. Not much to crow about. But what I can crow about is that I’m still going, still enjoying the process, still digging the twists and turns of the story.
And there are some days when I’ll be writing other things, this blog post for instance, and so I’ll give myself a break from fiction writing. The story is always in my head. Sometimes I’m actively brainstorming about it, but other times, most times really, I’ll let it sit for a while my subconscious figures out the angles.
In the end I don’t care how much or how fast you write. If you’re out there stringing out tens of thousands of words a day and you’re happy, then go to it. But I reiterate: speed is not a virtue. A book is not good because you’ve written it quickly; you aren’t a good writer because you’ve written something quickly. And you aren’t a poor writer if you plod along like a tortoise while the rest of the rabbits charge ahead pell-mell until their tiny hearts explode from sheer exertion.
It’s not a race; it’s a journey. And it takes as long as it takes.