Question Time: Do I write slow or fast?

Stacy McKitrick asks:

Do you consider yourself a slow or fast writer? Are you glad you only have one book a year out or could you do more? With all this self-publishing stuff around, it scares me to think readers expect books more often (I’ve been guilty of feeling that way – especially before I wrote my first book). I wish I could write faster, though. Do you?

I consider myself a speedy writer because I can compare my present pace to my starting point. When I first wrote a novel, it took me five years. It took that long partly because I started writing it in my oh-so-slim spare time–when I was teaching at the University of California, and had three kids at home under the age of seven–partly because I moved to England in the middle of writing it, and partly because I was a complete novel-newby and had little idea what I was doing. That novel, by the way, was eventually stuffed back in my file cabinet and has never been published. Thank God.

China Lake, which I wrote on spec, took two and a half years to write. By then I had more experience, and I had more time to myself, because all the kids were in school. Then it sold. And to my delight and terror, I was asked to submit a sequel in a year. That’s when I learned how to outline, and budget my writing time, and focus, and panic, and sit my butt in the chair and get the sucker written. And so, twelve months after China Lake, Mission Canyon was published.

After that, I knew that I could write a novel in a year. And that’s more or less what I’ve done for twelve years now. Considering that my novels average 95,000 words, and that, as thrillers, they require significant development and research, and that I inevitably write at least four drafts of each book, I think a year counts as speedy. Writing more than one novel a year would be taxing for me. Or rather, writing more than one good novel a year would be taxing for me.

That said, there’s time in my schedule for other writing. Short stuff, mostly. There’s this blog, for instance. And essays such as the ones I wrote last year for Books to Die For, The Arvon Book of Crime & Thriller Writing, and Now Write! Mysteries. And there’s an occasional short story.

But do I wish I could write faster? Of course. I wish I could plug a jack into my cerebral cortex and download a novel in its entirety in ninety seconds. When I get that system sorted out, I’ll let you know.

4 responses to “Question Time: Do I write slow or fast?

  1. Well, so far, my first novel has taken about seven years to write, and it’s not done yet. I hope subsequent ones go more quickly. How does George R.R. Martin do it?

  2. Where would we find the occasional short story?

  3. Wow! I can only hope to be as consistent one day. With practice, right? Thanks for the insight.

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