Those of you that know me know that I write a lot of words every year for NaNoWriMo (and sometimes not during NaNo, but I’m slower then). For those of you that don’t know me… I write a lot of words during NaNoWriMo.
At the end of yesterday (Day 8) I was at 115,511 words for the month. I wrote 55,555 on the first day (a record for myself), and kept up the really high word counts for the next few days. Since, I think my lowest day is still in the 3000’s.
I’m not telling you that to brag on myself (though I would brag on anyone else that did that), just to give you a reference for what I mean when I say “writing fast”. I mean many thousand words per day; sometimes, tens of thousands (though that is hard to sustain).
Though, to go off on a tangent for a moment, “writing fast” is a bit of a misnomer. I’m not typing exceptionally fast (generally, I cruise around 70-80 wpm, which is good but not exceptional). I’m typing for really long periods of time. Given that I probably average 2000-2500 words an hour (distractions and the like), that means that I’ve spent 50-60 hours writing over the past eight days. It’s about doing more, not doing it faster.
But to end that tangent, I often get and hear critiques that, if I’m writing that fast, my writing must be shit. I’m not sure where this idea comes from, that writing more automagically means it’s going to be bad, but I know it’s not true for myself. In fact, the opposite is true. The only way in which my first drafts written more quickly are worse is that they tend to have more spelling errors, but if you think that’s the most important thing to get right in a first draft I’m going to question your priorities. Spelling is easy to fix at any point in the writing process; that is not true of other problems.
My biggest problem in writing the first draft of the story is losing the thread of the story. It’s the central idea, the feel of the story, what connects everything together. When I sit down to write, I have this story shaped idea in my head. The longer I take, the more likely that is to fade.
Spelling errors are easy to fix. Mixing up details is a problem also easily solved (though for me, aided by faster writing as well – at a fast pace, I have less time to forget everything that I make up, and I’m something of a pantser). Getting the tone, the feel, the central idea of a story wrong at the end is much, much tougher to fix.
Can it be done? Certainly. And I’m not going to tell you that my stories don’t drift a bit, because they do. They’re first drafts, and rough first drafts at that (it’s the way I write). But the things I write in two weeks feel far more cohesive, far more unified than what I spend three months on.
That’s not to say that it’s the same for you. If not, that’s totally fine! Write however makes the story most come alive for you. I only ask that you give me the same courtesy that I’m giving you in not telling me, explicitly or implicitly, what the best way to write a story is.
The thing about writing is that, at the end of the day, aside from rather general (and excellent) advice (such as: write more, read more, get critiques, etc), you’re only an expert in how you best write. Some people will do it incomprehensibly differently and still produce quality novels. This is doubly true when you’re talking about a first draft (unless you’re someone who edits as they go, which I don’t understand, but hey, if it works more power to you).
All that matters in the first draft is that you get the story out of your mind and on to paper (digital or otherwise). It doesn’t have to be good, it doesn’t have to be polished, and the only “right” way is whatever way works best for you.
For me, that’s faster. So yes, faster can indeed be better.
And for a professional, published writer’s take on this, see Chuck Wendig’s recent blog post. Worth a read!