Creative Writing Tip: Make Sure You Don’t Write Your Novel Too Quickly

1397111_need_for_speedWelcome back to my series of post reflecting on four reasons I had to abandon a draft-in-progress of The King’s Sons one hundred pages in; I rewrote everything with a different plot set seven years in the future. (Post one, including a list of all the reasons my first attempt failed me, is here.) I’m hoping to give other writers the tools to avoid having to start over again the way I did.

What’s the occasion for this post? My rewrite has a happy ending, and the finished product–book III of the Herezoth trilogy–releases Friday, May 31.

Yesterday I wrote about the first reason I failed: I hadn’t planned sufficiently. I didn’t know my characters or my concept well enough to turn them into a developed plot.

Today, I want to talk about how I wrote those first one hundred pages too quickly.

WHAT IS “TOO FAST”?

Everyone knows you want to write quickly, right? You don’t want to spend more time than you have to on a passage, and you definitely don’t want to go back and edit things as you’re writing.

So what is writing “too fast”?

In my case, part of it was knowing (roughly) how much content I produced on average daily. Though I didn’t set a daily word count goal specifically–and here’s why–I did push myself to write as much as possible, and I got upset with myself when I fell short of the average.

You should never set your writing speed on word count or numbers of pages.

You should make as much progress as you can, as quickly as you can, assuming you know your characters and their world, and you are settled in to that world. You have a foothold on your story, you’re confident and in control, and you understand why the things that you’re writing are happening the way they are.

Looking back, that wasn’t the case for me. Because I hadn’t planned enough, I didn’t understand the dynamics between my characters and the things they were hoping to achieve as I started writing.

I thought I would figure it out as I went, and I tried to do just that.

What that attempt got me was 100 pages of intro material and boring backstory, with me still far away from establishing any kind of action scene or having a personal threat come to any of my major characters.

Did I mention I write sword and sorcery fantasy? Where action is somewhat critical to keeping a reader engaged?

just call me GOB.

just call me GOB.

Rather than take some time to really flesh my characters out before I started, or after I started and began to feel a bit unsettled and insecure, I kept moving forward.

I wrote too fast. Not because I was writing X numbers of words a day too many, but because I was writing without a sense of direction or a good enough sense of what my characters intended.

I didn’t fully realize that sense of direction was lacking at the time, but it was. When one day the bad guy has no connection to the heroes, then another he’s an ex-boyfriend of one of their best friends and he’s engaging/charming as an individual, and the next the heroine whose friend he was dating always considered him a problem thanks her magic ability to read emotions and even convinced her friend to let him go….

When that happens, you’ve got problems. As an author of fantasy, you don’t need to know how things will end. You don’t need to know what your characters are going to do each step along the way. But you sure as heck need to know what they feel about each other, and why, and how they respond to one another.

I didn’t. And because of that, I moved rudderless. I couldn’t trust my characters to guide me when couldn’t see clearly what their goals were.

So, that’s my experience with writing too fast. Do you have one? What would constitute writing too fast in your eyes? Do you shoot for a daily goal of some kind when you write? If so, what is it?

Feel free to share you thoughts in the comments. And if you enjoyed this post, consider following my blog by email (top right corner of the page.) That way you won’t miss out on the posts to follow.

Also, remember to mark your calendars: to celebrate release day of book III, the  reformatted version of book I of my Herezoth trilogy, The Crimson League, will be free for download May 31 and June 1 (Friday and Saturday). This is a great opportunity, since the story of Herezoth will be complete for all to enjoy now! Don’t miss out.

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21 responses to “Creative Writing Tip: Make Sure You Don’t Write Your Novel Too Quickly

  1. Actually, it doesn’t work like that for me. NaNoWriMo 2012 was the best writing experience I’ve had. Writing 1700 words a day, even when I really didn’t want to or had no inspiration, somehow still resulted in a consistently qualitatively good 50k of words. I’m still amazed about that myself! I finished the novel in December, writing 1k words per day until it was done on Boxing Day!

    • I finished my NaNoWriMo novel in December too. And I had a blast writing it. Mine’s a big mess though. Have no clue how to develop it into anything I could use 😦 Oh well. I really loved the NaNoWriMo experience and it was good for getting words down.

      I guess mine weren’t necessarily quality, is the difference 🙂 My plot is really shaky at points.

  2. This is why I’ve decided to rigidly plan each and every one of my stories from now on: I measure my daily progress in terms of word-count, so if I haven’t planned ahead then things tend to get…messy.

    • I personally try not to worry too much about wordcount, but that’s hard. Your approach sounds like a great one for someone who does focus on that. Best of luck!

      I just love how everyone writes differently!!! It really is fascinating to compare my process to how other people go about it.

  3. I have to agree about the word and page count. I can’t go there because I don’t always have the same amount of time. Also, things happen that take me away from writing. Such is life and I’d be miserable if I kept missing my goals. I aim for chapters per week and at least 1 chapter section per day, which is usually doable.

    Also, got my finger on the reblog button for your announcement. Can’t wait.

    • thanks so much, Charles! 🙂 For the hovering reblog finger as well as your insight here. I had never considered aiming for a weekly rather than a daily goal. That gives your more leeway from day to day.

      Sounds like a really workable system!

      • It works especially well for those of us with unpredictable toddlers. This way you have a shot at coming closer to your goal. Miss by one chapter section? I can live with that. Miss by a thousand words? Feels so much worse.

  4. I do best during NaNo… that 1667 wpd is perfect for me, as long as I have a character. Once I know my characters it doesn’t matter how high a goal I set for myself as far as word-count goes, as long as I don’t write too little. If I can uncover at least one character fully and put them into a situation, I just sail.

  5. Lisa W England

    I totally agree, we can all fall into the trap of rushing ahead when we need to know more first. However, I think there are also instances in which writing quickly is good. For my part, I often spend TOO much time planning and end up losing momentum on a draft I should have dived into much more quickly. I’m a compulsive planner, but I’ve also begun to appreciate the benefits of the character development and plot twists that show up “in the moment,” usually when I’m writing with less of an outline hanging over my head. So I’m actually scaling back on my planning and pushing myself to start writing sooner, then figure out what I’ve written when I’m done and revise based on that — not (so much) based on what I decided ahead of time.

    • fantastic point, Lisa: writing quickly is good, and is something we should strive far. Sometimes I just fall into the trap of thinking that what constitutes “fast” for someone else means “fast” for me as well when it can mean “too fast.” It’s a personal thing. Overplanning is also a problem, like you point out. Writing “too slow” is not good either!

      Glad to hear you’re jumping in and getting writing. That was a tip I heard for academic writing: always start your paper before you think you’ve done enough research to get going.

  6. Hello. Nice blog. It’s my first time here.

    Is abandoning a draft wasted time? I think of it as a badge of honor, a really sweaty, heavy one that took a long time to pin on. Sure, the draft will never have contact with a reader, but it gives the author the chance to meet the characters. There’s a difference between meeting characters and creating them to serve a purpose, no?

    Malamud said “I would write a book, or a short story, at least three times–once to understand it, the second time to improve the prose, and a third to compel it to say what it still must say.” There are other thought-provoking quotes in that ilk here: http://grammar.about.com/od/advicefromthepros/a/rewritequotes.htm

    I’m not so sure outlining/planning/synopsizing ahead of time is enough, at least not for me. My characters always come out as stereotypes when I do that. If you can get real characters out of outlining, bully for you. I am wildly envious.

    At the very least, draft-abandonment helps us empathize with the masochists, the monks, or the delusional blind-to-abuse lovers we may need to write one day.

    What’s the big rush?

    • welcome! thanks so much for dropping by Wm.! I agree with what you say here, for sure: it really is a kind of badge of honor.

      And that quote: amazing!!!! 🙂 Great to hear from you! I know we’re connected on facebook as well.

  7. While I think everyone has their own pace, I must say, I wrote a too fast book a while back. Makes great liner for the kit-kat pan though.

  8. First, congrats on finishing your novel. Second, I hear you on the idea of writing too fast or with too little purpose. That was me writing a science fiction book. I didn’t have a clear sense of the antagonist or even where the story needed to go. I just had what I thought was a cool idea and cool gadgets. Those will only take you so far. After around 75 pages, I abandoned that book. Years later, I began my fantasy book. When I started writing it, I had a clear sense of the main character, her antagonist, and I had a vague idea of how the book would end. But I let the character dictate the plot. I took my time through several drafts of the book.

    • Sounds you figured things out nicely!!! When I have a project that works, my process is very similar to what you describe in discussing your fantasy novel. Maybe fantasy develops that way??? haha!

  9. I think it’s true that you can write too fast; just like everyday life, stories need time to play out in the author’s head. You can’t second guess what’s going to happen, you have to wait and see.

    • that’s so true! you have to feel confident that you know what your characters would do and that this is the direction they would move the story. If you’re second guessing that, it’s time to figure things out, not write.

  10. Pingback: The Herezoth Trilogy is finally complete! Start your weekend with a sword and sorcery giveaway. | Creative Writing with the Crimson League | Hey Sweetheart, Get Me Rewrite!

  11. I find it slightly ironic that you’re a fellow NaNo winner, and you’re saying NOT to set your writing speed based on word count. 😀

    In other news, congratulations on getting your book published!
    I’m still trying to COMPLETE mine… from each of the three years I’ve participated. ^^;

    • I finished NaNo but the draft was a WRECK. the biggest wreck I’ve ever written. So it was kind of a hollow victory in my mind, I guess. Nothing wrong with using a word count as a spur if what you’re producing is quality. That wasn’t the case for me.

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