Fast Writing vs. Work >> Starborn Nears!


For those patiently awaiting Starborn, book 6 of Stealing the Sun, I’m relieved to say the wait is nearly over.

I’ve gotten feedback from my beta readers (very positive, yay!), and am in the last stages of getting the manuscript ready for copy editing. I’ll wait a bit before giving a solid publication date, but it’s going to be pretty soon. Yes, I’m behind schedule, and that’s bad. I apologize to everyone who’s been waiting.

If you’re not a writer, or not interested in writer-neep, you can stop here. You’ve already read all the news that’s fit to print. But if you’re a writer interested in sparring a few rounds on what “fast” writing means, or if you’re just interested in a small peek under the hood, feel free to go along for the full ride…

My problem started because when I first “finished” Starborn (technically on schedule), I didn’t like it. Really. I just didn’t. And, no, that’s not some weird-humble “a writer is the worst judge of his own writing thing.” As I’ve said before, I write stories that matter to me and, while I may not be able to say if something I’ve done is award quality or not, I know when I’m proud of something. I know when it’s “good enough for me.”

The Starborn manuscript was about 43K words, which was about as I expected it would be. These are shortish novels (usually 50-55K words), so the length was “fine.” But the story just sat there on the page. It was wrong, and I knew it.

So I had a choice. I could push on, hit my schedule, and hope that the story was at least “good enough,” or I could go back and figure out what was wrong.

Given this post’s opening, you know what I decided to do.

To keep this brief, the biggest problem was that I was telling two stories. So step one was to come to grips with the fact that the series had a 7th book. This was harder to accept than it should have been because, to be honest, I was set on six. Once I committed to seven, I immediately felt better.

Of course, this created a totally new problem: I didn’t really know what this “new” sixth book was about.

If you’re around writers for long, the topic of writing speed will come up. I tend to be a proponent of “fast” writing—which, as I’ll show here, really simplifies down to “spend a lot of time creating words and eventually you get a lot coming out of the pipeline.”

This is certainly true for me most of the time, and, in general you can see it in the rate that I manage to create my various series in (and still get mostly solid reviews—I mean, you can’t please 100% of the people 100% of the time, but my numbers are in general pretty good). Of course, there are times where problems arise, and this past spring/summer, for me, was one of those times.

Also among writers there’s this feeling that everyone else just sits down and starts to type, and then 4,000 words or 6,000 words later a story is done, or 80,000 words later a novel pops out fresh and clean and ready for TOR to give you a big check and an advance for two more just like it. Oh, sure, we know in our brains this isn’t true, but especially when the art isn’t going particularly well for us, our hearts see the high-quality output of some people and it tears us up inside.

But I’m here today to whisper to you writers who confuse “fast writing” with “super talent.”

Change that worldview. For the vast majority of us, fast writing is really just diligence (here is where I note that I’m not a blazer in the words/hour category, say 500-1,000 on average). “Fast writing” means only this: “Go to work every day.”

Today’s example: barring oddities, Starborn will weigh in at about 66K words, about 20K more than I originally thought it would, and about 35K more than the story-span originally took in its first draft. But here’s another truth: I came to work every day for the last three or four months, and I wrote literally hundreds of thousands of words that never made the page.

Yes, terribly inefficient.

And it’s an unusual thing for me. I mean, I throw away a lot of words but not usually (let’s say) 300K in “trash” for a 66K story.

This is probably the most inefficient I’ve ever been, and I’ll be honest: this churn messed with my brain at times. There were moments where I just said “screw it,” I’m done! Only to go back to the keyboard and throw down more crappy words.

For weeks Lisa and I had this dialog every day:

Ron: I’ll be done tomorrow.
Lisa: Really?
Ron: [Hesitating] Yeah, I think so.
Lisa: [The Next Day] So, is it tomorrow?
Ron: [Scowling] No.

It was funny for a little while, but after a bit it just became unnerving for us both, so I stopped projecting and Lisa stopped asking. Yes, she’s that good.

To put this in context, at my usual rate I would probably have created at least a novel and a half with that 300K words, and maybe more. There are some folks who would look at me and get upset–that’s two books you could be pushing now! they would say. And, that’s true. But my point here is that, finished product or not, by coming to work every day, I created probably three novels worth of words. It just so happened that this time those words only resulted in one finished product.

Of course, I should note that I finished three short stories and a novelette that I owed people during this period, too. That’s all good, too. I’m proud of them all.

Looking back on it, my self-diagnosis is that the real issue was that I thought I knew what the story meant to me. I mean, I had known what I was trying to do with the whole thing, so I must have understood the partial, right?

Yes, I’m that stupid.

The result is that I spent a solid two months really just churning on things until, yes, things finally came together for what the book was.

And yes, now that the book is finished I think it’s good. But that’s for everyone else to say. All I can really report is that I’m totally proud of this book now. I’ll be able to look people in the eye when they say they bought it, and in the delightful case where they say they liked it, I’ll know the time was worth it.

So, yeah. Write a lot, and be sure to stop when you’re done. But know that it’s okay to take a breath and go back in. If you come to work every day, you’ll be fine.

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Posted in Daily Writing, Stealing the Sun.


  1. Ron, I’m really glad that you talked about this. I’ve felt similar in regards to a few of my own works. To be very honest, I’ve even lost confidence in myself all together. How do you fight through that? Or do you pause and regroup?

  2. Kay: It would be great if I had that answer, wouldn’t it? [mild grin]

    I think everyone finds their own answer, but for me part of it has to do with knowing there is an end and knowing that getting to that end is about me getting out of the way of what the art wants to say (he notes pretentiously). You may be different, but For me it’s about recognizing what piece says, then letting that piece say it.

    Here’s an earlier post that might be relevant:

  3. I’ve always thought of you as fast and I agree it’s the working everyday. That’s the Daily Persistence I keep reading here.

    Oh, I have lots of unused words for a novel, too.

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