Speed, Literature, and Success


I had a conversation recently with some indie writer friends and we were comparing notes on how to write faster and better. Two of them are following a particular method (Book in a Month) that shuts off your inner editor and gets down to the nuts and bolts of putting words on a page.

The thought is that a) the editing will be done later, b) refusing to critique and immersing yourself in the act of writing will cause your creative engine to go into overdrive, and c) the biggest hurdle to getting a book out is the sheer mass of words you have to put down in some kind of order to call a piece of work a novel.

I like the idea and am doing something similar based on Write. Publish. Repeat., but it was good to hear some of the tactics they’re using—like not even stopping to pick the right word. If you don’t like what you’ve got, put brackets around it and move on. You can go back later.


Thinking later about the speed issue made me laugh, because I could only imagine explaining the strategy to a (larger) writers’ group we all belong to, which is made up of a mix of indie, trad, trad-hopefuls, and hobbyists.

I envisioned the look on the faces of the traditionally-minded folks who are still in the mode of crafting a novel over the course of months and years. What I would see would be a mix of envy, disdain, and pity.

Envy for daring to hope that their book could be completed in under a year (never mind a few months or even a month). Disdain, since what could the quality of such a work be? And pity, because we obviously didn’t understand the time required to produce a work of quality.

I know, because that’s how I would’ve reacted ten years ago when I was trying to pen the next great novel…instead of getting down to the business of writing.


That thought, in turn, made me noodle on one of the common fallacies of Ye Olde literature vs. genre argument: that speed is bad for writing, regardless of form, authorial intent, or function.

In a nutshell, writers on both sides of the argument don’t often stop to consider the function of a piece that’s being written before passing judgment on the effect speed or volume of output has on the quality of work.

For instance, a skilled writer tackling a literary novel about a serious, emotionally difficult topic might legitimately take a year to produce, while the same writer may need only six weeks to write a thriller. Both could easily be best-of-breed because the demands of each form are different.

Put another way, if a reporter working for a daily newspaper asked for a month to write his daily column, would he get that time or would he get laughed out of the office? Would a monthly magazine survive if it took six months to write the articles?

Of course, the underbelly to this line of reasoning is that, yeah, crap doesn’t take long to write. In many cases, that’s true. It’s also true that a work of genius doesn’t take six years.

Speed isn’t necessarily a measure of quality or literary merit, but it’s a handy prop when you don’t have the chops or courage to finish a literary novel, nor the patience to give a genre work the attention it deserves.

The truth lies in the middle—successful authors rise to the level that the work requires, no more, no less.