The Journal: Writing “Fast”

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Topic: Writing “Fast”
* A dismal day
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“Professional writers think of stories or novels as just one continuous thing they write, never making one or another more important.” Dean Wesley Smith

“I usually write a play in six days. A novel takes a month.” William Saroyan

Topic: Writing “Fast”

Again today I saw a writer trying to define “fast,” as in “Are you a ‘fast’ writer?”

To me, this is like defining heat and cold or light and dark. Really, there is no such thing as “cold” or “dark.” There is only heat and the absense of heat, light and the absence of light. Meaning everything is defined by the level of (or lack of) heat or light in a given area.

Likewise, there is no “fast” in writing. There can’t be. Have you ever heard anyone describe a writer as being “slow”?

There is no fast or slow. There is only writing and the absence of writing. You either spend the hours in the chair writing or you don’t. If you’re putting new words on the page, you’re writing. If you aren’t, then you’re doing something other than writing.

Most writers I know write at around 1,000 to 1,200 words of publishable fiction per hour, a blazing slow 17 to 20 words per minute. As Dean Wesley Smith once said, “That leaves a lot of time for staring off into space.” He’s right. It does.

Some probably write faster than that, but few if any ever approach their high school typing class typing-test speed of 40 or 60 or 80 words per minute. That would be 2,400 or 3,600 or 4,800 words per hour. Duh. I wish.

What most writers mean when they talk about speed is how long it takes to finish a “full-length” novel, which they never define, but if they did they would define it as something in the 100,000 to 120,000 word range.

Which has nothing to do with writing. It harkens back to traditional publishing in the 1980s and forward. The 100,000 to 120,000 word range has zero literary merit. It’s a langth the tradpubs came up with to meet a certain price point for novels. Silly. In many genres, most “full-length” novels are around 50,000 words. They can go as low as 25,000 words.

Here are my own fiction-length guidelines. I use these to set price points on my own work (also dependent on genre):

Up to 99 words — flash fiction
100 to 1,999 — short-short story
2,000 to 7,999 — short story
8,000 to 14,999 — novelette (long short story)
15,000 to 24,999 — novella
25,000 to 39,999 — short novel
40,000 to 79,999 — novel
Over 80,000 — long novel

But back to the discussion of speed. Most writers who are mired in the myths don’t talk about how long it takes to finish a novel in hours or days. They talk about months or years, and even then they don’t talk about the finished work. They talk about the “rough first draft.” Again, silly.

But I have a theory. I suspect they talk about months or years because they would be embarrassed to talk about how much time they spend in the chair actually writing fiction, all the while calling themselves writers.

It’s all math. If a writer writes 1000 words per hour (again, that’s only 17 words per minute), and spends 4 hours in the chair every day actually writing, that’s 4,000 words per day and a 100,000 word novel (or two 50,000 word novels) in 25 days. Or a 50,000 word novel roughly every two weeks, or a 100,000 word novel every month. With five or six days off.

If, on the other hand, it takes a writer 3 months to write a 100,000 word novel, that’s only 1,111 words per day. And if it’s a 50,000 word novel, that’s only 550 words per day. Seriously, what are they doing with the rest of their time?

But let’s drop in for a moment on a meeting of Fast Writers Anonymous:

Hi there. I’m Harvey Stanbrough, and I’m a slacker. I piddle around. A lot. Even on days when I reach my daily word count goal of 4,000 words, I’ve spent only 4 hours in the chair actually writing fiction. Who else here has a day job where they can spend only 4 hours per day and not get sacked?

Yet I’m called a “fast” writer. And the word “fast” carries a negative connotation. Some people have actually said to me that because I write “fast” my books can’t possibly be any good.

Of course, those who say that won’t bother actually reading one of those books to see for themselves. Might be embarrassing.

But more likely, even if they do read one of my books and like it, they won’t be embarrassed. They’ll just mark it up to “magic” and assume they “can’t” do the same or better. Well, “can’t” never did anything worthwhile, did he?

The truth is, they could do the same or better, easily, if only they would trust in themselves and what they know, and if only they would trust the characters to tell the story.

But it’s much easier to pump their fists in the air while screaming, “There is no One Way to write!” and then cling tenaciously to the One Way that’s been imbedded in their mind since grade school. As I wrote above, silly.

I had a relatively dismal day of writing yesterday. I hope today will be better, but I might take some time today and tomorrow to watch a couple of NFL wild-card playoff game. I haven’t watched for a few years, and I could use a mind-numbing break.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “The Benefits and Challenges That Come With Writing Under a Pen Name” at Not really that informative, but just in case.

See “Virtual Museum Visits” at

See “My Novel” at

See “Reader Friday: How Fast?” at Oh yes, I left a comment. And my personal thanks to James Scott Bell for priming my pump for the topic above. And to Terry Odell for telling me in no uncertain terms there is no “one way” to write. Sigh.

See “Making Do With Dollar Tree” at

See “Thoughts about what Covid and 2020 mean for book publishing” at See the Passive Guy’s take.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1080 words

Writing of The Journey Home: Part 5 (novel)

Day 1…… 4179 words. Total words to date…… 4179
Day 2…… 4825 words. Total words to date…… 9004
Day 3…… 2746 words. Total words to date…… 11750
Day 4…… 4032 words. Total words to date…… 15782
Day 5…… 2873 words. Total words to date…… 18655
Day 6…… 2052 words. Total words to date…… 20707

Total fiction words for January……… 23925
Total fiction words for the year………… 23925
Total nonfiction words for December… 6330
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 6330
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 30255

Calendar Year 2021 Novels to Date…………………… X
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… X
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 54
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 214
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31