Sunday, November 2, 2008

How Fast Do You Write?

Today, finishing the day's NaNoWriMo pages (I haven't put them onto my page at the site yet, nor answered messages there, because the site is incredibly slow) I realized I do all of my writing in one of two gears: Fast or Slow. When I'm trying to write carefully and well, I'm in Slow Gear. I spend huge amounts of time staring out the window, winding my hair around my fingers, erasing, paging through books. I have no idea how long it takes to write a page in this mode; I lose track of time, plus I'm sure it varies. But when I'm doing NaNoWriMo or writing any kind of first draft not meant for the eyes of others, I write at a very specific pace: 15 minutes per page.

If I try to write faster, at a ten-minute per page pace, it's likely not to make sense. Sentence logic falls apart and everything turns into garbled stream-of-consciousness. If I slow down to 20 minutes per page, I find myself trying too hard to make everything perfect, and I slow down even more. For some reason, 15 minutes per page keeps everything running smoothly -- I have enough time to compose, but not quite enough time to think.

However, what I come up with is rarely any good. It takes endless slapping and poking and squeezing to make it workable. Lately -- and this is probably the source of my trouble these last few years, my not-finishing trouble -- is that it feels more productive to write a few more speedy pages than to do the hard work of revision.

JRL tells me it's ALL about revision. I should know this by now, but I never quite believe it.

31 comments:

Squirrel said...

It's so unbearably slow, I decided to write while I'm waiting. 15 minutes per page? Just about enough time to get the next screen up. Perfect timing.

GFS3 said...

Does speed in writing really matter? Doesn't it really depend on your inspiration? When I'm on a roll, I write fast. When I'm devoid of ideas or stuck -- I plod.

E. said...

Wow, this is interesting. Rhian, your post makes me realize that the idea of an audience is what bogs me down. When I'm writing for myself -- i.e. not on workshop deadline -- I can crank at a pretty good clip (though a page in fifteen minutes is much brisker than I've ever managed). But when I'm writing something that's destined for critique, even a first draft, I worry every word. I don't even want to think about my per-page rate for the novel workshop I'm doing right now. Let's just say it's in the hours -- plural -- range. Meh.

jrlennon said...

gfs3, I think Rhian's saying that speed does matter. For many of us, I think that being able to write is a psychological trick--you've gotta move fast enough to outrun the internal editor, but slowly enough not to completely suck.

After six novels, I've pretty much realized that, for me, inspiration has little to do with it, that in fact the concept is imaginary, and deceptive. The worthwhile insights seem to come at random, and are refined by multiple revisions.

When writing a book, I generally write four pages in about two hours, and then I'm burned out for the day. It takes an hour to get going and an hour to admit to myself that I'm finished, for a total of four hours. This holds true whether I am writing great stuff or total crap.

rmellis said...

Speed doesn't really *matter*, I don't think -- but it's an interesting aspect of the process to look at.

I also find that writing in the "fast mode" allows me to plow accidentally into material I wouldn't have discovered if I'd been going more slowly and deliberately.

There's a balance between turning out pages, being careful and crafty, flying into inspiration, and being thoughtful that I'm always struggling with...

zoe said...

What do you mean by a page?

I write about 1200 words in an hour and a half, once a week when my husband takes the kids away. I know I only really have that time, so I work it and fast.

Matt said...

It's all about balance. If I can manically crank out x number of pages, knowing that it's not all wankery, but actually contributing to the story/character/plot, then I let it happen. For me, the sooner I get the story on the page ("Screw you, editor in my head!") the better.

That said, like death and taxes, the (nay karmic) need for the slow, introspective nature of revision (and all of the mess it initially makes) *must* happen eventually. Revision is the price of creativity. And the more you put it off, the bigger the mess you have to unravel.

rmellis said...

Page = 250 words. That's the old fashioned, double-spaced, pica 10-pitch page. It seems like an absurdly low number of words for a page these days!

jrlennon said...

For me, a page is more like 300 words--I write on a word processor in 12-point Garamond, with 1.2" margins all around. I write single-spaced but change to double for later drafts.

rmellis said...

When I use a word processor, it fits like 600 words on a page, so when I say "page" it's a completely theoretical unit...

gcm said...

This topic reminded me of one of my favorite passages from Horace's Satires.

"Witty as [Lucilius] was, and of keen-scented nostrils, but harsh in framing his verse. Herein lay his fault: often in an hour, as though a great exploit, he would dictate two hundred lines while standing, as they say, on one foot. In his muddy stream there was much that you would like to remove. He was wordy, and too lazy to put up with the trouble of writing -- of writing correctly, I mean; for as to quantity... I let that pass. See, Crispinus challenges me against long odds: 'Take your tablets, please; I'll take mine. Let a place be fixed for us, and time and judges; let us see which can write the most.' The gods be praised for fashioning me of meagre wit and lowly spirit, of rare and scanty speech! But do you, for such is your taste, be like the air shut up in goat-skin bellows, and ever puffing away until the fire softens the irons." (Satires I, iv.)

I love how this discussion has looped back around - after almost exactly 2,000 years.

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