Ask A Wendigo: The Speed With Which One Ejaculates Prose
Looking for the requisite Tuesday “list of 25?” HA HA HA IT’S NOT HERE. You just got served! Ahem. The lists-of-25 are going on an “every other week” basis as I wind them down to completion — that’s not to say I won’t do them from time to time but I’m looking to get another 10 or so for a book and then I’ll pull the ripcord, at least until I have something more to say on the subject. So! In the “every other, uhh, other week” slot goes this: you ask me questions at Tumblr and I answer them here. Let the inquisition begin!
I had two folks ask me very similar questions.
Anonymous Abby asked:
“My name’s Abby and I just bought your 500 Ways to Tell a Better Story (surely that means I count!). My question comes from reading Dean Wesley Smith’s blog. He often blogs about writing fast and not believing that the longer it takes to write a book, the better it is. I’ve heard of writers who’ve written books in just a few weeks and I was wondering, for a first draft, what’s the shortest time it’s taken you to complete a MS?”
And Anonymous Not-Abby asked:
“How fast can you, Wendig, type out fiction (of any quality) and, if you’ve honed this as a skill, how did you go about getting faster (and, perhaps, better)?”
Let me answer the second question first: I write at bare minimum 2000 words a day. Ideally I write 3-4k a day, but hey, not every day is ideal. It is, however, very rare that I dip below 2k per day — days where I’m sick or on vacation or eating the frozen hearts of wayward campers as I chase them through the woods with my big stompy Wendigo hooves, those might be days I don’t make my goal. But I only need 13 frozen hearts to survive one full century, so? Pretty rare. Rare as a bloody steak. Rare as a dodo orgy.
That means, for me, every week I’m generally writing 10 to 15,000 words of new content. That does not include blog content, by the way. By the end of a year I have, bare minimum, a half-a-million words chipped into the digital marble that is my computer screen.
Are those good words? Do they make up good stories?
Fuck if I know.
I like to hope they are. But they’re never good enough on their own — a word doesn’t just tumble out of my finger-holes as a pure and perfect entity, unmarred and forever impervious to criticism. Words change. They need to get extensions or repairs. Or have friends added to them. Or be thrown into a dark yowling abyss where they are eaten by ancient God-Worms and defecated out to form the deviant sub-layer of Gaia’s subconscious mind. (YO I’M DROPPIN’ MYTH ON YOUR FACEBRAIN, SON.)
And this leads me to the first question:
Speed is not an indicator of quality in terms of fiction. That’s true of one’s relative slowness or swiftness — taking 10 years to write a book or taking 10 days to write a book (or a comic or a film or an angry postcard) guarantees nothing in terms of how good or how bad that story is.
Put differently, the story needs what the story needs.
Now, I’ll grant you: many stories are like wine. With more time they ripen and the flavor deepens — not automatically and not without authorial intervention, but over time an author can sift out the sediment and play with additives and subtractives, changing the formula gradually over the many moons. Of course, some wines should be consumed young, shouldn’t they? Bottled and guzzled with, oh, a nice shellfish dish. Or the pudding-like brains of your foes. So, there the wine metaphor yields some truth across the board: some wines are better aged, some are better right after you squirt ’em in the bottle.
Which tells us, yet again: the story needs what the story needs.
If it’s fast and it works: it works. If it’s slow and it works: it works.
Who gives a fuck how many days it took if the story crackles? If it makes us think, feel, laugh, cry? The audience doesn’t care how long it took. The audience only cares if it reaches deep and grabs their guts.
Blackbirds took me yeaaaaaars to write.
The sequel, Mockingbird, took me 30 days. And was almost 10,000 words longer.
Ah, but here’s the trick: where some stories are fast and others come slow, one thing I believe to be true: the writer needs time to age. Authors need time and experience to reach fruition — and so you must have the patience to develop a voice, to train your skill and hone your talent, to practice the craft of writing and foster the art of storytelling (for that’s how I see them: writing is the craft, storytelling the art).
Give yourself that time. Because that’s how you get better. And, sometimes, how you get faster.
Worry less about how long it should take to write a story.
Worry more about how long it takes to become a storyteller.