I keep coming across two assumptions about writers who publish a lot of books per year. The first1 is that if a book takes less than a year to write then it can’t be any good. So if a writer can produce two or more books a year they are total hacks.
It ain’t necessarily so. People write at different paces and in different circumstances. Some so-called slow writers are slow because they also have a full or part-time job, because they have a family, because they’re running the household, and their writing is snatched in the time between waking and going to work. Or before the kids come home from school. Or on their lunch hours.
Some writers are just slow because they’re slow. It takes them a while to think things through. They like to get every sentence perfect before they move onto the next. Or they do not know how to let go of their books and would be rewriting them until the end of time if their editor or agent didn’t snatch it from them.
Some writers are fast because all they have to do is write. They’re wealthy and have employees to take care of all the housework and admin. Or they have a wife (or, rarely, a husband) who takes care of all of that.
And some writers are just fast. They can write several books a year even though they have families and jobs and other responsibilities. It’s just the way they’re wired.
Some slow writers turn out horrible books. So do some fast writers. Neither fact on its own gives you any indication of the writer’s quality. And really it’s not like quality is something everyone agrees about. Would you believe there are people out there who don’t realise that Georgette Heyer is a genius? Shocking, but true.
The other assumption is almost its opposite: the idea that writing lots of books in a year is a matter of word counts and thus not that big a deal. A commenter on Miss Snark puts the idea succinctly:
Ok, at the risk of getting majorly snarked, I’m not sure why writing 4 novels a year is seen as an impossibility.
Let’s say you can write 1000 words/day. If you did that for 300 days of the year, you’d have 300,000 words. 300,000/4 = 75,000 words per novel.
You still have 65 days left in the year for polishing, too.
So why is it so incredible?
Writing four books a year is tough because you’re not just writing first drafts of four books, you’re writing second, third and fourth and as many drafts as you and your editor think the book needs to go through. You’re also checking copyedits and page proofs.
Those extra rewrites, copyedits and page proofs always come in while you’re hard at work on the next book. You’re buried in that world and suddenly you have to pull yourself out and turn to a book you haven’t thought about in months. It’s not easy.
Let’s figure out the time for that, shall we?
You’ve only got 65 days left after writing the four first drafts. That means you have slightly more than 16 days to rewrite, go over copyedits, and check the page proofs of each book. And that’s assuming you work every single day. It assumes you do no publicity for your books, and that you have no holidays, no sick days, no nothing.
For most people that would be impossible, or at the very least a recipe for no friends, a breakdown, and/or shingles. All very well if you hate people and love shingles.
I could not do it. I spend at least as long rewriting my books as I do writing the first drafts. It also takes me a solid week to go over copyedits (sometimes longer) and 2 or 3 days for page proofs. While I can write a first draft in three months or less, I need at least that time for everything else. At most I could write two books a year, but as I’ve never done that I don’t know for sure.
And I need days when I don’t write because there are days—many of them—when my brain is broken and I simply cannot write a single word. I have a sneaking suspicion that I am not alone in this.
Are there writers who can and do write four books a year? Yes, there are. How do they do it? By writing more than a thousand words a day,2 by writing fewer drafts,3 by secretly having clones, by being really really disciplined, and by other means that I can’t even imagine.
Like every thing else in
a writer’s life, it depends.
- I see it so often I’m not even going to bother with an example. [↩]
- More than 1,000 words a day is definitely doable. I once wrote 10,000 words in a day. But you know what I wrote the next day? Nothing. And the day after that. And the day after that. Several weeks of nothing, in fact. It was a definite case of brain breakage. I can write 2,000 a day sustainably for a few months. But I’m most comfortable and unbrain-breaky between 1,000 and 2,000. But that’s just me. I know writers who can write 5,000 a day for months without breaking into a sweat. I know who others who die if they go over 500. Not to mention the pre-industrial writers who just write until they’re done and then sleep for six months. [↩]
- Some people will argue that writing only one or two drafts is the major sign of a crap writer. But there are writers who seem to only produce one draft, but that’s only because they pretty much write the book in their head before committing to paper. Their first draft is clean as a whistle. It’s just a different way of writing.
Me, I need to work stuff out on the page, so I go through multiple drafts. My first drafts? Um, not clean as a whistle—more in the pig-pen range. Put it this way: No one ever gets to see them but Scott, and he is not very appreciative of the honour. Nor would anyone with functioning eyeballs. [↩]