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Not So Fast…

The idea for this blog post on writing speed came after reading some responses our readers made to Shelley Coriell’s 1/25/17 blog post, Write on 2017! Strengths and Weaknesses. (Awesome series! Check it out.) In retrospect, writing speed has been on my radar since the Ruby Blog’s early days, when I jokingly called Ruby Sister Darynda Jones and me “The Tortoise and the Hare.” (Make no mistake, I’m the tortoise.) While reading comments people posted to Shelley’s blog, it didn’t take long to notice a distinct theme starting to emerge: writers were identifying their writing pace as “slow,” and further identifying this pace as a weakness they wanted to overcome.

I’m here to say…not so fast.

What follows are a few snippets from that conversation, all from published Rubies. First, Elizabeth Langston, who’d identified her writing speed as a weakness earlier in the thread: 

I need to let the comparison thing go. But it’s been bothering more than usual since I attended an RWA chapter meeting in November. The speaker is completely indie. I think she said that she releases 4+ books a year. I have another author friend who averages 6 books per year (which is insane). I can’t sustain either pace.

Jamie Michele weighed in:

Damn it, I’m all done with the cult of productivity within our community!! Like most of us, I’m not in a position to perform at that level, so I will not tolerate any career plans that include producing four books a year!!

I think of one of my favorite books — The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. It took her ten YEARS to write that thing, and it was worth every second she slaved over it. I’m grateful to her for that book, even if she never writes another.

YAAASSS – and for what it’s worth, I feel the same way about Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks.  And here’s my reply:

Beth and Jamie, my sisters! I have the same issues and concerns. An admission: Over the last year or so, I’ve pulled away from some corners of the romance writing community out of sheer self-preservation, because the focus on pace of production just clobbers my self-confidence. My ‘natural’ writing pace right now is one book per year. Compared to most writers in our genre, I will always come up short in comparison. Always. I think my stories would start to suffer if I tried to pick up the pace. My health, and my work/life balance, would certainly take a hit.

Only in Romancelandia is writing one book per year considered “slow.”  Regardless of writing pace, I’d like us all to stop beating ourselves up. 

Seriously, when did pace of production become the dominant metric by which romance authors measure success? And what does this mean for those of us who can’t measure up? 

What it means is that some of us pull away from our writing communities out of sheer self-preservation. It means we come home from conferences and RWA chapter meetings feeling inadequate rather than energized. It means we too often compare ourselves to others, and always come up short.

Needless to say, this mindset is not great for one’s creativity.

As someone who used to design processes for a living, I’ll be the first to say that work methods can improve, evolve and change over time – but I’ve been writing for a decade now, and one piece of self-awareness I’ve gained is that  I’m a slow food writer. I like to focus on the individual ingredients, and careful and precise preparations. I revise. I refine. I need things to simmer and cook, testing – tasting – as I go along.

I BUILD WORLDS. This takes time.  It takes me time, at any rate. I don’t produce my best work quickly. If I tried to write faster, quality would suffer. I’m not willing to make that trade-off, and I’m tired of feeling guilty about it.

As Ruby Sis Hope Ramsey so wisely says later in the thread, we each need to accept our process for what it is, and set our personal goals accordingly. One size does NOT fit all. 

So, I’m here to say: I reject the Cult of Productivity. I reject it utterly and completely. The Cult of Productivity won’t help me produce my strongest, most satisfying work. It certainly won’t preserve my joy in the process, which is the most important thing about this wacky business that’s under my direct control. 

Ultimately, we each need to find our own, right rhythm. Our own optimal pace.

Me? I’m a happy tortoise. I’ll be back here, taking in the scenery. Marching to slow and steady the beat of my own drum. 😛

Q:  Any thoughts about the Cult of Productivity? How satisfied are you with your writing pace? I look forward to your opinions and insights.

-tammy

P.S. And speaking of slow food…

I recently got publication rights back to Taste Me and Chase Me, the first two books in my award-winning Underbelly Chronicles series. After a light revision pass on all four books, I just reissued the entire series on Kindle/KDP. (More on that process in my next blog post.)  But I wanted to give our readers a peek at my pretty new covers!! and supply some Kindle links if you’re inclined to Buy or borrow.

Taste Me Chase Me Touch Me Tempt Me

Tamara Hogan is the award-winning author of The Underbelly Chronicles paranormal romance series. An English major by education and a software developer/process engineer by trade, she recently stopped telecommuting to Silicon Valley to teach, edit, and write full-time. Tamara loathes cold and snow, but nonetheless lives near Minneapolis with her husband and two naughty cats.

Her debut, TASTE ME, won a Daphne du Maurier Award for Mystery and Suspense, was nominated for the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart Award®, and won Prism Awards for Best Dark Paranormal, Best First Book, and Best of the Best. Catch her on line at www.tamarahogan.com, or on Twitter, @TamaraHogan1.

Happy Tortoise by digitalart at freedigitalart.net

25 responses to “Not So Fast…”

  1. “Only in Romancelandia is writing one book per year considered “slow.”” – EXACTLY. Last night I saw the winner of the Man Booker Prize on Seth Meyers. It took him five years to write that book and he was in awe of a friend who can produce a book every two years. Everyone has a different pace.

    You know me, Tammy, I’m on the other end of the spectrum, but frankly I hate hearing that I’m a “fast” writer because 1) I feel like the speaker is saying I don’t take the time necessary to make quality work and 2) I feel like the speaker is saying that it must be easy for me because I am so “fast” and therefore they are invalidating all the effort I put in. I know that is much less aggravating to deal with than the cage of your own expectations when you keep being pressured to write a dozen books a year by your peers, so just smack me if my whining annoys you, but basically I could NOT AGREE MORE that we all need to own our own process. Accept it. Learn to love it. And work within our own time frame to produce books we can be proud of. And stop comparing ourselves to everyone else! I, for one, am very happy with my process and when I hear people say they can write 8,000 words a day I just shrug and say, “Okay. Cool. I can’t.”

    I love your books. Whatever pace you write them at, it’s working.

    1+

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      You’re not whining at all, Vivi. 😉 You’re right, we all need to own our own process.

      It’s one thing to publicly claim that I reject the cult of productivity. But actually feeling OKAY about it, in the face of #1k1hr sprint tweets, or reading about others’ 5000 word writing days, is…a work in progress.

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  2. “It means we come home from conferences and RWA chapter meetings feeling inadequate rather than energized.”

    Yes, Tammy, this! I heard something similar at nationals last summer, at a talk on speed-writing. One author said that she could write a book in 10 days, 7000 words per day. The other people on the panel were nodding–all with the same level of output. And they also seemed to be in agreement that authors shouldn’t get hung up over writing perfect books.

    As Vivi said… we have to work at the speed we need in order to create books that we’re proud of. For me, that’s 7-9 months per book. I like that pace, and I don’t think I’d like to write faster. I did complete a manuscript in 4 months once, and it wasn’t comfortable for me. It was still a good book–but I didn’t enjoy writing it, and I want to love writing, not dread it.

    We need to be okay with our own process–and not judge people for their processes.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Hear, hear! And thank you for catalyzing this blog post, BTW, with your honest comments at Shelley’s original blog post.

      My career path is by no means one I’d recommend that other authors follow. But during the time I chose not to publish new work, I had an opportunity to re-evaluate why I write in the first place, and to come up with ways to keep my head in the game when it felt like everyone else was passing me by. Happily, I rediscovered joy in the doing.

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  3. As a reader, I would much rather see books that authors feel are “ready” (whether it took them 6 weeks, 6 years, or 6 decades to write) rather than waste my time reading anything that was rushed just to meet some time frame. And I’m not saying that faster is better or worse. I’ve read good books that were fast, and that were slow. But I’ve definitely set books aside when they didn’t feel “finished.” Does that make sense?

    As a writer, there have been periods in my life where I felt flooded with creativity and churned out a bunch of words, and then other times (like these past 9 months) when most days I struggled to get any writing done. So I’m somewhere in between on the Romancelandia productivity spectrum, but am learning that with my perfectionist tendencies, the words can’t be forced. I have to kind of go with the flow with whatever else is going on in my life.

    As an art, I feel completing a book can’t be rushed. As a business, I understand why authors are rushing to get more product out there. As you’ve said, each author must find that happy medium.

    But yes, the pressure within the cult of productivity is intense! And there were SO MANY workshops this past year at various conferences that were all about how to churn out more and more and more words faster, faster, faster. It makes my heart palpitate just thinking about it.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      So much of what you write resonates, Anne Marie. As a reader, I too have set aside books I didn’t think were quite fully cooked. I’ve returned too many books I felt were poorly edited or rushed to market. As a fellow writer with perfectionistic tendencies, yes! Sometimes the words can’t be forced – or in my case, NEW words can’t be forced. But on those days, I can revise like a fiend. And I’ll probably delete as many words as I write.

      I think the unspoken WHY here – WHY is writing quickly such a desirable thing? – is that a lot of us want to make a living doing this. The more books you release, the more readers you can find, the more money you can make. But we all have to find our own happy medium. That line between art and commerce can be a right beeyotch. 😉

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      • >>That line between art and commerce can be a right beeyotch.

        THIS, Tamara! For 99.99 percent of writers, commerce is the engine driving the cult of productivity. Which has me thinking about market saturation and reader fatigue and so much more. But that’s another blog post. 🙂

        Thanks for digging into this important and timely subject!

        1+

        • Tamara Hogan says:

          That is indeed another post, isn’t it?

          My opinion? Sometimes I think both readers and writers would be a lot happier if we just slowed our roll. Then again, publishing less frequently would mean fewer of us make a living at this. It’s a conundrum.

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  4. “Only in Romancelandia is writing one book per year considered ‘slow’.”
    I’ve wondered how much this intense push for productivity plays into non-Romance readers’ and reviewers’ opinions that the genre is “fluff” and can’t be taken seriously as literature.

    Coming at the issue as an unpublished writer (for whatever that’s worth), I understand the need to develop good work habits and meet deadlines.

    But the idea of daily word counts makes me itch. I love, love, love the Ruby sprints because they make me sit down to write, especially when I’ve been avoiding a tough scene, and there’s a built in pool of experienced, imaginative writers to bounce ideas off of, or just absorb the positive energy. But reporting how many words we got at the end of each sprint is daunting.
    Was I too slow and I’ll never be able to meet real life deadlines? Too fast and missed important details or left out motivations and this whole thing is a hot mess?

    In the few years that I’ve been among serious writers, I’ve come to the conclusion there are two types of writers. The first are people who enjoy things like NaNoWriMo and blasting through word counts. Some are naturally fast drafters, others seem to thrive on the competitive element.

    The second are those that need to immerse themselves in their world as they go–know the details, taste the champagne at the New Years party, see the patterns the flowers make in the villa gardens, feel the velvet of the heroine’s duvet.

    From my limited perspective, both seem to work. If there are any guys hanging around here, I apologize, but I wonder if this is just one more example of women being tougher on themselves, more critical, than they need to be?

    Oh, and I adored Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks. Her Finder made me ugly cry.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Janet, you’re not alone with word counts giving you the hives! I don’t write to a daily/weekly word count either; instead, I log BICHOK hours (Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard) per day, breaking the time down by hours writing new words vs. hours revising existing words. I write new words at a coffee shop where there are fewer distractions, and revise at home, where distractions abound. 😉

      “War for the Oaks,” other than being a wonderful book, is special to me for several reasons: One, Emma Bull is a fellow Minnesotan, and two, Eloisa James (!) recommended the book to me (!) in a short email exchange we had (!) related to her mentioning my debut, TASTE ME, in her now-defunct Barnes & Noble column (!). She said that TASTE ME reminded her of “War for the Oaks.” Had I read it? When I said no, she said I should, because she thought I’d love it.

      She was right – AWESOME! – and yeah, I definitely saved that email. 😉

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Yeah…that basic truth, that only in Romance is one book a year “slow,” is kind of mind-blowing. Someone tell George R.R. Martin.

      I’m not really slow or fast…I’m a binge writer. I keep trying to get on a steady schedule, but the intensity of my day job and my kids’ needs makes steadiness very, very, very hard to achieve. And when I can write, sometimes it’s a slow slog, and sometimes it’s like lightning (10,000 words overnight once!!)

      Ah, well. Thanks to that intense day job, I’m not dependent on my writing income, so I’m trying not to worry too much about how fast I get books out. I need to stay sane, and want whatever I put out to be work I can be proud of.

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      • Tamara Hogan says:

        —> Thanks to that intense day job, I’m not dependent on my writing income, so I’m trying not to worry too much about how fast I get books out.

        I hear ya, Elisa. After nearly thirty years in technology, I quit my day job in late 2015 and started my “second act,” teaching, writing, and editing full-time. There’s a relief knowing the family won’t starve if book sales aren’t great, but I WANT BOOK SALES TO BE GREAT. I want readers to enjoy my work. But I’m no good to anyone if I burn out doing it.

        1+

  5. Great post, Tammy.

    I envy those who can put out quality work at an alarming speeds,(we know a few) but that’s not me. It takes me a year to write a book and even then I worry if it’s good enough when I hit that publish button.

    It took a while for me to get over the feeling that I was less of a writer because I didn’t write fast, but I came to realize I need that time. It’s my process. Maybe that will change over time, but for now I’m happy.

    1+

  6. Cynthia Huscroft says:

    “Only in Romancelandia is writing one book per year considered “slow.”” I love this!

    Being a novice, I have not quite found my rhythm, yet, but I know that I will. I think that I will probably be a “walker”, not a “runner”, who sometimes goes for a “jog”.

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  7. Kate Parker says:

    I find writing speed to be an individual thing, like being a plotter or pantster. I believe I’ve been told my process is wrong more often than I write too slow, but that could just be me. Shrug.

    I remember early in my prepubbed career learning Nora Roberts published 60 books in 10 years. That is one book every two months! It sounded so extraordinary that I’ve never really paid attention to anyone else’s writing speed or worried about my own.

    1+

  8. Great post! I just sit down and write each day, sometimes it’s barely 50 words but I no longer beat myself up over it. I’m a book-a-year author (and after each book I fret that I’ll never be able to write another.)

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      –> and after each book I fret that I’ll never be able to write another

      I hear ya, Bev. One of process engineering’s guiding principles is that you design a process to be reproducible, until you make a conscious decision to change it. Writing books isn’t always so cut and dried, is it? 😉

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  9. I’m so sad that I missed this post!! My son was on “mid-winter break” (WTF is that anyway??) last week and I was in full mom-mode.

    I read every comment and wanted to reply to everything! Bah! So many interesting thoughts!

    What I mostly keep coming back to is this cult is only common in Romance. Why? WHY??!! Did Nora start it and ruin it for the rest of us? Was it the series romance market of the 80s and 90s that demanded more, faster, shorter? Did readers get used to seeing the same name return to the shelf every three months? A handful of writers could do it and the rest of us had to follow suit if we wanted to get published? And then the indie movement’s founding mothers came in ten years ago and discovered that there was an insatiable market for their work?

    It makes me feel like I’m in the wrong genre.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      You didn’t miss the post; you’re here now!

      I feel as though I’m writing the right thing – for me – but that I’m hideously out of sync with the genre in every other way that counts.

      What does an author who releases, at most, one book per year do? One who hates to promote? Who doesn’t want to tap friends to do it for her? Who, for many reasons, barely uses social media, and when she does, yells at the president rather than promotes her work? Who loathes the concept of branding? I’ll tell you what she does – or rather, what she doesn’t do. She doesn’t sell a lot of books. My sales figures are pitiful.

      I realize I’m rebooting my career, that I’m starting from scratch. That right now, I’m re-releasing books that interested parties probably already own, and that I need to have reasonable expectations. But…damn.

      This is a really bad era in which to be a hermit.

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