The Write Practice

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How Fast Can You Write?

I wrote this in fifteen minutes.

How fast can you write? Most new writers slog over their writing. They spend five-minutes writing a single sentence. They stare at the screen, composing in their heads.

Yes, some pros do that too, but as a group, professional writers write fast (or at least faster than you).

Fast

Photo by Mohammed Al-Sultan

How Long Does it Take to Write a Novel?

Let’s say you’re writing a novel. How long does it take you to write the first draft?

As Stephen Koch mentions in the best writing book I’ve read, Stephen King says you shouldn’t take longer than a single season to write your first draft. If a season is three months and you’re writing a 120,000 word novel, that’s 1,333 words a day. 1,500 if you take one day a week off.

No big deal, right? Not if you write fast. Is Spring going to be the season you write your novel?

How Long Does it Take to Write a Short Story?

How long should it take you to write the first draft of a short story? Eudora Welty, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Optimists Daughter, said:

My ideal way to write a short story is to write the whole first draft through in one sitting, then work as long as it takes on revisions, and then write the final version all in one, so that in the end the whole thing amounts to one long sustained effort.

The average short story is three to five thousand words, but you can write that in one sitting, right? You can if you write fast. Is today going to be the day you write your short story?

How Long Does it Take to Write a Screenplay?

My screenwriting professor in college, a man who wrote several movie scripts and hundreds of scripts for television, said he wrote first drafts of screenplays in three days.

That’s about thirty pages a day. He called them flash drafts.

This is a long weekend. Is this the weekend you write your screenplay?

Writing Fast Leads to Revision

Editing is slow, painstaking work, but writing a first draft should be fun. Let your spirit loose. Let your hair down. This is improvisational jazz not orchestrated classical.

If you want to break through writer’s block, write faster.

If you want to finally finish your book, write faster.

If you want to be a pro, write faster.

Write faster not because fast writing is always good writing, but because it’s good enough to get you to the real work. I wrote this post in fifteen minutes, but I spent another thirty minutes revising. All good writing is re-writing.

Do you write fast? Why or why not?

PRACTICE

Write fast for fifteen minutes.

You can work on your latest work in progress or something new, but see how many words you can write in fifteen minutes. And if you post, please be sure to comment on a few posts by other writers.

Good luck!

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

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  • Karoline Kingley

    I recently finished writing my first novel, and at the start of the project I gave myself a two year deadline. I completed the book in a little over a year which now seems like a long time, but when I set that deadline, I was concerned it wouldn’t give me enough time! Now that I’m starting my second book however, I realize that I could probably write one chapter a day, and in that case I could finish in just a couple months…or less. A few months ago that seemed like a ridiculous notion, but now I can’t see why I thought it would take so long to write my first book.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      It’s a transformative process, isn’t it? Congratulations on finishing your book!

  • http://twitter.com/Sensawunda Adam

    I also try to write the first drafts of my short stories in one sitting. It gives a consistency of voice that I struggled with when writing over multiple sessions.

    Novels usually take me two to three months for a first draft, with another two months of editing and revisions.

    I like the advice of “writing faster” to break through a block. There’s a lot to be said about vomiting up words and worrying about quality in the edits.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      I agree, Adam. I like how the voice remains consisten, too.

      Thanks. :)

  • mariannehvest

    I can get the story out in one sitting but then when I rewrite it I always start at the beginning again and get bogged down. I’m really having so much trouble now that i feel like just chucking the whole thing. I do that to all my longer stories though. I write them, get bogged down “fixing” them and then give up and start another one, so that I never finish anything anymore. I hate it!!!!!

    • http://www.ipaintiwrite.com/ Pamela Hodges

      Marie, somewhere in your first draft is a gem. Print it out, cut it up and rearrange the pieces. Maybe the beginning of your story is in the middle now.

      • mariannehvest

        Thank you Pamela! That’s a good idea.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Do you read the whole story before you start to re-write?

      • mariannehvest

        Not this one. I will try doing that. I think there’s a structural problem. I’m feeling better today so I’ll read over it, take a nap, and then try again.

  • http://www.ipaintiwrite.com/ Pamela Hodges

    I think I need to write more and think less. I have never tried to write a story in one sitting. Today is a good day to start.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Do it!

      • Eyrline Morgan

        Most of my short stories have been in one sitting. I think it through, research and then write. This was a habit started in High School. When I had an assignment, like a book report, I waited until the last minute to let it “jell,” and then write it. I did the same with speeches both in college and Toastmasters. I knew what I was going to say before the nascency of the outline.

  • AJ Wagoner

    I disagree on the ‘All good writing is re-writing’, at least for me anyways. A lot of my poetry I never revise or go back over until much later after I posted it. Why? Because well I write from the Spirit and know what He wants to say. Of course, that’s just me though haha. Either way I still think some writing never rewritten can be very very good.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      So you’re of the Kerouacian ideology then, that rewriting is actually dishonest and maybe even immoral? Interesting. Couldn’t Spirit work through re-writing as much as writing the first time? Isn’t discernment a gradual honing down, a process of removing the fluff of our own personality and to capture the voice inside of us? For me, discovering truth is like wrestling. You have to labor to get it.

  • Rose Gardener

    I write slowly.
    It’s fair to say that as a raw beginner I wrote slowly because my mind struggled to put the pictures in my head into words. Currently (as a more experienced beginner?), I write slowly because I demand the best word, the right phrasing and eliminate adverbs as I go – I’ve learned to edit as I write.
    I can easily produce 1000 words in a day, but rarely do. I prefer to think as I write and avoid major re-writes. Of course it still needs revising, but usually only for strengthening the story or fine-tuning an idea I particularly want to convey in one section. I’ll never churn out a novel in 3 months, but I’ve found a pace that compliments my style of working and it suits me well. I have time to enjoy what I’m doing as I write and don’t have to go back to correct grammar or punctuation mistakes (not often anyway.)
    Those who advocate writing fast treat story ideas as a sunny day which must be captured in a single snapshot or lost forever. I prefer to paint the landscape, my umbrella transforming as required into a parasol or a windbreak.

    My point is that this generic advice to write fast and edit lots later isn’t the best approach for everyone and slow writers out there should not let themselves feel pressurized into working in a way which feels unnatural to them.

    • Steve Stretton

      Rose, I couldn’t agree more, as a slow writer I like to edit as I go so I don’t miss the obvious problems later. Like you I can do 1000 to 1500 words in a day, not necessarily all at once, but usually manage around 500 or so. I know that is slow but I prefer it that way. If it takes a bit longer so be it.

      • Rose Gardener

        Thanks, Steve. It’s good to know there are others out there who work at a similar pace to me. :)

    • Eyrline Morgan

      Rose, your writing is always good, slow or fast. You started as an educated beginner and have gradually progressed much past being a beginner. If writing as good as yours comes from slow writing, I agree with you. I’m a fast writer, being able to type faster than I can think, and write about 500 words in twelve minutes. That doesn’t mean it is good. Keep writing. I’m going to keep writing, too.

      • Rose Gardener

        Thank you for your kind words, Eryline. I type with just one finger, watching the keyboard to find each letter, so it gives me plenty of time to think. Your speed is impressive (I envy those who can touch type), but how you continue to write despite your personal difficulties is what truly inspires me. :)

    • Marty Gavin

      I think it’s all about whatever works for each person. Another factor, for me anyway, includes how busy a writer is, be it your job that pays the bills, your family, etc.

      In my case, where I am busy with all of that, I don’t have the luxury to wrote too slow…I tried it forever, and it was very frustrating. Now, writing faster, with the editor tuned out alot more this way, I am writing each day, and getting HOOKED or CAUGHT on my own story and excited to get back to it, versus the old way where my two characters were still sitting in the same room, or field, for weeks on end, at times…lol. I think you all get the idea.

      Well, anyway…as I said…whatever works! I see both sides of it.

  • Marty Gavin

    My whole mission now is to complete a first draft. Get the clay on the table, and then shape it up in a rewrite.

    Completing a first draft will be a nice accomplishment.

    Writing fast (producing) and allowing myself to produce that shitty first draft are the two things that gives me some hope that I will get there, especially when it so often feels like such a long and never ending journey.

    I look forward to editing and polishing my work.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Do it, Marty. Best of luck!

  • Sud

    It was a bright sunny morning. I was enjoying a cup of coffee when I noticed an elephant walking in the streets. I dragged myself to the balcony and scanned the area. As amazed I was, I was slightly expecting something absurd to occur. It had been years since the artificially developed orange ape escaped my friend, Jeff’s laboratory. Following the gray – red eyed – elephant was a herd of wildebeast. I couldn’t look any further. The animals had came in staggering numbers. AS the elephant moved by it trampled all the cars on its way and roared at any moving vehicle. I still felt calm. I stared at the wild circus. For some reason, I felt that it wasn’t wild or doing anything of this at will but it seemed somewhat robotic. The elephant responded in a specific way. The elephant and the wildebeest marched by. Followed them were many monkeys wildly bouncing on top of buildings. Fearing that one of them would leap up onto my porch, I quickly took cover. I kept staring at the absurd occurrence The animals past. I quickly grabbed the T.V remote and punched the ON button. I quickly changed to the NNN (National News Network), it flashed: BREAKING NEWS: ANIMALS ON RAMPAGE THROUGHOUT THE NATION! AUTHORITIES CONFUSED! It didn’t make any sense. A moment later the bell buzzed. I opened the door and then a bony creature that appeared to be my best friend Jeff limped in. Just a few days ago we had worked out together, I had envied him of his biceps and now… His face was beaten and chewed up, his T-Shirt torn apart, and his face caked with blood. He quickly explained me. His orange ape – which he gave a chemical, which was meant to develop more unique features, developed its brain capacity – came and commanded large, black baboons to attack him. The ape spoke in English! Apparently in the 5 years it lived in a neighboring city’s zoo where it was believed to be an orangutan – it learned English in residence of the zoo. It slowly tortured Jeff and then warned him that the he would take over the world and make everyone dance on his fingers. It was only a matter of time. All these years I laughed at the orange chimp but deep inside me I had always feared it. I knew this day would come. I just smiled, wondering whether I should commit suicide or die at the hands of savage beasts.

  • Patrick Marchand

    So yeah, probably have to learn to write a little faster if I want to be Stephen King one day, but this was a good start for me!
    ________________
    The splash of boots in the cold water was reverberating inside the mighty reservoir of the Federation as a man ran away from the guards and their incoming fire. His name was Daniel and he was now an outlaw.

    His breath was getting short as he made his way towards his holocycle, neatly hidden under a pile of water tubes and quickly picked up the vehicle, a bullet grazing his head as he did so. Losing no more time he jumped on the holocycle and made for the exit, deftly passing through the hostile guards.

    A few hours later he was safe in his scrawny lower city appartment, so similar to the thousand other ones that composed the megacity of what had once been a city named New York, a name that meant very little since the Creditor wars. Daniel looked at his dirty mirror, he was, as always, of medium height, of average looks and of dirty brown hair but, something was different now, a savage look had taken place in his eyes, the look of an outlaw.

    • Sud

      Great, I love distopian/post-apocalypic ! The first segment was really interesting.

  • Eyrline Morgan

    Joyce was always happy and you would think she didn’t have any worries. But, this time she and her husband, a Methodist minister, were sent to a small town where there were mostly minorities and the only radio station was country. She had majored in music in college and had sung in many concerts as the soloist, and even had staring parts in operas. But, what kind of a town was this going to be. The owner of the radio station told her if she needed an organist, his cousin played for churches. As he was chairman of the deacons, she didn’t want to turn him down on his suggestion. He told his cousin of the position. As she had just taken a job in this town, she agreed to meet with Joyce, who was the choir director. Joyce was almost scared to meet his cousin, thinking maybe she played country. His country felt the same about Joyce. When they met, they recognized each other from their college days. His cousin was also the organist at a church where Joyce often sang solos. They both laughed and hugged.

    The organ was a nine rank pipe organ, no pre-sets, and no crescendo pedal. The expressions had to be set by the number of stops pulled. The organist had to set each registration for every piece by hand, or have an assistant, which was seldom. Things went smoothly until Christmas. The choir was singing a cantata, one the organist had accompanied and it was not one of her favorites. There were many changes of registrations, the tenor solo was full of discords. At each rehearsal, Joyce had the organist change the registration. On the day of the performance, she came to the organist, telling her she had some ideas for the registration that might help the choir hear their parts better. As hard as it was to change registrations and volume, the organist did as Joyce suggested. Needless to say, it was a disaster. The tenor soloist had not learned his part, the new registration was not loud enough for the choir to hear, as I had admonished Joyce.

    After the performance, Joyce was livid. She yelled at the choir, particularly the tenor, saying they all made her look bad. Actually, they did very well, considering the music, except for the soloist. She told me I should have used my original registration. We all left in tears, even Joyce.

    The next day Joyce came to where I was working to apologize, but all she did was talk about how bad the choir had let her down. She didn’t mention the tenor. They were leaving in six months, as this was a temporary assignment. The Music Director of a Baptist Church, several blocks from where I lived, had heard I was living there. He had called and invited me to see the organ and had kept in touch for about three months. I called him that evening when getting off work to ask if there were any Baptist churches close by who needed an organist. He said he could think of one, and was I looking for a place to play. I told him the story of the Christmas Cantata. He had heard that one and felt as I did about it. I told him the choir gave it as much as it deserved.

    I gave Joyce my two week notice and started playing at the Baptist church after that. That position lasted fifteen years.

    As luck would have it, the next pastor at the Methodist had a wife who was an organist. Had I stayed, I would have been the choir director, my cousin told me later. He had been upset about me leaving, as he felt responsible for finding an organist for his church.

    Several years later, Joyce’s husband was called to the Methodist church in the town where my cousin now lived, and owned the radio station. There was also a large state university in the town that needed a voice teacher. Joyce was given the job, as the chairman of the music department was another cousin. She was there several years, also teaching theory and harmony, and conducting the choir. She was beautiful and noted for her solo work, as well as her work at the university. After five years, I happened to notice her picture in the paper. I was shocked, as it was in the obituaries. At the age of sixty, she had a heart attack. Her husband, who was quiet and almost shy, had stayed in the town where she taught, and was sent to small towns around that area to pastor the churches. The town where Joyce attended college, filled the concert hall, not for her recital, but her funeral.

    • Rose Gardener

      Eryline, you convey the tribulations of a small town with interesting detail and energy. Well done. :)

  • Steve Stretton

    “Get out,” he shouted. “Get out now. There’s a tsunami warning and we’re in the centre of the area it’s expected to hit.” I had just finished my breakfast. I put the dirty plates in the sink. Let the tsunami clean them, I thought. “Honey, we have to get going.” She came in to see what all the fuss was about.

    “The kids are down at the beach, should we get them?”

    “Yes, get in the car we can take the back road to avoid the crowd.”

    We raced down to the foreshore. In the distance I could just make out the figures of our three children. Mary and I ran down the sand to them.

    “Come now, we’re in danger, there’s a tsunami warning. Come now.”

    “Aw dad, we’re having fun, can’t it wait?”

    “No, get in the car now.”

    We hurried up the sand toward the car. I looked back. There was so far no sign of anything untoward, but I knew it had to be close. Hastily I bundled the family into the car and sped off toward the highway. It was choked with traffic, so I turned toward the backroad again. Our small town is in a hollow among some hills that rise from the coast. As we raced along I heard a swishing sound. We were surrounded by water, swirling around us and getting deeper all the time. I gunned the engine, and just managed to reach a small rise as the next wave hit. It must have been ten metres above sea level yet I could see water covering the road. The water receded and I kept going, knowing the next wave could be even higher. Thankfully it wasn’t and we drove higher up the mountain. We looked back and could see the absolute devastation inflicted on the town. Our house was just visible, almost completely submerged in the water.

    • Steve Stretton

      I hate pressure. I always make mistakes under it, and this post is full of them. Sorry, it’s one of my worst.

      • Rose Gardener

        Steve, you’re too hard on yourself. The only ‘mistake’ I noticed (and it made me smile) was Mary asking IF they should get the kids from the beach. They were hardly likely to leave them behind with a tsunami coming! I loved how he tidied the dishes into the sink and left them. Well done for posting under pressure.

  • http://twitter.com/JewelsCat Giulia Esposito

    I stall in my writing. I write fast for the most part, but then I’ll go days where I feel paralyzed and don’t write my story. So in that respect, you might say I write slow. I think what I need to do is re,ember to write every day. I’ve gotten a lot better, but been going through a bit of a dry spell lately.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      I used to stall, too. Sometimes you have to trick yourself to write. Like saying, I’m just going to write 100 words. And if you feel like stopping after 100 words, do it. But most of the time, you’ll want to keep going, you know?

      • http://twitter.com/JewelsCat Giulia Esposito

        Good idea Joe! I had decided to return to writing every day as per my new year’s writing resolution so today I’m going to sit down and write….something.

  • George McNeese

    BOOM!! BOOM!! BOOM!! The door opens. “time to wake up, gentlemen.”
    As if being woken up at two in the morning wasn’t bad enough. I rubbed the specs from my eyelids and slid my feet to what they call the battery. So begins day one of my stay at Benefield.
    “I need new tenants to the front to have your blood pressure taken,” the male nurse says. I line up first so I can get this over and done.
    “Your name, sir?”
    “Alistair,” I reply. I see him check his charts. He looked as if I just waltzed in this morning.
    “They checked me in late last night and drew my blood,” I explain. I was tempted to complain about not having it done before I settled in, but the nurse nodded his gleaming head. “Just relax and keep your arm still,” he says. The machine hums as the wrap gets tighter, like an anaconda squeezing the life out of its prey. And it hisses a second of two after it hits its apex.
    “125 over 87,” he says and jots it down on the clipboard. “Thank you, Alistair.” He undoes the wrap and I sit up from the chair, dingy and holey. It looked like the inside of the roof of the ’87 Nova.
    I saw other residents filling out sheets of paper with those short golf pencils. A female nurse says, “Make sure you fill out the assessment. Otherwise, you can’t go down to eat breakfast.”

  • http://twitter.com/Tiefsa David Tiefenthaler

    I write fast because I have limited time to write. That hour or two I get every night before I go to bed has to count. I think I get in about 1,000 words per sitting, but usually I’m thinking about what I’m going to write the whole day. That definitely helps. I don’t know what I’d produce if I had a plethora of time. Probably a bunch of bunk o_O

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      That’s awesome, David. Also what’s bunk? :)

  • Missaralee

    Writing fast really is the way to go. Having said that, I’ve been avoiding editing the mess that is my hastily drafted NaNo. Maybe there is something to be said for balance.

    Lindy came to an abrupt stop at the edge of the crevace. Despite years in the north, she had never visited the ice shelves before. The cold blue expanse was frighteningly bare. The ice sheet made even the bare dirt of her home seem heavily populated by the scrub and carcasses that littered it.

    “Tinder” she called “are you down there?”

    “I’m here, pull me up” he croaked.

    Lindy lowered herself carefully to the ice, and laid out flat on her belly. It’s just like a dome, she coached herself. Just keep low, angle yourself and you won’t slide in after him. I hope. Peering out over the edge with one eye she saw that Tinder was hanging two handed from a narrow shelf in the crevace. “Do you have a foothold, or are you about to drop?” she called.

    “I’ve got one boot tip balanced on an ice cube. Hurry up, Lindy”

    “Keep your pants on.” Inspiration struck and Lindy quickly undid the buckle on her denim slacks and slid them off, cursing at the sudden rush of cold air over her woolens. “You always wanted to get into my pants, so here they come.” She wrapped one pantleg tightly around her wrist and knotted it, lowering the other end to Tinder. “Make sure to twist it once around your wrist, or you’ll lose your grip.”

    “This is ridiculous, don’t you have a rope or something?” he said as he grabbed hold of the pantleg and obediently spiraled it around his wrist.

    “Yeah, it was in your pack, genius. You know the one you slid into that hole trying to grab? If you want it, you are more than welcome to go down and get it. I’ll wait here. For a little while at least.”

    “I’m ready, pull me up!”

    Lindy reached back with her ice pick as far as she could and dug the point into the ice. She pulled, her muscles screaming, as she tried to slide her body across the ice, all the while dragging Tinder’s up. The sweat and heat from her woolens was slicking the ice
    behind her, making her slide back toward the crevace lip every time she let up on the pick handle.
    “Curse it, the ice is melting under me. If I get pulled down there with you, I will not be pleased” she grunted. Swinging her body around, she kicked out her climbing boots and dug the metal point into a crack in the ice. She now had two points to pull from and began hauling on her leg and pick.

    “You’ve got sharp pointed boots, same as me” she yelled to tinder “try and get toe holds as I pull, it would make this a lot easier.”

    She heard the sound of metal crushing ice and prayed he wouldn’t crack the whole shelf. How likely was that, anyway? She knew from looting the old school greenhouses that glass was rigid and would shatter in great sheets when struck at a single point. What about ice?

  • Chase G

    Writing fast is good if you are trying to get your ideas out. Typically what happens to me is that I write fast whenever I’ve been chewing on ideas for a long time. This is great for the sake of expression, and poor for the sake of accuracy. It is a battle, for me, between accuracy and expression.

  • http://forderek.com/ Hanni

    For everyone who needs a needs a little push to write fast, I can recommend the Friday Night Writers or #writeclub at twitter. You wirte like crazy for 30 min and have a short break after to count words and eat some chocolate, then you write again. These brain jogs are crazy, but fun and you’re not alone ;)