It's the midpoint of November and writers throughout the world are gathering together or secluding themselves to strive to produce 50,000 words within thirty days. NaNoWriMo, the annual November writing marathon embraced by both novice and seasoned writers provides a format and structure for: (1) focusing on a novel or a group of projects (last year, I read about a short story writer writing as many short stories as possible); (2) testing writing skills, endurance, and disciplines; and (3) connecting with a community of supporters who can offer ideas and encouragement. On the nanowrimo.org website, participants will find a strategy for producing the word count, a place to track progress, and a map displaying worldwide word counts from 2013. The daily goal is to produce 1,667 words or about six and a half typewritten pages.
The NaNoWriMo challenge brings writers the opportunity to squarely face the question: is speed writing good writing? The answer may be different depending upon the writer asked. Some find speed writing important to produce and reach the end of a first draft, which then is extensively edited during the revision process. Others suggest that speed writing is the only satisfying and inspired way to complete a project.
Jim Denny's Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly (2013) provides a number of examples, including his own, where speed writing has produced some amazing results. In 2012 and 2013, Denny reports completing seven nonfiction books, each between 50,000 to 70,000 words, in seven consecutive months, or one per month. He first began using speed writing in 2001 when he received a four book contract that stipulated he complete the four novels in four months with a $100 a day late penalty for failure to deliver on schedule. (He accomplished the task with some latitude since he negotiated a thirty day grace period per book before the penalty applied.)
Denny mentions a unique method that Ray Bradbury employed in first expanding his short story "Bright Phoenix" into the 25,000 word novella "The Fireman" in nine days. Bradbury found a room of pay typewriters at a university library and paid ten cents an hour, working about five and a half hours a day (at an average of 2,800 words per day) for approximately forty nine hours at a total cost of $9.80 to complete the novella. Later, when he was asked to turn "The Fireman" into a novel, he experienced writer's block. Not until he returned to the pay typewriters in the library did he add 25,000 words to finish the book, again in nine days, which became Fahrenheit 451. Denny says the moral of the story is: "If you want to write brilliantly, write quickly."
As further evidence, Denny points out that John Steinbeck penned the first draft of The Grapes of Wrath in June through October 1938; Agatha Christie completed the first draft of her first novel in two weeks; Barbara Cartland, at her most prolific phase, produced twenty three novels in 1983; and during his thirty-four-year-writing-career, Charles Dickens averaged 175,000 words per annum.
Denny notes that most professional authors aim for 2,000 words per day. He quotes a journal passage from the time when Steinbeck was writing The Grapes of Wrath: "There are so many things to go into this book. . . . I'll get them all in if I just relax . . . and only worry about the 2,000 words of each day's work." [John Steinbeck, Robert Demott, ed. Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath, 1938-1941 (New York: Penguin, 1990).] Denny suggests that in the beginning, a writer set a goal of 500 words per day. If a writer begins January 1st and keeps to the 500-word-a-day schedule, he will have 100,000 words by July 19th.
I found two other books that provided insight for improving daily word count totals. N. P. Martin's 1,500 Words Per Hour: How to Write Faster, Better and More Easily Using the Simple and Powerful Speed Write System for Writing Mastery (2014) is a short book with the major premise of "do all your thinking before you write." Martin also advocates planning before writing.
Similarly, Rachel Aaron's 2,000 to 10,000: How to Write Faster, Write Better, and Write More of What You Love, which originated as a blog and later was expanded to an ebook, describes her process in going from 2,000 words per day to 10,000 words per day. One suggestion made by both Martin and Aaron is that a writer begin each writing period by making a thumbnail sketch of what he intends to accomplish in his writing for the day.
What's your opinion about speed writing? Have you tried it? If so, do you recommend it?