Chapter Two: Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Speed

Series Note: I am now working on updating each chapter and putting together this book, finally, after over 100,000 words that started back in 2009. So I am updating each chapter and putting it up here now for those who have not seen them.  One new updated chapter every few days will still take me all summer to finish. Feel free to make comments and talk about each topic.

And again, anyone who has donated over the years will get a free electronic version of the book when it is all done. Thanks again for the support!


Speed of writing.

Or said in myth fashion: WRITING SLOW EQUALS WRITING WELL.


This comes out of everyone’s mouth at one point or another in a form of apology for our work. “Oh, I just cranked that off.”

Or the flip side… “This is some of my best work. I’ve been writing it for over a year.”

Now this silly idea that the writing process has anything at all to do with quality of the work has been around in publishing for just over 100 years now, pushed mostly by the literature side and the college professors.

It has no basis in any real fact when it comes to writers. None. If you don’t believe me, start researching how fast some of the classics of literature were written.

But don’t ask major professional writers out in public. Remember we know this myth and lie about how really hard we do work. (Yup, that’s right, someone who makes stuff up for a living will lie to you. Go figure.) So you have to get a long-term professional writer in a private setting. Then maybe with a few drinks under his belt the pro will tell you the truth about any project.

My position:


And put simply:


That’s right, one day I could write some pages feeling sick, almost too tired to care, where every word is a pain, and the next day I write a few more pages feeling good and the words flowing freely and a week later I won’t be able to tell which day was which from the writing.

How I feel when I write makes no difference to the quality of what I produce. None. Damn it, it should, but it just doesn’t.

And I just laugh when a myth like this one attempts to lump all writers into the same boat and make us all write exactly the same way book after book after book.

No writer works the same, even from book to book or short story to short story.

Talk to any writer, and I mean privately, getting them to tell you the truth, not the public line, and you will discover that one of the writer’s books was written quickly, maybe even in a few weeks, while another book took the writer a half year to finish and he was deathly ill during half the writing time. And you, as a reader, reading the two books, would never be able to tell the difference.

But yet, traditional publishing, college professors, and just about anyone who even thinks about the writer behind the words has a belief system that words must be struggled over to be good.

Well, yes, sometimes.

And sometimes not.

Sometimes a writer gets into a white-hot heat and a book flows faster than the writer can type, getting done in just a number of days or weeks. And sometimes it just doesn’t work that way.

Sometimes a writer has a deadline to hit and pushes to hit it, spending more hours in the chair, thus calling it writing fast. Some writers think and research a book for a few months, then write it in a few weeks. Some writers spend a month or two on a detailed outline, then take a month to actually write the book. Some writers start with a title, some write chapters out of order and then put it all together like a puzzle.

And on and on and on.

Every writer is different. Every writer’s method is different

There is no correct, mandated way to write a book. Juts your way.

The myth of writing slow to write better actually hurts writers.

There are two sides of our brains. The creative side and the critical side.

The creative side has been taking in stories since the writer started reading, knowing how to put words together at a deep level. The critical side lags far, far behind the creative side, learning rules that some English teacher or parent forced into the critical mind.

The creative side is always a much better writer than the critical side. Always. It never switches, no matter how long you write.

Long term (20 years and up) professional writers have learned to trust that creative side and we tend to not mess much with what it creates for us. Of course, this lesson for most of us was learned the hard way, but that’s another long chapter for another book.

A new writer who believes the myth that all good fiction must be written slowly and labor-intensive (called work) suddenly one day finds that they have written a thousand words in 35 minutes. The new writer automatically thinks, “Oh, my, that has to be crap. I had better rewrite it.”

What has just happened is that the top writing the creative side of the mind has just produced is then killed by the critical side, dumbed down, voice taken out, anything good and interesting removed.

All caused by this myth.

And professional editors in New York are no better, sadly. I once got a rewrite request on a major book from my editor. I agreed with about 9/10′s of the suggestions, so I spent the next day rewriting the book, fixing the problems, and was about to send the manuscript back when Kris stopped me.

The conversation went something like this:

“Don’t send it, sit on it a few weeks,” Kris said, looking firm and intense, as only Kris can look.

“Why not?” I asked, not remembering at that moment that the myth was a major part of traditional publishing.

“The editor will think you didn’t work on it and that it is crap,” Kris said.

“But I agreed and fixed everything,” I said, starting to catch a clue, but not yet willing to admit defeat.

Kris just gave me that “stare” and I wilted, knowing she was completely correct.

I held the rewrite for three weeks, sent it back with a letter praising the rewrite comments and a slight side comment about how hard I had worked on them, even though I wrote most of another book in the period of time I was holding the rewrite. Story ended happily, editor was happy and commented on how fast I managed to get the rewrites done, all because Kris remembered the myth and how it functions.

Now, let me do something that just annoys people, especially in the master classes we teach. I’m going to do the math. (Stop laughing, former students.)

The Math of Writing Fast

This chapter when finished is going to be around 2,000 words. That is about 8 manuscript pages with each page averaging 250 words per page.

So say I wrote only 250 words, one manuscript page per day on a new novel.

It takes me about 15 minutes, give-or-take (depending on the book and the day and how I’m feeling) to write 250 words of fiction. (Each writer is different. Time yourself.)

So if I spent that 15 minutes per day writing on a novel, every day for one year, I would finish a 90,000 word plus novel, about a normal paperback book, in 365 days.

I would be a one-book-per-year writer, pretty standard in science fiction and a few other genres.

15 minutes per day equals one novel per year.

Oh, my, if I worked really, really hard and managed to get 30 minutes of writing in per day, I could finish two novels in a year.

And at that speed I would be considered fast. Not that I typed or wrote fast, just that I spent more time writing.

God forbid I actually write four pages a day, spend an entire hour per day sitting in a chair!!!!  I would finish four novels a year. At that point I would be praised in the romance genre and called a hack in other genres.

See why I laugh to myself when some writer tells me they have been working really, really hard on a book and it took them a year to write? What did they do for 23 hours and 45 minutes every day????

The problem is they are lost in the myth. Deep into the myth that writing must be work, that it must be hard, that you must “suffer for your art” and write slowly.

Bull-puckey. Writing is fun, easy, and enjoyable. If you want hard work, go dig a ditch for a water pipe on a golf course in a steady rain on a cold day. That’s work. Sitting at a computer and making stuff up just isn’t work. It’s a dream job.

Spend More Time in the Chair

Oh, oh, I just gave you the secret to being a “fast” writer or a “prolific” writer. Just spend more time writing.

I am the world’s worst typist. I use four fingers, up from two, and if I can manage 250 words in fifteen minutes I’m pretty happy. I tend to average around 750-1,000 words per hour of work. Then I take a break. I am not a “fast” typist, but I am considered a “fast” writer because I spend more time writing than the myth allows.

That’s the second thing that makes this myth so damaging to writers. It doesn’t allow writers to just spend more time practicing their art. In fact, the myth tells writers that if they do spend more time working to get better, they are worse because they produce more fiction.

Writing is the only art where spending less time practicing is considered a good thing.

In music we admire musicians who practice ten or more hours a day. Painters and other forms of art are the same. Only in writing does the myth of not practicing to get better come roaring in. We teach new writers to slow down, to not work to get better, to spend fewer and fewer hours at writing, to not practice, and then wonder why so many writers don’t make it to a professional level.

We No Longer Have to Wait for Traditional Publishers

For the last few decades, unless a writer wrote under many pen names, we were forced by the market to write fewer books per year. But now, with indie publishing, we can once again write as much as we want.

And we can write anything we want.

We can sell some books to traditional publishers, we can indie publish other books and stories.

The new world has lifted the market restrictions on speed of writing. Now those of us who actually want to sit and write for more than 15 minutes per day can publish what we write in one way or another.

And being fast, meaning spending more time writing, is a huge plus with indie publishing. We are in a new golden age of fiction, especially short fiction, and just as in the first golden age, writing fast (meaning spending more time at your art) will be a good thing also for your pocket book.

Writing Slow Equals Writing Better is a complete myth, a nasty sacred cow of publishing that hurts and stops writers who believe it.

— The truth is that no two writers work the same and no book is the same as the previous book or the next book.

— The truth is that writing fast is nothing more than spending more time every day writing.

— The truth is that there should be no rule about speed relating to quality.

— The truth is there should be no rule that lumps all writers into one big class. There should only be your way of writing.

Be Careful!!

Sadly, this myth is firm in the business, so writers who spend more time in the chair and who write more hours have to learn to work around the myth. We must learn to play the game that teachers, editors, book reviewers, and fans want us to play.

And if you decide you can spend more hours every day writing and working on your art, be prepared to face those who want you to write the way they do. Be prepared to face those who want to control your work. Be prepared to face criticism from failed writers (reviewers) who can’t even manage a page a day, let alone more.

This speed myth is the worst myth of an entire book full of myths. Caution.

The best thing you can do is just keep your speed and your writing methods to yourself. You’re an artist. Respect your way of doing things and just don’t mention them to anyone.

So please don’t do the math about my age. I sold my first novel when I was 38 and have published over 100 novels. At one book per year, I must be at least 138 years old.

After my hard, single-page-of-writing every day, I sometimes feel that way.

Yeah, right.

But I stand by that story.


Copyright © 2011 Dean Wesley Smith
Because of the new world and technology, my magic bakery got a lot more valuable lately. This is now part of my inventory in my bakery. I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie.

If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated. Once this book is done, I will send you a copy. The donations and the comments both after the posts and privately really kept me going on this. Thanks!

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it.

Thanks, Dean

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43 Responses to Chapter Two: Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Speed

  1. I’ve got your back. I love this: “The best thing you can do is just keep your speed and your writing methods to yourself. You’re an artist. Respect your way of doing things and just don’t mention them to anyone.”

  2. SL Clark says:

    And just *how* are we supposed to pass this along to others? Messengers are always the first ones to be SHOT. My demon wife has been hammered by her “writing friends” having foolishly mentioned she writes about 5,000 words per day. LMAO

    • dwsmith says:

      SL, Yeah, careful on that. Messengers of this do get slammed. So caution on this one. And on the next chapter about rewriting, which will get messengers hurt even worse. (grin)

      Thanks, Dan, that was wonderful! (grin) We all have some sort of battle like that in our heads. I started as a poet so my battles were something awful, especially when I started selling and getting acclaim for my “toss-off” poems that had not been worked to death.

  3. Mark says:

    I think writing quickly works too, but I will say that I’ve never failed to improve a first draft by making a copy-edit pass, even if it’s just catching some mistakes and tinkering with a few awkward sentences here and there.

    Then again, as long as the copy is relatively free of errors, I’m more and more convinced that readers don’t really care all that much about the quality of the writing if they find the story interesting.

  4. First time you put this up a year and a half back, I read it with two minds.

    There was the mind of the lit student (note to other writers: a Literary Studies course is the worst thing you can do for your creativity, other than bashing your skull in with a mallet while reciting the lyrics to “The song that never ends”) that read this chapter and said “pshaw. That’s the way to write pulp.”

    Then, there was the mind of the pulp fan, who said “Really? Could it be true? Could I actually write like a pulp writer? Like Bradbury or Heinlein or Bloch? Could I write books without killing myself to finish one in a year? Can I…relax?”

    The Lit student said “Don’t bother. You’re setting yourself up for a big disappointment. You’ll set yourself back by years, write a lot of crap, and not improve one whit.”

    The pulp fan said “Ah! But we write screenplays that fast.”

    The Lit student said “Screenplays aren’t real writing. This guy Smith isn’t worth paying attention to, he’s obviously a hack.”

    The pulp fan wasn’t impressed: “But he wrote Slowboat Man–one of my favorite stories. And if he’s right, think of how much time we’ll save!”

    The Lit student said “I’ll bet fifty bucks you can’t write fast and still be any good.”

    The pulp fan went out and bought a more comfortable keyboard and started working.

    A year and a half later, I’m up five and a half books and over a dozen short stories, and according to the readers each one is better than the last. Now my only problem is to figure out how to make the Lit student pay up–he doesn’t write enough to earn an income, you see ;-)

    So cool to see the book finally coming together–can’t wait to have a copy sitting on my shelf.

  5. Annie Bellet says:

    Yay! This is my favorite of the Cow chapters and one of the early ones I read that totally set me free. I’m glad you’ve updated it.

    Dean isn’t kidding though about the people slamming those who try to spread the truth here. I get more shit for trying to debunk this myth (and even just, you know, WRITING) than just about anything else. I’ve had multiple people both on forums and dropping by my own blog tell me that if I just stopped writing so much, I’d improve and sell more stories. I’m not sure where I’m going to get all those stories to sell if I stop writing, but no one likes that question when I ask it. Sigh. (No one likes it when I ask them if they’d tell someone training for a marathon to stop running either. Funny that…)

    I think I’ll just keep writing, thanks :)

  6. You want to know what people are doing with the other 23:45 hours per day that they’re not writing new fiction? They’re *rewriting* the sentence they wrote in the *first* fifteen minutes. Over and over again, polishing the life out of it, agonizing over every word, every punctuation mark, every modifier, adverb, and prepositional phrase until that sentence shines like pure gold! Because *only then* can the *true* writer move on and write the next sentence, and the next…

    *Of course, using that method, it would have taken me four days to write that comment…

  7. I absolutely love this series. Especially this post. It’s been about 8-9 months since I first read it. (Yeah, I went back through your blog history, kind of like a time machine–not as cool as a jukebox, though.) I can clearly remember how my thinking changed when first reading about the speed myth. Uncanny how the changes mirror the five stages of grief.

    Denial – My first thought was “Well, he’s a professional. Writing fast may work for him, but not for me.”

    Anger – The longest stage for me (and one I still slip into). “Crap! Why hasn’t anyone told me this before? Double-crap! I can write 750-1000 words in an hour.”

    Bargaining – (with myself over time) “If I can just squeeze out an hour a day to write.”

    Depression – “Oh my god, I’ve wasted ten years just playing at writing when I could have been writing quicker, not endlessly rewriting. I’m such a loser.”

    Acceptance – “It is what it is. And now, just this year I have ten new stories out, a novella almost complete, all while working a high stress, full time job and having a family life. All because I’m learning to write fast and move on.”

    Thank you Dean Smith! Finding your teachings has changed my life.

    • dwsmith says:

      Thanks, Chuck. Great post, never heard it put that way before. Thanks.

      Annie, get back to work. (grin)

      Leigh, the next post gets to pound on that rewriting myth. Stay tuned. Besides the speed, the rewriting myth really makes people angry.

      Thanks folks.

  8. EF Kelley says:

    Even if it is pulp, what the heck is wrong with pulp? Had a colleague tell me that my current WIP is the equivalent of a dime-store detective novel but with demons and angels. Yeah? And? I love all those things. Or am I supposed to put a picture of a Hugo up next to the screen and say ‘this is my goal’ after every sentence?

    The mortgage bill by the screen is a better motivator. You can’t write to win awards. That’s too much like writing to please other people. If others are pleased, then awesome. Primarily your work should please the readers, and readers always want MORE.

  9. Pulp is wonderful stuff :-)

    And yeah, Dean, I actually got some shit from lit students on twitter about that comment a few hours back. They got my dander up, I wound up doing a blog post about why Lit studies encourage all the most self-destructive tendencies that writers have anyway. I’m expecting a trebuchet attack tomorrow ;-)

    Thanks for the evening’s entertainment! Now I gotta get a chapter or two no the new book done before bed.

  10. Actually, there’s a good use for the ‘writing slow’ myth. 90% of what I write is erotica, and so I don’t talk about it with most people in my day-to-day life. However, I can talk about the 10% that’s not erotica. Since ‘writing is slow’ they don’t question how long it takes me to put out that 10%.

    Instead, I get to say, “yeah, I’m still working on that science fiction story.” Which is true. But I don’t have to mention that I finished five other stories in erotica while I’ve been “working on that science fiction story.”

    The writing slow myth provides great cover.

    • dwsmith says:

      Big Ed, spot on. The writing slow myth does provide cover. I had an assignment one year from Pocket to write a Star Trek Next Generation novel from the Dixon Hill point of view. Great fun, and there was no deadline. The editor just said turn it in when you get it finished and we’ll slot it. So I sort of played at it, writing a different chapter or to every month. Took me a year to finish it and when asked at a convention or a conference who long it took me to write a Star Trek book, my answer is: “One took a full year. Others are a little faster.” All truth. What I leave out is that I wrote five other novels and a ton of short fiction in the same period as I was writing that one Trek novel. (grin)

  11. Carradee says:

    My original thoughts upon hearing this: Huh. So that NaNoWriMo I did wasn’t a fluke. (Wrote 48k words off of a dream I had 2 days before November while working full time and being sick a week—and the scenes are all great. Still need some of the connections worked out, but scenes and plot work.)

    ^_^ This post is so true!

    I know I can write faster than I do. Considering I write novels on the short end of the spectrum (60-80k), working at NaNoWriMo rate year-round would produce 4 books a year, easily. Even doing the math for 12 novels a year sounds possible.

    But even at my current pace (which will end up producing about 1-2 novels/year), which I know is much slower than I can pull off, I have some folks telling me I’m fast.

    I wonder what they’ll say when I speed up.

  12. Linda Jordan says:

    Thanks for this! Again! I can hardly wait for the next one, I’m still way too hung up on rewriting. Need a swift kick in the….

  13. I cranked out a short story a few years ago. I submitted it to the critique group I was in at the time. They had many, many suggestions. I implemented about 75% of them. My husband (smart man), said the first version was better.

    I submitted the first version to a contest at a prestigious literary magazine. I won an honorable mention.

    Still, I battle the fast writing, pausing too often to mull over the “crappiness” of it. This is exactly what I needed to read today. Thanks.

  14. Rebecca says:

    I love this chapter. This is the one that kicked my ass last year and got me back writing full speed starting April 6th. I ended up writing 126,082 words by the end of the year. Nine months work.

    Today, Saturday, June 11, I hit 127,019 words for 2011. Only took me 5 1/2 months to pass my record from last year. I’m on track to write 300,000 words this year and I’m having a blast doing it.

    Thanks, Dean, for reminding me that I can write as fast as I want and how much fun it really is.

  15. Jeff Ambrose says:

    Hi Dean.

    I think I know why my original post went into your spam: I was writing from a hotel room and using their internet provider.

    At any rate, I can’t remember all I wrote. I said how much this chapter change my life.

    But more importantly, last week, I was at one of Dave Wolverton’s workshops. There was a woman there who was have a tough time getting into writing. She had some great ideas, but her writing workshop was really holding her back with lots of myths about slow writing and rewriting. I happened to have breakfast with her one morning, and we started chatting about writing. And I basically told her everything you wrote here, in this post. The look of absolute freedom on her face that one could really write four novels a year with a little bit of discipline was incredible to see. She seemed very grateful and relieved to break free from some of these myths. I told her to start following your blog, and to get out of that writing group. Hopefully, she’ll do both.

    Thought you’d like to know that I’ve joined you in squashing these myths.

    Best, and thanks for everything you do here!

  16. Thank you for this. This, of course, comes up every single November, when some op ed column or another bashes NaNoWriMo and all of its participants, because nothing of quality can *possibly* get written in 30 days, and hence the entire exercise is a waste of time and effort and everyone involved would be better off… I don’t know. Doing their holiday baking, maybe?

    I can easily write 3K to 5K words a day when I have nothing else to work on. On days when I have to focus on the day job, I can still usually squeeze in 500 words. And when I go back and re-read, expecting crap, I’m usually pleasantly surprised to discover that it’s actually pretty good.

    The same holds true for academic writing, too. I don’t know how many college professors I pissed off by confessing that the term papers they gave As to and lauded in front of the whole class were researched and written over a single weekend.

    Then again, I’ve had writer friends who agonize over every single word and sentence and take days, if not weeks, to write a single scene. But they can’t do it any other way. That’s just part of their process.

  17. I think this myth stems from the fact that authors look at their own experiences and try to extrapolate it to others. In many ways this post is just like the first in the series which basically points out that writing is an individual and creative endeavor. What works for one does not work for another. Some writers outline, others write from stream of consciousness, some bang out a first draft knowing that they must edit afterwards , and there are those that self-edit as they go. Don’t try to mold yourself into something you’re not.

    The “butt in the chair” comment is the key takeaway for me. Whatever “method” you apply the more time you spend the more will be produced – that’s pretty simple math. Those that love writing don’t see it as a chore they look at it as “play time” an opportunity to do what they love most. If you find you dread sitting down to write and have to force yourself to do so – this might not be the right thing for you.

  18. Jen Greyson says:

    GAH! A bit unrelated, but I just realized why I’m getting so criticized at work for my training manuals – I’m incredibly fast and used to sit on them…but lately I’ve been turning them around quickly so they know I’m available for more work. After a year of hardly any criticism (because I took longer to return the work, even though it took the same amount of time) I’m getting slammed from every direction.

    Note to self!!

    And…this is awesome awesome math! Awesome!

    • dwsmith says:

      Jen, yup, got to learn how to play into the myth and sit on them. You have to do that in publishing as well. Especially with editorial rewrites. Editors tell you to rush and get it back to them in three weeks, so you do it in a day and sit on it until closer to the time they expect. Makes them happy and doesn’t fight the myth.

  19. Here’s Killing the Sacred Cows of Writing’s second chapter in its french translation, on my blog :

    (.doc file available ; I’ll keep you posted on my progress)

  20. Eric says:

    ### To any writer wanting to attempt something similiar to what I am proposing in the following lines: I want to get to know you. There are not enough prolific crazy persons in this world. Please email me at shortstoryreview <> yahoo <> com ###

    I wanted to write this in “talent”, but it seems more appropriate here. I have been wanting to ask you something.

    As of late I have been doing some math of my own. And I decided to make a plan for my immediate future. More precisely the next ten years. It is not directly relevant to my question, but of course I would appreciate any comment you have to offer.

    Assuming I take 8 weeks off a year, and write seven stories a week in a steady pace, formatted and uploaded right away, the covers done before they were written. Assuming an average length of 4,000 words, putting them at four hours of regular writing time resulting in twenty-eight hours, plus two hours each for a decent cover, tricky formatting, slow internet connection, reserve time for slow days, etc. 42 hours of work-time.

    To that I add the time I spent honing my skills in a more theoretical matter (RWA recordings, howto-books by writers with a track-record, retyping other writers’ short stories, the likes) and some reading I couldn’t live without I end up with 60 hours a week. Add to that the 10 hours for my systemadministrator job that pays my rent and I end up with a seventy hour week. Twelve hours per work day, ten on Saturday, Sundays free. My grandfather did worse.

    This would net me 308 short stories a year. I would sell them individually and as collections of five and ten.

    When planning the long-term, I am a fan of safe numbers. The ebook market share is at 15% right now and you average ten sales per title per month. In three years it is expected to be at 50%. I am cockily assuming 5 sales on average per story and five-story collection, since the drivel I write right now might improve with practice, as some people have told me. As an additional safety net, I am assuming the ten-story collections do not sell a single copy. Also in my first year I will mostly write erotica. Three reasons: Judgement-free zone in my head with lots of room to experiment (with narrative techniques! Narrative techniques!). It sells pretty well, or so I am told. And lastly bad erotica, is still decent erotica. People don’t read it for the prose.

    Imitating your pricing scheme of $0.99 per short story and $2.99 per collection of five, this would net me:

    5 * $0.40 + 5 * $0.40 = $4 per story per month, individually and as a part of collections.

    308 * 4 * 10 = $12,320 per month after ten years. At the current exchange rate: 8624€ per month, just over 100k Euros per year.

    Enough to settle down with a family and build a house in my home town (containing an office with a sign labeled with the all too familiar “At the following hours, do not knock except for fire or arterial bleeding”).

    It’s a bit of a pipe dream, but it is something concrete I can picture when the nightmares come.

    To my question.

    I am not asking whether or not one can keep this up. Richard Sale. Max Brand. ‘Nuff said. (And they did that on typewriters)
    I am asking: Do you have any advice?

    • dwsmith says:

      Completely possible, no question. But you will be swimming upstream against some very stiff pressure along the way.

      Now understand, I’m at 28 short stories at the moment on my 100 story challenge, but to be honest, I’ve been doing a ton of other stuff, including other writing and a number of novels under contract. And a ton of teaching and some traveling, but I still plan on making my challenge. So whatever I say will have more validity when I actually reach the challenge by the end of the year. (grin)

      You are right, Brand, Sale, John D. McDonald, Ray Bradbury, all wrote at that pace, especially starting out. So that doesn’t bother me either, and even if you missed, you’d still have a few hundred stories done and would be making great money from it every year.

      And it seems at first glance that your math is right. With that many stories, even under a dozen pen names, your sales would be higher, but always plan on staying on the low end to be safe.

      And I like the year of erotica, but I wouldn’t hold myself to that completely if another story springs up. I wouldn’t force everything into erotica, but that does sell well and would be a way to stay under pen names and get sales going.

      Advice? Sure, a little. Do you love short fiction? You must really, really love it to think of this. The idea machine will generate to the point that even at that pace you won’t have an issue with writing stories. So that also is no issue, but the baseline love for short fiction like I have must be there.

      If you also love novels, then maybe a look at word-rate might be in order. Novels have shortened up and 30,000-50,000 word novels are back. Ten short stories would be equal to one novel in your word length thought (don’t be afraid to write shorter if a story demands shorter). So you are planning 308 x 4,000 words = 1,232,000 words. I’ve done that many, many years without a problem and much more, so the word length is not an issue either.

      But novels at $4.99 tend to sell better than short fiction. So keep that in mind. That word count is about 30 short novels as well. Again, this depends on what you really, really love.

      I think this is a great idea. I hope you do this somewhat out in the open, maybe not as much as I am doing it out here naked, but somewhat so I can follow and cheer.

      All possible. Those who went to college English classes are thinking you are nuts, but I’ve been around real writers and trust me, this isn’t that crazy. It will be hard. Very hard. But not crazy.

      Great thoughts.

  21. Eric says:

    I love story in all of its forms. And if novels really sell better I will definitely write some down the road. Short fiction does have a certain magical appeal however. I used to think I was the guy for fantasy epen, but what I really craved had always been the grand finale, the moment that showed: Yes, this was all worth it. Short stories, the way I write them and the most of the ones I like to read, always start at the beginning of the last scene. Also, in short stories I can bash out ideas at a monstrous speed. What happens when people grow their furniture biologically? What happened to the two orphans who survived by robbing corpses on battlefields? What happened to the man who found the watch that did not tell him what time it was, but rather what time it *should* have been?

    Lastly my big sticking point is finishing stories. I guess I will be tackling that problem pretty soon and pretty intensively.

    My new life will start at September 1st. By then I will have dealt with the IRS (and I thought the German version was bad!) and Apple’s policies on covers. I will publish some stuff before then, just to get over the anxiety and try out formatting, etc.
    Also I will have gotten used to working 70 hours. Writing on a bad day can’t be as bad as taking chemical cleaning agent to your floor.

    For matters of accountability I created a blog today:

    So yes, please follow me on this. I picture my ‘hanging in there’ as me standing on a multitude of pillars. Each pillar represents a part of my motivation. The more I have, the less it will hurt me when one of them breaks off. Accountability is a big part of that, but so is picturing sitting in the house you will build (I actually drew construction plans) with the children you will have around you, so is picturing a whole bookcase with a pen name of yours on every spine and so is the dream of having the best job in the world: Sitting alone in a room, making stuff up and getting paid handsome money for that.

    The feeling of having Dean Wesley Smith looking over my shoulder however will probably be exactly what gets me up at half past six in the morning.

    As for swimming upstream against stiff pressure: I was ready to become a writer before the digital dawn. I read the most gruesome horror stories of the midlist writers and I just thought “Awesome! I want a piece of this.” What’s a living for me? In the eastern parts of Germany you can live comfortably on 7500 a year (Euros, but well…). I most definitely would not have written that much, but some part of me was wired to become a writer from a very early age. It just took me a while to realize that.

    Did I mention: Thank you for the gift of ten years of my life?

    If you’ll excuse me, I will have to write now.

    • dwsmith says:


      Two more bits of help. Never worry when you fall behind. Just go from that day forward. And second, don’t forget to have fun.

      Sounds great! Do have fun. And report back here at times as you find the hills and valleys of the challenge. And I’ll stop by your progress on your site.

  22. Sam Lee says:

    Eric, that is a fantastic idea!

    I’m way behind on my writing challenge goals this year, and will be aiming for mostly novels next year as I have to fight to keep many of my stories short, but good luck and much fun to you! I’ll be watching with interest.

  23. Raven says:

    I am so with you on this! I don’t remember ever actually having this myth as I’ve always been pretty impatient to finish (though I had lots of other myths that prevented me from finishing), and I remember feeling daunted/shocked by stories of novels taking so long to write. But I did fall victim to the opposite myth: that fast writing is always better than slow writing. I can feel when the words rush out, and it’s easy to believe that that’s my best writing, but I’ve come to realize that some of the slower writing is just as good. And like you said, I can’t ever see the difference between the fast, easy writing and the slow, struggling writing.

  24. Eric says:

    “And report back here at times as you find the hills and valleys of the challenge.”

    You betcha I will.

  25. Hey Dean,

    Sorry, I was trying to find where you said you typed about 1000wpm minutes to post this little link, but couldn’t find it.

    For everyone who is into typing speed, I found this little widget for Vista, but that works on my Windows 7 environment:

    “Keyboard Dashboard” at ‘Windows Vista™ Gadgets & Yahoo!® Widgets’ (Logitech product, but other keyboards ok!)

    ^Google it^

    It basically sits over top of your screen (select ‘always on top’ when you right click) and monitors your typing speed using a rev counter! (It uses the characters / 5 calculation.)

    Why use it?

    I remember the story of a famous journalist (name?) who used to time himself (page to amount of time) and would speed up if he was dropping down too slow.

    My guess is that if your craft is good and you are on a roll then this is a good tool to keep you going at top speed.

    (Wink. I hit 70 all the way on this post, which is 4,200 words per hour if I didn’t stop typing to think.)

  26. Joy Cox says:

    It’s funny how people get trained out of writing fast as they get older. How many of us went through high school and college putting off our homework until the last minute, and then cranking out 1500 – 3000 word research papers the night before the assignment was due? I can’t even count how many times I wrote like that, and that includes writing papers for my husband (now ex). Including library research time on subject material for a class I wasn’t taking, 8 hours and a couple of pots of coffee would earn an A grade every time.

    It was amazing how fast I could write in my youth when the alternative was flunking the class!

    The fiction writing process shouldn’t have to be that much different. Daydream and outline as I fall asleep. In the morning, brew the coffee and type like I’ve got a paper due at noon. :)

  27. Lisa says:

    Oh my gosh! This is so freeing!! I am going to learn to play the game better. Since I started writing in fall of 2010, I have learned I write fast… much faster than most, with over 30 publications to my name that are either out or in the editing till waiting to come out… by fall of this year– several of them novels, many novellas, and many short stories now. And pen works of course. :)

    I did learn by late last year that I seem to write faster than editors and others can keep up with. I wondered about it, then felt like there might be something wrong with me, even though I’d had several readers say they can read and hear how much better my work has gotten since novel one.

    Recently, I’ve gotten crap from other authors who realized I sat down and pounded out a serial in four days or less, including edits/revisions. To me, it made no sense. I mean, I can write 4K on a good day where I spend three hours a day writing (my goal when I can hit it with the regular job etc). I found a reassuring article about some other writers of yore who wrote VERY fast and produced a lot. I realize… some of it is jealousy or something. So now, I’ll play the game better and sit on some of my stuff. Oh, and line edits for a novel. Yep, I can do those in a day, too for a 50K novel or so. Didn’t know that was unusual. Thank you for this article!!

  28. Carradee says:

    Something that I figured out: My core quality tends to end up better when I’m writing faster, because when I write slowly, I tend to think too hard and thereby miss connections my subconscious has already made. When I make myself write quickly, I rely more on my subconscious, and I write myself into fewer dead ends.

    Do I end up with more typos? Yeah. But copyediting’s one of my strong points. Plotting? Not.

    So when I write more quickly, I’m actually catering to my strengths. Funny how that works.

  29. R.Rodriguez says:

    I’d love to here more about this comment “We are in a new golden age of fiction, especially short fiction,”

    I’m interested in reading more on your thoughts on the how this is the “Golden Age of Short Fiction”

    I’m a new writer but think that between the devices people are reading on and the time that people have to read and do other activities, it seems like short fiction will become really popular.

  30. Angela Booth says:

    Great article, Dean. You have to sit your butt in your chair. Or bed, or sofa, or wherever you write. Keep sitting. :-)

    One thing I’ve noticed. Each book is different. Some take longer than others, for whatever reason. Keep sitting. If a book doesn’t flow, start another one. There’s no law which says you can only write one book at a time. It’s all a process, and your success depends on how many hours you can produce words each day.

    The benefit of forcing yourself to sit when you’d rather not, is that sooner or later writing becomes a habit. Then you feel weird when you’re not writing. :-)

  31. Got a link to this chapter today, and it is so spot on. I have always been a slow writer, and I have been amazed by how much difference just sitting down and writing for more than a few minutes a day has made to my output and completion rate! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  32. Jeremy Jones says:

    I am re-reading the Sacred Cows posts and catching up, and I came across Joy Cox’s comment: “How many of us went through high school and college putting off our homework until the last minute, and then cranking out 1500 – 3000 word research papers the night before the assignment was due?”

    I couldn’t agree more. I am working on a master’s degree in history, and I have routinely written 20-page research papers in one day, and turned in the first draft. Only a quick review for gross spelling or grammar mistakes, and then print and submit. That’s around 5,000 words, using references, citations, quotations, et cetera.

    I write fast, but that’s only because I can type quickly. I’m lucky like that, I guess because I’ve had either a typewriter or computer in front of me for about thirty years now, and I’ve just gotten very fast at typing without ever having taken a typing class.

    So it doesn’t matter if I write for fifteen minutes, one hour, or ten hours; the speed is always roughly the same. The output just increases with more time writing.

    Fiction is the same, but I get to make it up, so it goes even faster, normally.

  33. Rose says:

    Did you just say reviewers are failed writers? Here’s a thought for you, from a teenage reviewer who both does book review blogs and can write up to 16 pages a day.

    You might say 16 pages isn’t a lot, or even argue that I’m lying. I’m not. Since I’m a teenager, I have exams. On exam days I just write 1,000 words every day, and THEN study for the exams. that’s four pages. In summer I do 12-16 and am planning on doing 20 tonight. It’s a first draft, so why not have fun with it and let loose?

    You really shouldn’t be so bitter about reviewers. I review because I love books ad want to share my thoughts about them.

    • dwsmith says:

      Over the years in publishing, Rose, reviewers are often bitter writers who can’t sell books on their own, so turn to reviewing and trashing other people’s books. I have zero issue, and often do it, actually, telling people about books I recommend. But if I don’t like a book, I never mention it.

      Kris, my wife, also does recommended reading, which is telling people why she likes a book. She also never trashes a book.

      You may be different at the moment, but I stand by what I said for 90% of reviewers working for professional magazines.

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