I’m reluctant to quote lines from a movie because of the nearly ubiquitous convention of so many who do. I’m willing to make an exception, though, because these particular lines encapsulate the sense of urgency I so often confront.
I feel the need. The need for speed.
Not as a jet fighter pilot, obviously. But as a writer.
From my vantage point, everyone writes more quickly than I do. They churn out whole novels — entire series of novels — in the time it takes me to plod through a single chapter. If other writers proceed at what seems to me like the speed of light, I move at a geological scale. A few million years of character building here, a few million years of plot development there.
So it was with considerable envy I read a story by Thu-Huong Ha posted on Quartz.
She describes romance novelists as the true hustlers of the publishing industry. They’re busy not only writing books, but also marketing and interacting with fans. They must work quickly.
She quotes as a poster child of sorts H.M. Ward, a self-published author whose novels have sold more than 20 million copies. Ward says she writes two hours a day and averages about 2,500 words an hour. What? By comparison, this little lament is just 620 words. And I can assure you I spent far more than an hour writing it.
Then there’s Katherine Garbera, who writes four or five novels a year and has completed more than 100 novels over the course of her career.
I’m fortunate to know several romance novelists. I’m not familiar with how fast they write, but I’m impressed nonetheless with their prolific output. I’m thinking of you, Christina Hovland. She’s written more than a dozen romantic comedy and contemporary romance novels and has more scheduled for release this year. I recommend her work. It’s funny and compelling. And frequently steamy.
There’s an element of romance in my work, but none of the stereotypical bodice ripping found in historical romances. Or, for that matter, any rock hard abs. That’s what happens when your protagonist is a middle-aged newspaper editor whose once athletic physique long ago slid into disrepair. Besides, my characters remain pretty busy solving murders and finding treasure. That and avoiding getting killed in the process.
I suspect, though, the measure of romance in my work bears no relationship to the pace at which I write. I’m just slow. That’s all.
I attribute part of the problem to my approach as a pantser rather than plotter. Writing by the seat of my pants affords freedom and accommodates serendipity. But I waste a lot of time backtracking because I’m uncertain of which direction to head next.
I attribute another part of the problem to the habits I’ve developed in my day job as an editor and the incompatibility of two processes. I believe writing is a constructive process — assembling something out of bits and pieces. Editing is a deconstructive process — dismantling something to replace it with something better. What slows me down is trying to engage in both processes simultaneously. To deploy yet another analogy, I’m like a bricklayer who can’t move on to the next course until the one before is as perfect as I can make it.
I realize I’d be better off remembering Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and hare and the promise slow and steady ultimately wins the race. I can’t help thinking, though, of Chuck Jones’ more modern fable of the coyote and roadrunner.
I still feel the need. The need for speed. But I’m resigned to the likelihood I’ll never catch up to faster writers. Not even with Acme rocket-powered roller skates.