I just finished reading “How to Write Fast” by Sean Platt and Neeve Silver, from the Sterling & Stone writing studio.
This was a slim yet inspiring book. It reads quickly and delivers an effective payload. I’ve struggled with writing consistently, and when I do write, it feels so slow! This was the right book at the right time for me.
One note on “writing fast”: the authors make it clear that they don’t feel any need to sacrifice quality for speed, yet their claimed rates are mind-boggling: 1 million words per year, or more! (That’s Pulp Speed.)
How to Write Fast: Foundational Strategies
The majority of the book is about the mindset and strategy required to write fast (and well), emphasizing the need for processes and systems:
Plan ahead. Whether you’re an outliner or a pantser, you need a plan of some sort: a pole star to navigate your story by.
Have a system. Develop a routine for writing, iterating on it until it works for you: time of day, psychological triggers, etc.
Turn off your inner editor. Don’t write and edit at the same time. Write, then edit later, which leads to the next point:
Work in passes. Forget drafts. Think “passing through” your manuscript, which is an active verb instead of a noun goal. Each pass is a stage in the writing process. They recommend several kinds of passes:
Outline. Get your brain dump out, then iterate on it as much as you like to get your story “beats” as they call them.
Vomit.(Say it.) This is the main focus of “writing fast”: spew the words out onto the page as fast as you can. (With practice, they say you can “vomit” a pretty clean stream of words.) Leave yourself notes along the way for stuff you know you’ll need to fix later.
Rewrite.(Say what you mean.) Shape the story, move pieces around, fix broken structure and fill in missing things. (Here’s the time to do research, when you know what you need to research!) This pass can take longer than the vomit pass. A mantra throughout the book is “writing is rewriting”.
Edit.(Say it well.) Here’s the time for the inner editor to shine: fix the broken sentences, kill the darlings, smooth out the stumbling blocks.
Polish. This is the last, and optional pass before sending the manuscript off to your editor, sort of a last-chance self-edit.
How to Write Fast: Concrete Tactics
Along with a lot the above strategies, and a lot of mindset adjustment, a really valuable component of the book for me was a set of concrete tips for writing faster and more consistently:
Sprints: Put some music on that gets you going, then write in short bursts. Start with 15 minutes. Then take a short break, maybe 5 minutes: get up, get your blood flowing. Rinse and repeat. My take: Yep. Why have I not been doing this?
DailyF—Yeah: Get some accountability and encouragement. Have a person or group that you can check in with daily with your word count, even if it’s just a measly 100 words. My take: I’m going to start checking in w/ the PulpRev #did-you-write-today Discord channel again.
Making Cheese: Make landmarks for yourself. Make it fun and low pressure. They give the example of how in their studio they use the phrase “Making cheese” (long story) to signify 10k words in a day. 👀 My take: I’m going to start a discussion on the #did-you-write-today channel about this. Author Dean Wesley Smith has already broken some ground with his concept of Pulp Speed factors:
Pulp Speed One: 2,750 words/day (1 million/year if sustained)
Pulp Speed Two: 3,400 words/day (1.2 mil/yr)
Pulp Speed Three: 4,000 words/day (1.4 mil/yr)
Pulp Speed Four: 4,500 words/day (1.6 mil/yr)
Pulp Speed Five: 5,000 words/day (1.8 mil/yr)
Pulp Speed Six: 5,500 words/day (2 mil/yr)
Smith’s scale tops out at 6, with the engines shaking and Scotty looking panicked, but “making cheese” would be Pulp Speed Nine… 👀 Of course, Smith is talking about sustained averages over the course of the year, whereas Platt & Silver are talking about daily counts.
With all due respect to Dean Wesley Smith, then, I’d propose the following landmarks for #PulpRev use in tracking daily landmark counts (as opposed to yearly counts):
Making birdseed: 🐦 >250 words. About what you might expect from writing a few tweets. 200 days to a novel.
Making sandwiches: 🥪 >500 words. 100 days to a novel.
Making count: 💵 >1,000 words. 50 days of that and you’ve got a novel.
Making pie .🥧 >2,000 words. Nanowrimo-level: 25 days to a novel, just in time for Thanskgiving. (UPDATE: There’s no pie emoji on the Discord channel, so turkey it is.)
Making Scotty cry: 😢 >5,000 words. She cannae take much more o' this! 10 days to a novel.
Making cheese: 🧀 >10,000 words. 5 days to a novel.
Write-ins: Find some other authors and do your sprints together. My take: I think they’ve tried this on the PulpRev Discord in the past. Maybe it needs to be revived?
Rewrite your first chapter: Once you’ve written the last chapter, go back and rework the first chapter now that you actually know your characters. My take: I tend to obsess over first chapters, so saving this for the end seems like a great plan.
This is a concise, helpful book for any aspiring author. The mindset stuff may or may not be helpful, but the foundational strategies and concrete tactics are worth the price of admission.