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Grrrr. Why does writing take so long?

edited July 2010 in - Writing Problems
Ever been frustrated at how long it takes to write that story... that novel? Wished you knew a quicker way?

Our writing process is individual, but it could help if we were to pool our combined discoveries of shortcuts and handy tricks, no matter how dodgy. If it worked for you, maybe it could work for some of us too.

One that I should mention is: Using a professional critique, like Cornerstones or Hilary Johnson. In all cases when I’ve done so, I've learnt how to take giant strides in improving my MS, steps which I would not have made without their guidance.

Unfortunately, at a cost. I would say, WELL worth it.

What helps YOU get there faster?


  • deadlines and determination.
  • I used Cornerstones and as you say it was money very well spent and I wish I'd done it sooner as the feedback was so useful and the help they gave me with my MS.
  • Sometimes short stories just present themselves ready with their shoelaces tied and their buttons already done up. All they need is to be allowed to spread themselves out onto the page via my typing fingers and thumb. And sometimes the block of stone which is the idea has to be chipped at and chiselled and bashed and knocked and chipped at again for BLOODY WELL DAYS before it starts to resemble a publishable tale.
    There is no easy way. Each story is different. They can be forced, of course, but that generally shows.
    Sorry not to be more help
  • Oh I know the answer to this one. My writing takes so long because.... I don't do it as often as I should.

    Brutal, but honest.
  • Bum on seat, and plough on.
  • Come on, folks; dig deep in your memories for anything which has helped you to write more quickly.

    My second idea springs from my own dreadful experience. My first novel has taken me years to write, a drudge which I don't intend to repeat. I was well into the ordeal before I discovered the method of planning your stepping stones right through the story, so that you can write each episode and not get stuck. It requires 'bum on seat and plough on' as Neil says, but it becomes a daily progress.

    I also decided, at 150,000 words, that a whole plot/sub plot should be axed, and learnt that a debut YA novel should be between 60-80,000, preferably towards 60,000 - HP and the Philosopher's Stone was 86k. So you can see how I had wasted a huge amount of time through not planning ahead. Even more recently I've become persuaded of the wisdom of writing your synopsis first in a page or two, until you are happy with the story you want. Like doing an essay plan before writing the essay.

    I think future novels will be a whole lot quicker.
  • The ability to touch type speeds the physical process. :)
  • It can take me a long time to write something. Not because I'm slow, but because I deliberately take my time on everything I work on. That's how I work when I write. I can take hours just pouring over a single sentence. Is it right? Correct word? Right rhythm, the right structure, the right pace? Does it mean what I intend? Can I evoke what I mean in fewer words?

    Because writing is subjective, there is no single correct answer. If you write fast and that works for some, then great, or if you work methodically, as I do, things are done evenly and gradually. Do I want to speed up the process? No, I work at my own pace and never rush anything.

    You can tell if writing is rushed; it’s contrived, stilted and a bit codswallop. Just go with your own flow and always work at your own speed. Do you think Michelangelo turned round to Pope Julius II when commissioned to paint the Sistine Chapel and said, ‘No probs, mate, I’ll have it done next week...’ You can’t rush genius! ;)
  • Grrrr. Why does writing take so long?

    Buy a bigger pen.
  • [quote=Red]You can’t rush genius![/quote]

    I so agree...;)
  • It is a substantial task, writing a novel. i am finding that now I have reached the halfway stage of the first draft it is going a lot more smoothly - my characters are firmly established & in place.
  • I suppose that's the benefit of 'knowing' your characters really well before you start - they're already established in your mind and can be written about fluently from page one. With novels I do like to know them well, but with short stories, quite often the idea/character springs out at me and needs committing (don't you DARE say it, anyone!) to paper or computer screen very quickly while the idea's so hot.
    Still can't say what makes things quicker, Dwight, but Claudia is right when she says touchtyping helps.
  • I've been trying to teach myself how to touch type. It's easier on my big computer than on my netbook, because the keys are bigger and all in the right place, i.e., the apostrophe on my netbook is next to the Z key, instead of on the other side of the keyboard, by the ENTER key. It gets confusing when I've used one, and then later start using the other. But I'm doing quite well on the touch typing thing, I think.

    I've never been one to plan everything out, scene by scene, because I tend to get the story in little snippets. I know generally what's going to happen, and where the story is going to end up, but the main body of the story is hidden away somewhere and I only get to see the big picture a pixel at a time. Generally, the action or romantic scenes come first - probably because, for me, they're the easiest to see. Sometimes I've had the whole action scene just burst into my head, and then I get obsessed with writing it down, so I can get it out of my head - and then I get what's happening in between.
    Quite early on, I'll try to put the snippets I have into some sort of order(though inevitably I do end up chapter-shifting later on in the first draft), I'll pick working chapter titles, and maybe try to note down a bit of what I think is going to happen in the chapter. Other than that, it really is just a matter of sitting in front of the computer and getting down to business.

  • edited July 2010
    Yes, touch typing is a must, in my view. I used one of these CD teach yourself in a week courses. But then there's Voice Recognition software for dictating, in circumstances such as you mention, Ceka, where your characters are well known to you and you more or less know where you're going.

    I crossed your post, SA. When you are more or less there with touch typing, total familiarity comes with using it. And it sounds like you do plan ahead; it all depends how much time you spend putting down notes before returning to adding text. We're always going to have to shift things round later and re-do bits, unfortunately; that's one time consuming part we can't avoid.
  • So, i type with both hands but I have to look at the keyboard and the faster I go the more nonsensical my typing becomes, FULL of red lines. And there's never any capital 'Is'.

    Which programme to teach it (after 40 years of doing it incorrectly) would people recommend?
  • Honestly, Liz, go into Smith's and pick the first one you see. They're all cheepo and I wouldn't be surprised if they're much of a muchness. I think ours has disappeared long ago.
  • No need to buy one as there are so many free online tutors now. Just Google and see which suits you best.
  • There are no proper short-cuts. The only way you're going to get anything accomplished is just sitting down and getting on with it. It's like anything, if you really want to succeed with it then you've just got to do it. Dwight, I think the question you need to ask yourself is how badly you want to be a success with your writing. Too much time deliberating this, pondering that, musing over whether or not this'll work. Park and type bud.
  • edited July 2010
    Thanks, Lee, but I DO park and type. I disagree that there are no short-cuts. Networking is one, another is knowing where to go in the way of websites and 'How to' books to find what you're looking for ATMIT, and my own suggestion of using professional literary critics has proved invaluable, not least in how much time it saved me.

    My problem has been developing the ambition to be a published writer (and to write as many stories as poss before I pop my clogs) from scratch, with no training other than the incidental help of degrees in English lit. So I've learnt as I go along. Some of the paths I chose to that end have been circuitous to say the least.

    Perhaps my thread should have asked a different question: What is the most direct route to publication? (NOT self-publication, I hasten to add.) But time saving suggestions are most welcome.
    Just editing to add: in hindsight, my best plan from the start would have been an OU or other distance degree in creative writing, to get it right from the start. Many newbie published writers, it seems, have followed that course, and I can understand its success. Maybe I should do that now.
  • There are some people, of course, who are just born lucky as well as well-connected and finally talented - and that HAS to be a shortcut!
    I've got a friend at my BookClub (six members, huge, eh?) who has written and published Womag short stories for years but wanted to get a novel accepted. She did some research and discovered that Mills and Boon have several imprints, some of which produce multiple new novels EVERY MONTH. So she decided that the quickest route to publication would be to aim at one of these imprints because of their turnover. She's just packing up her first 3 chapters and Synopsis now. Her chances are far, far higher because of her intention to 'go for the market'.
    She is not normally the sort to read (or, you'd think, write) for M and B, she's adapting to the market.
  • The one thing you do need for M&B is to read their books and be familiar with the differences between the imprints, and write to the demands for that imprint.
  • I do struggle with some of them!
  • Each imprint is individual. The past eighteen months they have added a few new imprints, and they have gone into e-books in a big way.
  • Another trick for speeding up your writing, and one which I don't always do for myself, is to prepare the start of tomorrow morning's work the night before. This can take the form of stopping in an interesting or easier place, so that you're looking forward to re-starting next time. It definitely helps me to plan out my path over the next few stages of production.
  • edited July 2010
    Novels are (for me) always painfully slow to 'hatch'. Although an idea will float tantalisingly about for weeks and the first 10,000 words often nearly 'write themselves' there is then a pause and that's what takes the time. If I planned BEFORE I started maybe it would go on more easily and certainly it is quicker to finish if I know where the end-point is in the first place, I lurch towards it in little leaps (I think they end up being called chapters!) I have got one YA work-in-'progress' whose first 13,000 words went down over the Easter Weekend ... five years ago. I've lost the plot, literally!

    Short stories, on the other hand are quick-started, sparked by just a hint of an overheard conversation, or the sight of (for example) the crows mobbing one of the buzzards. The 'what if' and the 'why' are so easily thought through and answered that the story comes in one gulp. Needs revision and editing of course!

    Nothing makes it any quicker except application, attachment of rearend to workchair and fingers and one thumb to keyboard (left thumb is the only one never gets used!). Only I can do my own work, if I don't it ain't gonna get done and if I never finish, I've nothing to send an editor.

    That of any use (or interest!) Dwight?
  • It certainly is, Ceka. I wish I could 'attack' a short story as instantaneously as you're able to. Planning out a novel is quicker for me, as I've discovered. First there has to be the urge so produce this particular story. Two sheets of A4 and the initial idea is all I need and I'll be able to do a story outline. It wouldn't end up the same as that in the end, but there's the working plan. I would explore the possibilities of the first 3-5 chapters, then start. While I'm writing, more brainwaves come to me and I jot them in.

    Then, as you say, comes the fundamental need for will power in adhesion to workchair.
  • re: left thumb. When I worked in London for a posh firm of solicitors, I asked for a plaster, having a nasty paper cut on my left thumb. The elderly secretary (and she was elderly) in the room asked how I could type with a plaster on. Turns out she used both thumbs for the space bar.
  • I had to type something to work out if I do that or not. No, the left thumb never comes into play at all. Interesting, that. Now what job could a left thumb be doing while I'm typing?

    Back to topic, I'm finding recently that a good way of speeding up my work is to make sure I do a bit of writing each day, no matter how small, so that the manuscript is constantly in my mind. As a result I'm finding I'm coming up with new ideas and insights in between writing, so that when I go back to it the next day I already have stuff in my head to use.
  • [quote=ceka]Short stories, on the other hand are quick-started, sparked by just a hint of an overheard conversation, or the sight of (for example) the crows mobbing one of the buzzards. The 'what if' and the 'why' are so easily thought through and answered that the story comes in one gulp. Needs revision and editing of course![/quote]

    Ah if only fiction writing were that simple! I can usually just about manage to crank out a piece of “flash” every month for the OWC, but I haven’t managed to write even a short story for literally years.
    I don’t know why, but I can’t invent storylines that excite me enough to want to actually write the story. My brain just doesn’t seem to work that way. Non-fiction requires the use of the imagination in a totally different way. I don’t mind because I love writing travel articles, but I do wonder why I can’t write fiction since I love reading it!

    p.s. that ramble started as an experiment to discover if I use my left thumb when I’m touch typing; I don’t.
  • I thought about it for an age, she obviously hit the space bar with the left thumb when the left hand was hitting the final key on that side, as it were, if the e was the last letter, for example. I wasn't taught like that and I learned to type 52 years ago, so when she learned I hate to think!
  • I don't touch type in the traditional sense. My mother was a PA, and she touch typed the 'correct' way and I learnt from her initially, but I didn't do it often enough for it to become second nature. I do however touch type in my own way. The more I type in a sitting the easier it is to touch type!

    As for short-cuts to being published..........I have none. And I have just realised that I don't think I use my left thumb when typing, though it does rest on the space bar a lot.
  • I touch type. I learnt (learned?) by looking at the keys in a book, and pressing the keys without looking, repeating them over and over and over again. Drilling I think it's called. It's about the best thing I can do. :)

    How to write faster? All I can suggest is the age old idea is keep a notebook handy, or something where you can jot down the ideas as quickly as possible.
  • Yes, drilling is the way it works, Dora. I suppose it's the same principle as learning piano or guitar: running up and down those scales, then adding variations, on and on, until it's second nature. I think you've got it when you can type while looking at your notepad, not looking at either the keys or the screen. The programme tells you to monitor how many mistakes you make in a minute.
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