Jenna Black's Blog Experiment

Wherein romance author Jenna Black plunges into the terrifying new territory of blogging . . .


Friday, March 17, 2006

On Writing Fast

I'm a faithful reader of Miss Snark's blog. Hers is one of the few I read. (See my first ever post on how I'm not a natural blogger!) But not that long ago (don't remember if it was last week or the week before), she had a post that I didn't agree with. *Gasp!* She was talking about being prolific, and she was very much against it, feeling that if you write fast, your writing must be bad. She said she didn't want to see more than one book a year from her authors.

Once again, here is evidence that there is no one way to do things in the publishing/writing world. Because let me tell you, I started writing a hell of a lot better when I started writing fast. Watchers in the Night, which is the first book I actually sold to a commercial press, took me about two months to write. It was one of those books that just flowed out of my fingers. I never seemed to get stuck anywhere, even though it has a complex suspense plot, and I always felt I knew exactly what my characters would do in any given situation.

For me, the books I write fastest are my best. The reason for that, I think, is that when I'm writing fast, my internal critic--that little voice that all writers have that keeps telling them they suck--just can't get a foothold. I lose myself in the story, just like I lose myself in a story when I'm reading a really great book.

It reminds me of an art course I took from my university's continuing education department. The course was called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, and it was based on the book of the same name. On day one of the course, the best I could do, drawing-wise, was basically a stick figure. The premise of the course was that if we could tap into the right sides of our brains--the holistic, artistic side--we could learn to draw credibly with hardly any training.

One of the first lessons was when we were given a line drawing to try to reproduce. Only we had to look at the drawing we were copying upside down. By putting it upside down, we were short-circuiting our analytical ability to "know" what we were drawing. The theory is that if you know what you're drawing, your analytical left brain will take over and you'll draw what you think it should look like, rather than what it does look like. For example, if you can tell it's an eye you're drawing, your brain tells you what an eye looks like, and you don't really "see" the drawing itself. It was amazing how good our drawings were when we flipped the picture upside down, how close to the original. (Of course I later had to try the same exercise at home, trying to reproduce a drawing first when looking at it right side up, then when looking at it upside down. There was no comparison in the quality.)

The next exercise we had to do was draw pictures of our hands--without looking at the paper we were drawing on and without lifting our pencil from the paper. Now, this might sound simple, but let me tell you, for a control-freak, left-brained, analytical person (you know, like me?), this was so not easy. The temptation to look at the paper, to see whether what I was drawing was OK was like nothing I'd ever felt before. I was very, very uncomfortable, squirming in my seat, feeling something almost like panic. The compulsion was that strong. That's the analytical left-brain trying to seize control. And that's very like that horrible internal critic that harasses writers.

In the drawing class, we learned to fight that compulsion and let our right brains have control, just go with the flow. (Some people learned better than others, but I turned out to be very successful at it.) I think this process is the same thing I go through when I write fast. I think when I write fast, the analytical part of my brain--the part that lets me function as a technical writer--goes to sleep and lets my creative side run wild. And for me, that writing is much better, much freer.

I'm not just thinking about this right now because of Miss Snark's post, by the way. I'm thinking about it because I've started a new project, an urban fantasy novel. As soon as the first inkling came to me, I became completely obsessed with it, and even though I was still brainstorming ideas as recently as last Thursday, I've already written 45 pages. In one sitting, I wrote 2,300 words in 75 minutes. That's unbelievably fast even for me. If I keep being this obsessed with it, and if it keeps flowing out of my fingers this fast, I'll have it done in less than two months. And I hope this book will be another piece of evidence in my argument that for me fast = good.


At 10:59 AM, Blogger Janna of Canada said...

Hi Jenna - I surfed over here from Miss Snark's. I like your site. Like you, I initially considered blogging an experiment, however I've surprised myself with how much I enjoy it now. I don't consider myself a super speedy writer (in 75 minutes, probably the most I'd be able to write is about 500 words), however I do tend to laspe into a right-brained, stream-of-consciousness, which is quite freeing.

Congrats on selling to Tor; I'm sure you're very excited about that. I hope to sell to them someday myself in their fantasy imprint. I enjoyed my visit here, and will visit again. Oh, and I love your dream office!

At 12:47 PM, Blogger Sonja said...

Awesome. I like the way you think, and I agree. The only novel I ever finished, I wrote in one month. (It was short, but hey.) Anyway, I think you're right.

At 1:58 PM, Blogger Marguerite Arotin said...

Hi Jenna,
I think I've seen you around on the RWC list but I figured I'd drop by and leave a comment about writing fast. My current WIP that is also my personal favorite and a favorite of my critque group as well :-), was written in three months. A record for me :-). I think it also helped that a good chunk of the book was writen in November during National Novel Writing Month. I came so darned close to winning it last year that I became determined to hit the allmighty 50 k mark this year. And I did it :-)
So I do agree writing fast can equal great work. Revisions will probably take longer because I do like to take my time to rewrite a book but it will be worth it when my baby appears in print :-)

At 2:27 PM, Blogger Lady M said...

I always write fast.

And I write better when I am under pressure and I don't have to think about it.

Some days I don't even notice time going by, but all of a sudden, there are literally thousands of words on the screen.

It's odd. But I think like cleaning your house or what books you like reading, or what music strikes your fancy... that it is all a personal choice.

Interesting stuff about the drawing. I'll have to try that. LOL!

Lady M

At 9:36 AM, Blogger Jenna Black said...

I'm sure writing fast doesn't work for everyone. I'm also sure it works for even people who think it won't. I was in a writing workshop once where the teachers forced us to turn in what were essentially first drafts. (We were allowed to go back and fix typos and really bad errors--you know, your character has blue eyes on page 1 and brown eyes on page 8. Many of us were scared to death of the exercise, but most of us turned out to write more freely when we did it that way.

There were 13 of us in that class, plus 2 instructors, and we all critiqued each others' work. The quality of those stories made believers in the fast writing method out of most of us!

(And yes, Marguerite, you have seen me around RWC List.)

At 12:22 PM, Blogger Allison Brennan said...

Hi Jenna . . . came over here to look at your cover (gorgeous!) and saw this post.

I had missed that Miss Snark comment and while I agree with 95% of her posts, I think she missed the mark on this one. In this competitive market, if you're writing commercial fiction and hope to make a living doing in, you need to write at least two books a year (that's writing, editing, editor revisions, copy edits, page proofs, etc . . . there's a lot that goes into a book as you know!)

I'm writing three books this year (in ten months) and while it's a challenge, I know that it's the best thing for my career. I'm also very deadline driven, so I write faster as they near. I read somewhere (forgot who said it) that "The best inspiration is a deadline."


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