"Arrow" by IvanAntolic at deviantART.com

“It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.”    – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Speaking of time, I’ve been pushing this blog post around on my plate like cold potatoes for the past 11 days, half-expecting to be interrupted by life, unable, or simply not determined enough, to really wade in and get my knickers wet.

My original intention was to offer some ideas I’m trying out on how to improve writing speed/production in the Gonnabe Writer’s quest to become a Professional Writer.  And I will still do that.  But in considering what it takes to be a faster writer, I inevitably kept coming up against the ever-present issue of Time.

And that reminded me of a blog post by Tim Ferriss titled, “On The Shortness of Life:  An Introduction to Seneca,” that I think expresses the problem and solution most thoroughly.

First, Tim asks the important questions:  “How do we balance protecting time with protecting relationships?  How do we conquer guilt and do what is truly most important?”

This is where we all struggle.  Because aside from the usual things that we let come between us and writing, there are those most important things, like family and friends.

Anyway, I think Tim’s sentiments and Seneca’s letter pretty much say it all when it comes down to figuring out what’s most important in life. I think in finding success as a writer, it’s important to keep aware of the fleeting nature of time.  It helps me keep a death grip on my purpose, and thank God for that.  I may get flustered, but I’m never lost.  I know where I’m going.

So I figured before we talked about how to get faster and more productive and more successful at what we’re doing, it would be helpful to share Tim’s excellent post (containing Seneca’s even more excellent diatribe) regarding time, and encourage you to ask yourself the important questions.

How do you want to spend your time?  Do you know where you want to go?


"It's a Rocket" by bashoo - deviantART.com

How long does it take you to write a short story or a chapter or a scene or even a page?  Do you even know?

If you’re serious about making it as a professional writer, you need to make it your business to know.

How long does it take me to write?  I don’t know, but I’m doing my damnedest to find out.  I’m tired of being in a perpetual state of late on all my deadlines, rushing panicked through first drafts, while my stack of finished stories gains altitude on my desk waiting for revisions.

My last completed short story took me three weeks to write.  Sounds work-intensive, huh?  Not when you look at time actually spent.  I invested maybe two to three hours developing the idea and writing the first section, approximately 2,500 words.  The next two sections — approximately 2,000 words each — I spent an hour each writing.  Incidentally, both of those hours occurred right before my writers’ workshop meeting.*

Just using this one short story as a general idea, my top speed seems to be 2,000 words an hour, assuming I’m right up against a deadline.  So a story that I thought originally took three weeks to write really only took five hours tops.  Quite a difference, huh?  Makes me seem frighteningly fast too, huh?  Wa-pow!

That’s funny.  Because if I have five open hours of uninterrupted writing goodness**, I can fluff out a 1,000-word scene to take up that entire time.  Of course, I’m browsing/”researching”/checking stuff online; I’m making food; I’m answering texts; I’m doing laundry, et cetera.

Thankfully, I never have five open hours of uninterrupted writing time.  Otherwise, I’d never get anything done.


I have a theory.  I think the more time you have to spend on a project, the longer it will take you to complete it.  Just like your expenses grow to meet your rising income, so will your writing speed slow to fill up your extra time.

So what’s a writer to do?  Well, first, start paying attention to how much actual time you spend writing a piece, whether it’s a short story, article, or poem.  It should only take you a project or two to get a good handle on your general rate of speed.

Once you know whether you’re a Sunday driver or Evel Knievel of the Autobahn — and there’s nothing wrong with being a Sunday driver — then you can figure out how best to optimize your time.

And consider circumstances surrounding each project.  Are you only writing when deadlines come a’callin’?  If so, maybe you need to pile on more deadlines.  I’m serious.  Do you write faster in the wee hours before the household wakes up or the wee hours after everyone goes to bed, or are you able to command full speed in the middle of a loud coffee house?

Is this topic making you nervous?  Am I scaring you? Are you a careful and deliberate writer who squeezes out fiction seemingly one constipated word at a time and has better things to worry about than measuring themselves against some Type A Genetic Freak who channels Muse magic at 80 words per minute with one hand tied behind their back?

Don’t fret.  Being able to write fast isn’t the most critical element to becoming a Professional Writer, but completing projects is.  And no matter what anyone says, that is the goal.  As far as I know, nobody’s ever built their castle on a foundation of half-finished stories and a bunch of good ideas.

So who cares about speed, right?  So long as we’re finishing things…. Hey, if you’re happy with turning out a short story a year, that’s cool.  But I’ve been there.  I was never happy with turning out a short story a year.  Those lean writing years were miserable.  Every time I sat down to write, it was like dragging an old car out of the garage that hadn’t been driven in eons.  Every aspect of getting myself started was just plain hard.

There’s plenty of experts out there who say it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to develop mastery at your art, whatever that may be.  I buy that.  And the way I see it, I’ve got a lot of wasted youth to make up for.  So even though I may be at the bottom end of 10,000 hours, I’m running.  Man, am I running.

So, if you’ve made it this far through this post — which incidentally has taken me two days, at least three hours to write (and is killing my average) — then thank you.  It’s difficult not to write these things in the second person.  I realize I come off sounding like I’m teaching, but I hope it’s clear that most of the teaching and preaching is aimed at myself.  I am a Beginner.  This is just me learning and sharing, trying to get my 10,000 hours in.

So thank you again.  It’s good to know I’ve got a few good people with me as I prepare for launch. :)***


*Note:  These time estimates concern only the first draft and do not include any revisions or rewrites.

**Note:  These types of writing sessions are so rare as to be pure myth, bald-faced rumor, if you ask me.

***Likewise, anyone who needs any sort of encouragement, kick in the ass, a go-get-’em pep talk, and the like, just ask.  I will talk you into the sky where you belong.  Anyone who’s ballsy enough to be a writer deserves to fly high.


"Speed Racer" by King_Arturia_Emiya - deviantART.com

For some reason, it seems perfectly acceptable — hell, expected — for a writer to spend years bleeding over a manuscript.  Why?  Because writers are artists, and you can’t rush art.  On top of that, if you’re a writer who can crank out several novels in a year — and yes, there are lots and lots of writers who do this — you’re considered a hack.

This is not a new lament.  And for the most part, we all know that in this day and age, if you want to make it as a writer professionally, you need to have the habits of a hack and not an artist.  It makes sense, doesn’t it?  The more you write, the more projects you finish, the more “product” you have to sell, the more chances you have at earning income, the more chances you have to be read, the more money you make, the more food you get to eat ultimately, right?

You’re thinking, “Ew.  She called it ‘product.’  She went and used the M word.  This is not about money.  This is about my art.  It has to be perfect.  This is my soul.  I want to make sure I don’t put something out there that shows my ass hanging out.”*

So what got me thinking about speed was my brother, who is a working artist.  He does character design for a gaming company.  He’s got a good job that pays the bills, but that’s not his focus.  Instead, he’s constantly working on new stuff, trying to identify and develop new skills, really trying to stretch himself.  He does this during his lunch hour and after work.

One of the things he’s been working on is his speed.  He keeps track of how long it takes for him to produce a sketch.  He says he knows so many talented artists that spend so much time in the planning stages for a piece, deciding on their color palette, figuring out their composition layout, trying to plan out every aspect for some intensely-imagined drawing…and they never finish anything.  So he figured, hell, let me focus on just getting more stuff done, and hopefully, I’ll get better.

Think about a daily cartoon artist or a graphic novel artist.  They’re not spending days on each panel.  They’ve got deadlines.  They need to be able to draw their character quickly, artfully, in the way they intend for them to be rendered without thinking…not reinvent them every time they sit down at their desk.  That’s called skill.

This, to me, is the mark of a true artist.  Not only that, my brother’s making himself ready.  Ready for what, you ask?  Ready for anything.  When opportunity comes knocking on his door, he’s got an impressive body of work to show as a representative of what he’s capable of.  Nobody puts in unfinished pieces in their portfolio…and if they do, it’s doesn’t make a good impression.

When I attended the screenwriting program at UCLA, one of the things they stressed, stressed, stressed is that you build up a body of work.  You can write the neatest, most inspired screenplay ever written by a mortal, show it to an agent, and invariably, they will say, “Great.  What else do you have?”  You’ve got to be ready.  You want to be asked that question, just so you can pull out your little Fossil messenger bag and say, “Lots.  Are you ready?”

So let’s be honest.  If an editor were to call you up today and ask you what you have to show them, would you be ready?  If not, don’t despair.  Tune in next time to find out how you can go from the speed of art to the speed of a working writer.

[Cue in organ music, smile…5…4…3…2…1…and that’s a wrap].**


* We used to get young ladies come into our bar and perch themselves on a barstool, much to the delight and chagrin of other customers.  Low-riders and thong undies with a little bow on the back.  You get the picture.  And often, we’d see other, more modest young ladies politely approach said offender and inform them in a slightly embarrassed whisper, “Your underwear’s showing.”  I always loved it when they answered, “Yeah, I know.”

So get brash.  Don’t be afraid.  The only breath you’re guaranteed is the one you just took. Don’t worry about your ass hanging out.  Chances are, it’s hung out before and no one had the guts to tell you then.  Just make sure you’ve got a bow on it.  😉

** I try and try (maybe a little), but the cheese cannot be suppressed.


"Square Folders" by BBCVersus - deviantART.com

After Fat Cat left for boot camp, I lost my guaranteed two hours every morning at Starbucks.  So it seems my productivity, in general, has gone down…but not really.  I’ve lost that precious alone time where I’m able to focus completely on what I’m working on without worrying about the baby…however, with the weekly writers’ workshop, plus our monthly writers’ meeting, I feel like I’m producing good stuff in an even shorter amount of time.  Enough so, that I have accumulated a fairly significant pile of stories that have been workshopped and need various degrees of spit and shine before they can go out.

So this morning, at 4:30 a.m., I got up and sorted through everything.  I’m surprised at how quickly the stories add up.  I’ve been so focused on getting the next one done, and the next one, that I didn’t realize just how much I had written.

So although I have a big fat stack of folders awaiting my attention — not to mention the second half of a horror story that’s waiting none too patiently to be written — I am happy.  Fat stacks of folders containing completed stories that I’ve written makes me happy.  🙂

Feeling organized makes me happy too.  😉

This, of course, means that I am hopeful I can return to a more consistent posting schedule with the blog.  I have loads of stuff I want to talk to you guys about!  Stuff like, how fast do you write, how to place limitations to make a better story, and the like.

This is what I like about writing.  And this is why I like writing about writing.  Every single story teaches me something new, and I’m always excited to share it with others, to see if they experience the same thing or hear how they deal with it differently.

This is also, I imagine, why “retirement” doesn’t seem to fall into the writer’s lexicon.

So stayed tuned.  I’ll be serving up lots of writerly food for thought.  And I’ll commit now and say that I will have something new posted tomorrow.

There.  Now will you come back and visit?


"Lei" by halili - deviantART.com

According to Wikipedia.org, “Lei is a Hawaiian word for a garland or wreath. More loosely defined, a lei is any series of objects strung together with the intent to be worn. The most popular concept of a lei in Hawaiian culture is a wreath of flowers draped around the neck presented upon arriving or leaving as a symbol of affection….Children and sweethearts are poetically referred to as “lei” and many ancient and modern songs and chants refer to this imagery.

Thinking of my family, my daughter, my husband, my parents, my brother, this might be one of the sweetest metaphors I’ve run across.  Just finished a rewrite of a story about a family who is separated.  I got two letters from Fat Cat yesterday.  He is homesick.