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Speed Anxiety

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I am not a fast writer. It can takes me weeks, if not months to finish even a 10,000 word story. My plan of writing on the train and Saturday mornings has certainly got me writing again, but it has not got me churning out the hits. I am anxious. I wonder if such slow progress is even worth it.

Why Speed Matters

Have you heard of Amanda Hocking yet? You will. She’s the poster child for self-publishing at the moment; a runaway success story that most of us can only dream of. After going down a storm as an indie author, she has just signed a two million dollar (count ‘em) four-book deal with St. Martin’s Press. There’s a lot of buzz about that and her reasons why, but that’s another story.

Speedy Car of self-publishing

Thats Amanda Hocking. Wow, look at her go! Neeeeeaaaaoow! Image courtesy of Nathan Bittinger. If you like this one, he's got a billion like it.

Now, there are many reasons why Amanda Hocking has been a success (and no doubt I will examine a few more in the future), but a big contributed has to be the speed at which she can put out new books.

Here’s the thing, to be a success you need volume. Okay, there are different kinds of success, and I guess you could luck out and get one stellar hit. Sigh, I’ll rephrase: to be a commercial success, what the vast majority of us need is volume.

Having one book out there won’t do it. Having many books out means two things:

  1. There is more chance of someone picking up one of your books if you appear more than once in the book list (the chance of this is increased if you put out books quickly).
  2. If a reader likes your book, they will likely pick up your others. You get to sell to the same customer more than once.

That last one is important. Suddenly, each sale is not worth £6.99 (or whatever. Amanda Hocking sells her digital books for $2.99), but £13.98, £20.97, or £34.95.

There are other opportunities as well, such as being able to offer bundles or BOGOF offers, but the two above are the main ones.

So it’s easy to see the advantage in being able to get the work out fast and accumulate a body of work.

How fast is fast? I had a quick look around and Miss Hocking has ten books out, all published in 2010/2011. Is that right? That can’t be right, can someone check that please? Oh God, tell me that’s not right!

The argument against speed

There is an opposing view (isn’t there always), that favours continued polishing over publishing. The assumption is that by taking your time over a piece of working and continually refining it, you will produce fewer, but much higher quality books.

Does that make for more sales? I can see a couple of circumstances where it might.

  • You release one absolutely amazing piece of work – seminal in fact, that took you years, but is revered as a classic.
  • You release a trilogy over many years (let’s say, over ten). The quality is such that the popularity of each book is enduring, and in addition you get the added bonus of multiple sales per customer. Hell, you can even sell your books at a higher price than most.

Actually that last one wouldn’t necessarily have to be a trilogy, just three books of any description, I guess. Anyhew, that’s my off-the-cuff-not-very-analytical-sweeping-statements bit out of the way. Seriously though if you know of any relevant data on this feel free to link to it in the comments.

The point is, I think for vast majority of us, having more books out there wins every time. Of course, if it’s not sales you’re after, none of this applies. If your ambition is to make this book the best (maybe only, in which case the former goal is easy) book you could ever ever write, then you don’t care about the money and that’s fine.

There is of course an exception to the “volume wins” rule, which I will title “crap-heaping”. You still have to write great stories, even if you do it quicker than others. If you’re just piling crap upon crap, it doesn’t matter how much you make, people still aren’t gonna wanna buy it.

I’m not taking my sweet time on purpose!
Or, so what’s your damn problem, loser?

How rude. But seriously, I should just write quicker, yes?


Yes, I know I should write more, and I know I should try and set more time aside than train journeys and Saturday mornings, but… but… I’m so tired!

Sleeping Mouse

And this is me. Aw, look, I'm sleeping. Bless! Image courtesy of Ernst Vikne

I am not a full time writer, like Amanda Hocking. I have to work and stuff. Eating and keeping my home are important things to me. I actually did what I consider to be a fairly good about of writing last week, on top of a busy work week. But I was knackered.

On the other hand, this week I’ve been more lax, and I feel pooey. I would rather feel knackered than pooey.

But even if all my weeks were like the last, it would still be a terrifically slow pace. This is a marathon of ‘ickle mouse-steps, and it makes me anxious. I worry that should I ever finish something, it will go unnoticed; I worry that by the time I’ve put enough work out there to make a difference, the market will have changed so much that it won’t make a difference; I worry that at this pace, in not improving very fast either; I worry that I can’t do anything about any of this. I worry, basically.

But I see no way out of this at the moment. I will have to plough on in obscurity for a good while yet, trying to convince myself that any progress is still progress, and worth my time, and trying to ignore the voice that says it will never, ever be enough.

Useful links

  • Amanda Hocking on Wikipedia
  • Amanda Hocking’s blog (not necessarily about writing)
  • http://creativeblob.com Rob James

    Firstly, it’s not like you’re slow – you bash out a regular article here. (Fair enough, it’s not a books length, but regular it is.)But maybe you’re a little precious? I’ve known you for, what 4-5 years now?, I’ve never read anything you’ve written.Imagine you were to get everything out there – good, bad, finished or not – perhaps you would start to bash work out left right and centre – because you care less.This comes from design crits from uni: When you start, everyone’s all precious and doesn’t want to show anything. By the end the first month, you’re doing pieces so prolifically you care less about each individual piece, because you know your next design will be out there for criticism 10 mins later. (Literally. Hell, at times it could have been 1min later).That line that was 2mm out of place: screw it, I’ll do it better next time.Now if that character is not well formed? Screw it Matt. Do it better next time.Poor Inglish(!) – Who cares?Put a new category on here called “My Crap Writing” and just get it out there.

  • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

    I take your point about being precious. I’m not sure it’s true though – it’s not like I’m sitting on piles of work I just don’t want to show to anyone – would that I were! It is true that I don’t show people first drafts, and sometimes 2nd drafts depending on if I know there’s big problems with them. I don’t think there’s any point in asking for feedback when I already know what I’m going to be told.

    There are probably some older pieces that can go on here, or somewhere anyway, where they can be critiqued. I’ll have to have a rummage.

  • Steve

    In the past I created work carefully, second guessing everything I did. I was and will always be my worst critic. But while my mind was full of worry it left little room for experience. Inspiration needs a good meal of experience I feel. You don’t necessarily need to be happy to produce a worthwhile piece, some of the most appealing art has arisen from suffering, take war poems as a good example.

    Some of the best work I’ve done in the past hasn’t come from being exacting or careful but just going for it. A great Scottish ASP programmer once said he preferred not to plan a project too much but just build it as he went.

    Sculpting starts with a craggy block of material. It’s roughly chipped away at, then a recognisable form starts to emerge. The form is refined, then the detail is gently expressed. Lastly a good polish and out it goes. If I’m proud of it and would buy it then I know its the very best I could do.

  • Oconnor2792

    As I’m sure you’re aware, I am not precious about my work. Well, i am, but that doesn’t stop me from workshopping it! I was always disappointed at uni when I workshopped some work and didn’t get much feedback. I was (and am) always willing to pour a lot of work into feeding back on other peoples work, because if you cant feedback on the work of someone else, then how do you develop the talent for recognising what needs alteration with your own work? It is also true however, that I am currently sitting on a lot of work, most of which i will probably never go back to. But is it necessarily a bad thing? Or is it counter productive? Similar to what Rob is suggesting above, deep down, you know that something might not be good, or that you may not intend to work on a piece of writing for long, but at least you’re actually doing some writing! And if you get that one idea out of your mind and down on paper, then it may clear the road for the writing that you DO care more about.

    Just some thoughts…

  • http://creativeblob.com Rob James

    I used to know a scottish ASP programmer too. He used to sing URL’s.

  • http://creativeblob.com Rob James

    @matt I don’t necessarily think holding onto a draft is bad, fair enough. As long as you get the piece critiqued at some point. I bet you have stuff no one’s seen.

    But equally I think it can be quite handy to get a draft critiqued too. It’s like getting a sketch out there and finding out the composition isn’t quite right.

    @Craig you’re bang on suggesting providing feedback to others betters your own work. I couldn’t agree more.

  • http://www.thedigeratipeninsula.org.uk Lee

    To be fair to Amanda, she didn’t churn out 10 novels in a year, sure she published them, but they were written over several years before and she had tried the traditional rout to get them published first, not to say she doesn’t write fast (go read her post on how is all happened: http://amandahocking.blogspot.com/2010/08/epic-tale-of-how-it-all-happened.html), albeit she did write one of them in 15 days.

    She wasn’t a full-time writer at the time either, she wrote at that pace around a full-time day job.

    Small steps are fine, you make progress, just keeping going is the key, it’ll soon add up. I found setting a daily word count was the way for me to get back (I’ve been very stop-start). 500 words, whenever, I get up an hour early and on my first draft I can bash through that in an hour (key to 1st draft: don’t stop, just chuck it down). Re-writing is easier and more enjoyable than writing I find, anything but a blank page!

  • Craig

    Having read up a little on who Hocking is, I cant say that I find this surprising.  She writes… Urban Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Dark Romance, whatever you want to call it.  It is, unfortunately, a very popular genre right now (god knows why) and like most sub-genres has a very limited scope.  It is a genre that lends itself to just churning out book after book without (and this is where I get flamed for my frankly prejudiced opinion) a lot of, I dunno, thought?  Effort?  being necessary.  Its a simple formula that lemnds itself to mass production.  I’m not suggesting other genre’s aren’t but this one in particular seems to be, because its the same story told over and over.  *Goes into Urban Fantasy fueled rage*

  • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

    Can’t say I’ve read any urban fantasy, doesn’t appeal. But I think it’s a bit harsh to attack a whole genre. I’m sure there are good and bad stories in every genre of writing!