“You write so fast!”

It’s something I’ve heard time and time again, most recently just yesterday: “Wow, Rebecca, you write so fast!” I’m never really sure how to respond to it. Depending on the situation – say, a word sprint, where a group of people write for 15 minutes and then share their word count at the end – nothing seems necessary. But, even then, I want to say more than a shrug and a nod.

First, I’m not always sure how people judge it. Yes, there are times in word sprints I write more than the other people. But that’s just one burst of a lot of words in 15 minutes. It’s not sustainable. You can’t multiply that word count by eight hours and say I’m going to finish a book in three work days, for example. In yesterday’s specific case, I was at a scene in a novel where I knew what was happening. I’d built up to it, and I had all the details and information right there, within reach.

But I’ve also had people say “Wow, you write fast!” when I mention how much I did over the course of an entire year. So is that “Wow, you wrote a lot in a year”? Or “Wow, you’ve been able to schedule things so you had a lot of time to write that year”?

I lean toward the second. It’s easier to write more when you have more time to write. Refresh yourself on my writing schedule. The most important thing is that I have one. I block out that time. Whether it means 15 minutes of amazing word counts, or a long slog, I have and make that time. And it adds up. Even 15 minutes at a time, stolen throughout the day, adds up, when it’s specifically dedicated to writing.

There’s also the fact that the actual typing of words is only a small part of writing. There’s reading, and research, and outlining, and all of this prep work that happens before and then during the weeks I block out for the actual typing of a manuscript. Sometimes what you don’t see is the abandoned draft from a while ago that’s helped me get to the point of writing it now. All the steps that take place to help set me up for sitting down at my laptop and getting the words out.

I could tell you how many days it took me to turn out a draft of a book, from typing the first word to finishing the conclusion, but that’s not a very accurate picture of things. Take Surviving Stephen King – the initial draft went very quickly. I was writing it last spring, though, which means I’d been reading about Stephen King as an academic and not just a fan for six years. I’d had years of presenting at conferences and not just reading other scholars’ work, but engaging with them in conversation. I didn’t just sit down one day last April and idly think “Let’s write about Stephen King.”

I had more than one notebook with ideas. I had notes already typed up and organized so I could easily search them. I’d made not just an outline, but an outline expanded to include quotes from all my readings. Readings I’d done over the course of years and then gathered, typed up, and organized over a span of dedicated weeks. I knew what each chapter had to address and the overall point I was trying to make.

That’s when the fast writing happens: when I’ve done all the groundwork to pave the way and all the signposts are in place. When I don’t have to stop and wonder about what comes next. When I’ve got my poster board with the color-coded sticky notes and the outline so I don’t have to go searching for something because it’s all right there, laid out neatly.

When I’ve already put in so much work that’s part of writing, but maybe doesn’t look like writing, so that the actual “typing the words into the document” process can happen apparently at speed.

Plus, come on … you have no idea how long it took me to write this. How many breaks I took. You just see something I’ve written, and maybe read all the way to the end of it, and possibly find some enlightenment. So maybe take a moment to remind yourself that there’s no time – however long it takes you, the important thing (the scary thing) is to get something written, and to get it out there to be read.

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