Welcome to my world! In this second episode I’ll be talking about how I write so fast. Hope you enjoy it?
Brad Vance’s Diary of a Smutketeer Episode Two
“How do you write so fast?”
That’s the number one question I get. It’s a good one, too. I suppose some people might think I’m actually a sweatshop in another country, full of underpaid writers chained to their desks, spinning words by the yard. This year so far I’ve published seven short stories, my novel “Have a Little Faith in Me,” and started a new novel. Most of “Faith” was done in 2014, but I wrote the last 17,000 words in January. And, I’ve done 20,000 words of my novel-in-progress, “Would I Lie to You?” And, there are about 28,000 words in my six “Kyle’s New Stepbrother” stories and the start of a new series, “Training Christopher Blue.” So about 65,000 words so far...and it’s only March 2nd! And that was with a full time day job, which I’ve just left to be a full time writer.
From my reviews, I’d say the quality of that output was pretty high. I’m not spinning out novelty content like dinosaur porn or toaster sex, other than as a rare lark, like my “un-Christmas” story, “Flogged into Soggy Mansex by the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” (Like Pumpkin Spice flavoring, it’s not available again until next Christmas)
So, how do I do it? Well, I work every day. Seven days a week. Okay, some Saturdays if I’m hung over, “work” is just checking in on Facebook, checking sales, etc. I get up early and I spend 3-4 hours on a novel, or an outline, or a story, or research, every morning. I’m creative in the mornings, and as long as I had a day job, that meant getting up very early – okay, basically in the middle of the night for most people. Now I have the luxury of sleeping in till 3 or gosh, even 4 a.m. if I want! If I can – I’m still trying to get used to the idea that I can sleep in now.
The number one requirement for being that productive is making the time to do it. A lot of people say, I’ll do something creative when I get home from work, but by then their energy is sapped, other things come up, and their daily allotment of willpower is used up. If you do it as early as I do, well, nobody is awake to interfere with your plans, and the day’s normal shitstormage hasn’t sucked you dry yet.
The next requirement is to treat writing fiction like writing journalism. A journalist is expected to produce something good every day. Why not a fiction writer?
It’s funny. Nobody ever criticizes a journalist for writing fast, but somehow, if you write fiction, it’s supposed to take forever for the same amount of prose to be as good. Joyce Carol Oates is a great literary writer, but much of the establishment looks down on her because…well, she’s fast. She writes a lot of good prose and it doesn’t take her five years per book to do it.
In the world of literary fiction, as opposed to the world of commercial fiction in which I proudly plant my flag, there’s this idea that a certain amount of agony must go into every production. Your delicate sentences are to be coddled like eggs, or like babies in incubators, and literary production is this delicate process that must take as long, and hurt as much, as possible.
I know people who really live up to that old Oscar Wilde quote. “I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.” This level of paralysis and indecision is expected in a literary writer. If writing comes easy to you, your output is no good, because you’re not suffering enough.
Honestly, a lot of it is elitist and classist. Writers who get MFAs and grants and writer’s residences and tenure can afford to write slowly. Their living isn’t dependent on the amount of their productivity. The sort of writing that makes money is the sort of writing that, you know, those uneducated masses want. The literary elite are like gentleman farmers, and their “lovely sentences” are their crop, which they can fiddle and faddle with as much as they like, because they never have to bring them to market. Those of us who write commercial fiction are “tradesmen,” low and vulgar and soiled by our filthy commercial peddling of “mere plot.” A gentleman does not engage in “trade”!
But even if you were a sentence farmer, putting in commas and taking them out, you should get better at your job the longer you do it. The thing I hated most about working an office job was the idea that you had to “really put in the hours” to prove that you were working hard. It’s this foolish notion that someone who takes 50 hours to do his job, and the boss can see him still at his desk after 5, beavering away, was a better worker than someone who was efficient enough to do the same work as well if not better in 30 hours. Basically, you got punished for being good at what you do, and rewarded for being worse at it, slower, thicker. Your ticket to success was to sit there and keep a chair warm long enough to prove you were doing your job. Which is why so many people spend so much of their work day on the Internet – they’re done with their work, but they can’t leave, because the image of productivity is more important than the substance.
And when I hear that “putting in the hours” thing, I just think…Wow, I’m really sorry that in the 20, 30, 40 years you’ve been doing your job, you’ve never got any better or faster at it. But I have! I don’t need that much time to do my job.
It’s the same thing with writing. To me, agonizing over each sentence looks like a confidence problem. Once you’ve done this long enough, you should be a master craftsman, not a perpetual journeyman. The master craftsman has already absorbed all the lessons of previous problems like the one he faces next, and can almost intuitively address them. A master craftsman works faster than a journeyman or an apprentice and still turns out master-level work. If you’re still puzzling over what puzzled you 20 years ago? You’re not making any progress, you’re not developing. Putting together a string of sentences should be second nature by that point in a writing career.
And let’s face it – speed is required in the romance and erotica business. Being a romance writer is like being a tennis pro. The season never ends, you’re always in a tournament. This time you reach a quarterfinal, next time it’s a semi, as you keep working towards that goal of being #1. And like a tennis player, there’s almost no time off – the end of each tournament only leads into the first day of the next, and the next. You can skip a few tournaments, but then what? Your ranking falls, and it’s harder to climb back up to the top than it is to stay there.
Yeah, every now and then, you have that one exhilarating moment of triumph when you win a Grand Slam…and that night you’re on a plane to the next tournament, back in the first round again, grinding away. There’s no sitting on your laurels. It’s the same with being a romance and erotica writer. There is so much new content in the market every day, that if you were to take a year off to write a single novel? Almost every reader would forget who you were. Lots of literary types dine out on a single success forever, but a romance writer, walking around saying, “remember me, I had a #1 bestseller?” You’d be laughed off the Internet.
Yeah, there are certain talents you need to work fast. You need a vivid imagination, an ability to take a trend and put your own spin on it, a talent for researching that takes you to what you really need without getting bogged down, and the ability to build a coherent plot structure and outline. But, other than a vivid imagination, these are learned skills.
I learned how to structure my fiction after a long resistance. I used to be “that guy,” the one who fumbled with a novel for five years, a novel that, like Dane’s book in “Apollo’s Curse,” sold twelve copies. I disdained things like Dan Wells’ “Seven Point Story Structure” or any other author plotting tools. (That’s a PowerPoint link – I’d point you at his videos, but who has time for that, right?)
Bah, humbug! I said. Real writers don’t need that pabulum. And not only was I slow, but what I put out wasn’t that good, because I had a problem with endings. I didn’t have a structure, just my raw talent and imagination. And when that ran out of gas, I floundered. When I accepted that there are classical forms, certain rules of storytelling, it really freed me – I no longer had to wait for “inspiration” to strike to figure out what I was doing.
Staying fast is also a question of resilience. I’m having a huge success now, but it’s been after 2.5 years of rise and fall. The collapse of the erotica market in spring 2013 with the imposition of Amazon’s “adult filter,” the failure of my misguided attempt at writing heteromance, the collapse in novel sales last fall with the rise of the Kindle Unlimited program... These all knocked me for a loop, and I could have been one of many who gave up and slunk away at each of these, my confidence destroyed. But I learned from some great mentors how not to curl up in a ball and die every time shit went wrong in my career. I learned that like any businessman, I had to adjust, adapt, evolve.
Finally, maybe you need to be crazy to be a writer. Maybe as you write your latest work, you have to believe, to know for sure, that it is most definitely the greatest thing in the history of everything ever and will rule the bestseller charts the instant it comes out and everyone will give it five stars. And when it fails, or falls short, well, you just go crazy again when you start the next book, which is definitely the greatest ever…
I’m really lucky right now, because success breeds success. The more people like what I do, the more I want to do it, knowing it will be read, that I have fans who are waiting for it. And the more prosperous and happier I am, the faster I can work.
Oh yeah, there’s this too. Since I’ve done so well lately that I’ve been able to quit my day job and do this full time …I’ll be able to write EVEN MORE now!
Till next time, see you on the Hot New Releases page! XO Brad