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James Palmer Posts

4 Reasons to Write Faster

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In my last blog post I talked about three pervasive writing myths and how continued belief in them stymies writers.

That post turned out to be rather popular, with lots of likes and shares on Facebook, so I thought I would take one of those myths–that writing fast is bad–and numerate a few of the reasons why writing fast is actually so very good for authors and their writing careers.

So without further preamble, here goes:

1. Fail Faster, Learn Faster

It should go without saying that the best way to learn how to write is by writing. Sure, you should read books on business and craft, but you’ll only get the most out of those if you actually put some of their tenets into practice by sitting down and doing the writing.

Now, within this framework, you’ve got two choices. You can slowly and laboriously write–slaving over every word and editing as you go instead of waiting until the end–and produce a finished book once every year or two, or you can compress all that learning and doing into a few months, producing one or more finished novels in the process. They say it takes ten thousand hours to become truly proficient at something. Would you rather have those ten thousand hours spread over years or compressed down into a more manageable time frame? Sure, six of one, have a dozen of the other. I’ll give you that. But unless you’ve discovered some miracle aging cure, I’ll bet you’re not getting any younger. I know I sure as hell aren’t.

The time is going to pass anyway. Why not spend it doing something awesome?

2. Get in the Flow

Think of your last brilliant passage. It could be a whole page, or a single paragraph. Remember how you composed it? Was it written in the heat of the moment? Or did you agonize over every other word? It was probably the first one, am I right?

This is because you were in what know-it-all scientist types call Flow State, that weird mental zone you enter where everything just clicks in your brain, and the writing flows from you with seemingly little conscious effort. This is the magic time, when you finally get out of your own way and let things just happen. Dean Wesley Smith calls this ignoring your critical voice. You know, that
annoying voice in the back of your head that questions and second-guesses every bit of golden prose that leaks out of your fingers and onto your keyboard? Yeah. That guy. Ball-gag and forget about him until you’re ready to edit, once the work is done. That’s what flow state does for you. And it only comes when you get in the habit of writing fast.

3. Less Editing

Everyone usually equates fast writing with sloppy writing, when the fact is nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, you have to clean up typos. But even slow writers who produce prose at a glacial pace have to do that. I’m not talking about transposed letters and typing ‘there’ when you meant ‘their.’

No, I’m talking about the usual editing that all of us have to and should do. It’s just part of the writing process. But as has been proven time and again by people who write fast, like the aforementioned DWS and Chris Fox, who recently wrote and edited a novel in a record 21 days and launched it on Amazon to great success.

4. Faster Time to Market

We come at last to the biggie, the raison d’etre of being an honest to God, making a living career fiction writer (or any writer, for that matter). This is the business end of writing, and I know most of you want to shut down at this point because, for you, the term “time to market” is right up there with your output being called “content” and people who refer to books as “units.”

Well too bad. I hate to break it to you, but you’re in a business. Creative, yes. But at the end of the day, still a business. And you have to treat it as such. Especially in this new age of indie publishing.

In this new world, Amazon and the other digital publishers pay you once a month. And the more books you have out there, the more visible they will be, the more copies you will sell, and the more money you will make.

See, every time you publish you have a shot of being on Amazon’s Hot New Releases list for that month. Put out a book a month, and you could be on it each and every month, which would show your book to thousands of potential readers. Doesn’t that sound like a good reason to write a little faster than you are already? Hit me up with your thoughts in the comments.

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3 Writing Myths

Myth #1: Someone Will Steal Your Ideas

This little ditty comes mostly from newbie writers who haven’t published a thing and still don’t know how this weird wild world of publishing actually works. They think of the idea as the important thing, when in reality, it’s the execution that counts. Ideas are a dime a dozen. The average writer has more ideas than they’ll ever be able to do anything with.

So when these newbie writers want an editor or agent to sign a nondisclosure agreement before looking at their work, they’re only showing what an ignorant noob they are. Editors and agents are in the business of finding new writers. And if they are writers, they have a ton of ideas themselves, all of which they think way more highly of than whatever precious concept you pulled out of the ether.

Myth #2: Writing Fast Equals Writing Crap

Both Dean Wesley Smith, whom I got the 7 day novel idea from, and myself ran up against this myth during our experiments. Not in ourselves, but from other people. You can read about Dean’s encounter here.

Someone commented something similar on Facebook in response to my own 7 day novel writing journey, though he was a lot nicer and more sane than Dean’s guy. But his point was the same: that writing fast means you are throwing quality out the window. This is completely untrue and unsupported by evidence. Let’s take a walk through it logically and analyze where this myth comes from, shall we?

As far as I’ve been able to deduce, this myth comes from our high school and even college English teachers, as well as traditional publishing.

In school we’re taught to go through a slow, excruciating process to write our magnum opus. We were taught that’s how guys like Faulkner and Hemingway and Dickens did it, whether that was actually true or not. Traditional publishing continues to support this myth, mostly because it supports their timetables for getting books out. You taking a year on your masterpiece gives them plenty of time to publish and market the other books in their catalog, as well as to get ready for your book’s launch. The top authors, like Stephen King, John Grisham, and Lee Child are well compensated under this book a year model, which gives them the freedom to write one book per year.

That’s hunky dory for them, but what if you’re the new guy trying to break in, and the publisher only gives you five grand for your book? Well, you’ve got two choices. You can keep (or get) a day job, or you can crank out more books.

This myth also makes the bold assumption that everyone who abides by this output method types The End and immediately throws it up on Kindle. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Well, to be honest, some of them do. But those aren’t the ones you hear about making big bucks with self-publishing. Their books sink like a stone, never to be seen again, and rightly so. No, you still have to edit and revise. No one said anything about uploading your first draft to the masses. And if they did, they’re idiots. But editing doesn’t have to be an excruciating, six-month affair either, the poor writer snapping red pencils in half, while pulling his hair out trying to select just the right word for is. By writing fast, you can also cut your editing time by a goodly amount, and still get it to market quicker. And another advantage of writing fast: You fail quicker, leading to better writing faster.

Myth #3: Every Book is an Event

I’m guilty of this one. Dean Wesley Smith has helped whip this one out of me. By reading his blog more or less daily for the past year, and figuratively watching over his shoulder as he writes book after book, story after story, I’ve learned that every book is not some big event, some major achievement. It’s simply another book, another unit of product for your shelves. One of many you will (hopefully) produce throughout your life.

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re saying now. “But James, books aren’t product. They’re High Art. Maybe while you’re writing them. But once they’re done they are product, a piece of intellectual property that can earn an income for you for the rest of your life plus 75 years. Don’t like it? Then print your manuscripts when you’re done with them and put them in a trunk somewhere. No skin off my nose. But if you actually want to get published and make a living as a writer, you’re going to have to learn business. Writing is a craft and an art; publishing is a business. Got the difference? Good. Then you are well on your way to letting go of these top three myths in publishing.

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Entropy Strikes Back: My Novel in a Week Update

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Well, if you’re not seeing fireworks at the top of this post, it means I did not finish my novel in one week. The plan was to write 3,000 words starting on Sunday, and then add another 1,000 words on top of that number all the way until Saturday. I failed. Miserably.

But does that mean I’m a failure? Hardly.

I still clocked over 12,000 words, and counting. Before I started writing this post I just added another 531 words. And I will keep going until the book is finished. I didn’t finish it in a week, but I will finish it. It’ll just take a lot longer. No biggie.

I’ll see how much of it I can get done throughout the month of April. That’s on top of finishing up a work-for-hire nonfiction e-book for a paying client. So we’ll see. But just because I didn’t pull it off this time around doesn’t mean I can’t do it eventually. And I learned some things from the process. I’ll be talking about those things–and some interesting backlash that I and, to a greater extent, Dean Wesley Smith received as part of this journey in another blog post.

Until then, keep watching the skies.

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Q&A Video

Here’s the first of hopefully many videos I’m going to do. In this one I answer some questions about writing and comics from some of my Facebook friends. Enjoy.

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Spitting in Entropy’s Eye: How I Plan to Write a Novel in a Week

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Yes, you read that right. I said a week. I may not be able to do it. In fact, it probably will take me much longer than a week to write an entire novel. But that’s not the point. Let’s get right into it, and I’ll explain.

The Novel in a Week Structure

I got this idea from longtime writer Dean Wesley Smith, who is not only writing his novel in a week right now, but is creating a book about the experience. I got the basic formula from him, and it goes a little something like this:

On the first day, write 3,000 words. Then add 1,000 words to that total every day for seven days, up to 9,000 words. So at the end of the seven days you end up with a 42,000 novel. Which still isn’t long as novels go, depending on the genre. But it’s still firmly in novel territory, and pretty good for a week’s work. If you write door-stopper epic fantasies where 42k doesn’t even get you to the first plot point, then you’re still going to have quite a ways to go, but for the rest of us, knocking out a short novel this quickly can be a game changer in so many ways.

And for my hypothetical epic fantasist, banging out 42k words in a week’s time is still nothing to sneeze at, and you’ll get your next book (or your first) out that much faster.

But Why?

That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? And a reasonable one to ask. After all, writing a book is so beyond the mainstream for most of us. Tell someone you’re getting up and going to work and nobody bats an eye. It’s what you’re supposed to do. But tell someone you’re going to climb a mountain, write a symphony, or give shoes to poor kids in Africa, and all of a sudden you’re some kind of a weirdo.

Well, I’ll tell you why.

I’ve always been fascinated by people who do cool shit for no apparent reason. Maybe they wear a funny hat to work, or they cook every dish in Julia Child’s cookbook and then blog about it. Maybe they scale a mountain or write a symphony. Or write a symphony about mountains while scaling fish. Whatever. The point is that they do something, and in so doing allow this crazy old world to make just a bit more sense.

I love writing dares, as I call them, for this reason, because they combine my love of writing with this kind of weird public or semi-public spectacle. Like Harlan Ellison writing stories from scratch in bookstore windows. Or Ray Bradbury writing a short story a week for an entire year in order to learn how to write. It’s impossible to write fifty-two bad stories in a row,” he reasoned. And I think I’ll have just as much to learn from my novel-in-a-week writing experience as a young Bradbury did writing short stories all those years ago about carnivals and dwarfs and jar babies and dinosaurs and Halloween.

Kill the Mystique

I’ve been reading the aforementioned Dean Wesley Smith’s blog for a long time now. I’ve “watched” over his shoulder as he runs his writing and publishing business with his wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, which includes writing workshops and one–soon to be two–retail stores. I watched in July how he wrote a short story per day for most of the entire month. I’ve seen him bang out books in record time. While we disagree on some of the particulars (I’ll get to those in a minute), one thing Dean is always saying is that writing books is nothing special. A book is not an event. It’s just a book. One of many throughout Dean’s own 40 plus year career. It doesn’t come fully formed from the brilliant writer’s fevered brain after a lightning strike of inspiration from on high. It simply is. Maybe the writer writes it to pay rent and put food on the table. Maybe he writes it because he must. But whatever the reason, that book is just one of many. And nobody needs that fact drilled into their skull more than this guy right here.

I need to take the ego out of the equation. I need to get the idea of a book as a major event out of my head. I need to get the book I want to write out of my head and onto the page. Because nothing else happens until that occurs. If I am going to eventually make a viable business of this, I need product on the shelves. And that means writing a lot of books. One after the other.

Because Why Not?

This is a crazy world we live in. Things fall apart. The center cannot hold. The old gatekeepers are dying, replaced with faster, sleeker predators ready to eat their lunch. People are running off to join ISIS for crying out loud. Well, I do not believe we need to destroy the world in order to save it, or that the only way to fix things is by turning it into a mirror of our own egomaniacal image. I believe we need to add value to the world by creating something beautiful. Something that outlasts us.

I want to spit in Entropy’s eye. I hope you will join me, or just hang out over my shoulder to watch the fireworks. So grab some popcorn and get comfy. It’s going to be interesting.

Stay tuned for a few tips of how to do something like this yourself. Post your writer dare in the comments.

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RETRO REVIEW: The Last Dragon

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File this one in the So Bad It’s Good section of the video store in your mind. Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon (1985) is a music-laden martial arts send-up that is better than it has any right to be. Imagine if Marvel’s Iron Fist were shot in the 80’s as a blaxploitation film, and you’ll cut pretty close to the essence of The Last Dragon.

Taimak is Leroy Green, who goes by the somewhat derisive sobriquet Bruce Leroy, a young black man who wears Asian peasant dress and dreams of obtaining a level of martial arts mastery known as “the glow.” After he completes his training, his pranksterish sensei sends him in search of the elusive master that will help him achieve the glow.

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While in a theater, watching a Bruce Lee film and eating his popcorn with chopsticks (as one does), he is accosted by the infamous Sho’nuff (Julius Carry III), the self-described Shogun of Harlem, a bad ass martial artist with an ego as big as his attitude. After beating up half the theater, Sho’nuff challenges Leroy to a fight, but our hero refuses and leaves, returning home to his family where he is greeted by endless barbs from his younger, streetwise brother.

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Meanwhile, local singer and popular veejay Laura Charles, played by former Prince Protege’ Vanity (the late Denise Matthews) is being nagged by a two-bit promoter named Eddie Arkadian (Christopher Murney), who wants Laura to play his girlfriend’s latest video on her show. As his girlfriend, Angela Viracco (Faith Prince) is a third rate Cyndi Lauper wannabe, Laura rightly refuses, and that’s when Arkadian takes the gloves off and resorts to thuggery to get his way.

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Passing by while Laura is being kidnapped by Arkadian’s thugs, Leroy comes to the rescue, dispatching them Bruce Lee style.

What follows is a mixed bag of craziness that could only have come from the 80’s, with a finale to rival Enter the Dragon, as Leroy and his martial arts students (which includes a young, pint-sized Ernie Reyes, Jr. (The Last Electric Knight)) fight against Arkadian’s goons, among them Sho’nuff and his entourage.

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In his final battle with Sho’nuff, Leroy learns that the only true master is one’s own self and gets the glow, which is exactly what it sounds like, enabling him to defeat Sho’nuff and rescue the girl. Arkadian gets arrested, and all is right with the world.

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I really like this movie. It could have, and probably should have, been a complete train wreck. The plot is utterly ridiculous, and we never get any context for Leroy’s quest to obtain the glow, meeting him near the end of his journey, not the beginning. But the film’s reverence for the source material that inspired it—in this case Bruce Lee movies—is really what saves it in the end.

There are also some neat cameos I didn’t notice the first time around, including William H. Macy as Laura’s stage manager, and Keisha Knight-Pulliam (The Cosby Show) as Leroy’s little sister. And you couldn’t do a martial arts movie in the 80’s without Ernie Reyes, Jr. And did I mention it features the music of El Debarge?

Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon has charm, music, humor, and some great fight scenes. I give this one two fists way up. Now kiss my Converse!

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