Whenever I'm in a bookstore, usually a few times a week, I wander over to the "Writing/Publishing" section. The usual suspects are there: Writing for Dummies, Get Published Now!, Writing the Bestseller, etc. It takes a while to sift through the garbage and find a few quality books on the craft of writing and the publishing industry. Over the years, I have collected numerous writing books, some better than others, many contradicting each other. Some say write fast, that the more you write, the better you get. Others say take your time, let the story marinate. Some say write numerous drafts, others say take your time and write better first-drafts. It's enough to make the newbie writer throw in the towel and choose a new career.
There is no one way to write, only the way that works for you. Whether your Nora Roberts who seems to write a book by lunch time or Dennis Lehane who takes a few years to unveil his masterpiece, as long as you make your contracted deadline, there are no rules about how long you should take to write the actual manuscript. It seems that most genre authors are on a book-a-year contract, but what they do in that year varies greatly. Lee Child spends 6-8 months on the manuscript, 2 months promoting his latest book, and whatever is left he takes for himself. J.A. Konrath, to my understanding, sequesters himself for a month to write his book and spends the rest of the year marketing and promoting. Other authors take almost the entire year completing their next book, writing and editing while doing book tours.
For me, I write fast and I write a lot. I finished Thou Shall Not in about 5 months and Street Walk, after 4 months, is in its final stages. Does that make me better than those who take a year? Obviously not. It's just the way I write best, gluing myself to my chair and purging the words onto the paper. People have asked me, "What's the rush? You're not on a deadline." And it's true. I could take years if I wanted. But I don't. When a a story is pulling me, I can't help but write it. If I take too long, the story loses its freshness, its excitement, and it will show in the writing.
I truly believe that writing, like any sport or craft requires practice. The more you do it the better you get. Last summer, I joined a swim team, practicing 1-2 hours a day five days a week. Intense and a little insane, I know. But the more I swim, the faster and better I get. If I miss a week, it shows. Writing is the same way. I meet a lot of writers who say they can't help it, they must write everyday, like breathing. I commend them. For most of us, it's easy to succumb to television or books or bars or any other activity we enjoy. But we have to keep practicing, improving our craft, and that includes writing something, anything, every day. If you're in between books, try your hand at a short story or essay. If you're blocked, journal a bit. Blog. Write your grandma a letter. Something. Anything. Every day.
Whether you write slowly or fast, a lot or a little, the important thing is that you write. A book written in 3 months can be just as good as a book written in 3 years. Ultimately, we all strive to write quality fiction, but most of the time, the quality of our work is proportional to the quantity that we produce. Read the writing books, take from them what you wish, but you have to find your own way, not someone else's.
I'd love to hear feedback from everyone regarding their writing frequency. How many words per day? How many hours per day? Maybe we can compile our own "How To Write" book.