Write Hard, Write Fast

Post Date: April 25th, 2010

“Write hard, write fast, and the fire of creation will be yours.”

James Scott Bell, The Art of War for Writers

Today’s Word Count, New Novel: 350 pages

I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe things happen for a reason. So when a friend handed me The Art of War for Writers (thank you, Kevin), it couldn’t have come at a better time.

I was–and still am–in the midst of writing this YA novel quite fast. I began in December, and today I am writing the final big scene, where terror strikes and mayhem ensues. Soon after, the denouement, and then, as I swore to a writing group member, I shall be done by the end of May in time for a retreat.

My writers’ group call me a “writing machine.” I’m just doing what James Scott Bell advises: Acting like a professional. As he sees it, “A professional is someone who does his job, every day, even if he doesn’t feel like it.”

So if I am truly a professional, committed to this business of writing, let it be the first thing I do every day. After coffee is brewed, of course. The best time for me to write is before 6:30 AM. I am less judgmental at that hour; a bit loopy, so the recent dreams still hidden in my subconscious I believe work through the writing. What I’m allowed to dream I’m almost allowed to write. (My writing’s not that bold.) It may be only 30 minutes at max, but things flow quickly at that hour. Freely, and that’s the adverb a first draft needs.

Or, at least my first drafts. As a teacher, I understand how learning styles vary, which impacts writing style. As my friend Bob puts it: “I think I’d have you write extemporaneously, maybe with an idea of where it’s going, get to that point, then stop and edit…the more you think about what you’re writing, the more you’ll put in peripheral details, and the longer the thing will be. My problem is the other way: I wrote poetry for a lot of years, then switched to prose. So now I have to fill in details to have the thing make sense after the first draft.” Poets strike me as pearl makers; they birth each word like a gem. Stories and novels are birthed in all kinds of ways, but just as they are told and heard, for me, there must be a certain forward energy that accelerates to the finish.

There’s another hidden step, and that’s revision of the first draft. As Benjamin Percy advises in his “Home Improvement” article in Poets & Writers:

I used to consider editing something you did once a story was completed. I now begin each day by reading what I have already written. If it’s a short story, I mean from the first line forward. If a novel, I mean from the start of the chapter I’m working on…So I’m essentially in a constant state of revision, and by the time I finish the story, I might have edited it two dozen times, turning it over and over in my hands, sanding it until it’s free of slivers.

As the kids say, “True that.” Or, if they’re not saying that, I’ll soon find out, because I don’t want dorky slang pretending at hipness. Diction will be one of many aspect of my revisions: ensuring that slang is appropriate to the zeitgeist and the narrator’s age but not so much clutter that my novel is like that big section of the Pacific floating with plastic. Overdone slang can’t outlive its time, and a writer wants to produce something lasting. And to get to lasting, I rework every single morning before I produce new material. Start where I left off, get into the zone, and then begin the new. Doris Betts told me when I attended the North Carolina Writers’ Network residency she taught that this was her preferred method as well.

Again, it’s no random occurrence that everything–time, people, advice–point in one direction right now, the “Just do it!” direction. Perhaps because my energy and commitment have shifted to that of professionalism, and therefore, I magnetize the opportunity to act like one. As someone who’s noodled over one particular novel longer than a decade, I can declare that this one, technically my third, feels like the one that is whole, more like one solid pearl, rather than a string of fake ones stretching deep as the ocean, going on and on beyond a reader’s interest.

People talk about muses. Bell and Percy are talking about muses working like pros. Show up to the page and the Muse may visit for a few seconds, or not. That’s okay, because she may be rousted from a twelfth draft of a certain page at a certain stage of revision. So what if the pages sometimes feel like sand between your fingers. Got to start with the hard grain that spurs the soft tissue to work its magic.

Writing Prompts: Please note that writing prompts should always be pursued in emotionally-safe environments with the supervision of someone who interested in encouraging good writing, self-awareness, and reflection. A wonderful resource is Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and With Others.

© Lyn Hawks. Writing prompts for one-time classroom use only and not for publication in any form elsewhere without permission of this author.

Elementary Prompts:

— What is your favorite thing you have written? Is it a letter, card, or email? Was it a thank you? Was it a note to a friend? Was it your first story? Is it a poem? Tell why it is still your favorite.
— You have just landed on a planet where there is no writing, and the aliens there wish to begin an alphabet and a writing system. Give them a new alphabet and a writing system. Then give them some tips about what’s hardest and what’s easiest about being a writer.
— What was the hardest thing you’ve ever written? Why was it so hard? Are you happy now that you did it? Why or why not?

Secondary & Adult Prompts:

— Write down the ten hardest things about writing. Then write the ten easiest.
— What’s the hardest writing you’ve ever done? The easiest? Which gave you more satisfaction, now that you have perspective? Why?
— How do you define “professional writer”? Or, how do you know when you can call yourself “writer”?
— You have just been give the title of Writing Reformer. You get to change the rules for writing: how we teach it, when we do it, how we do it. You can start with how you were taught writing and how people talk about writing. Change anything, and create a list of new laws and rules to follow. Or, if you don’t like laws, come up with suggestions.


  1. bobmust says:

    Lyn – Being loopy helps, I think, to get us – and our analytical minds – out of the way so creativity can happen. Otherwise, what we write is a stale re-hash of writing theory and old story lines.
    That’s why I’m so enamored of writers like J.M. Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer – they know how to get out of the way, allowing creativity to birth new things…always new structure, new story lines, new ideas.

  2. Gordimer’s July’s People had such a dreamlike quality to it that you can see her subconscious taking us for a ride. Even if the story lines are all essentially of a piece — because I think we do rehash old ideas and structures in everything we write — are we going to do what C.S. Lewis says, “simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” My novel takes the old tale of “a man goes on a journey” and tweaks it in ways that I hope are fairly new.

  3. Glenda says:

    I just found your blog, thanks to Nancy Purcell, and I like it. I’ll visit often.

  4. Thanks, Glenda! Let me know of topics you’re interested in discussing, because I enjoy reflecting on most anything. And thanks to dear Nancy for pointing you this way!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Enjoyed your last post Lyn. Very pertinent to aspiring writers.

    Just finished reading Richard Russo’s “Empire Falls”. Very good use of backstory and internal monologues.

    I recommend it if you haven’t read it.


  6. Hey, Archie,

    Thanks! I will add Empire Falls to my list. I’m deep in the letters of Flannery O’Connor right now.