Larry Kahaner

Helping at-work writers to become novelists

Archive for the tag “national novel writing month”

Don’t Hate Me Because I Write Fast

By Larry Kahaner

I write fast.

I write fast because that’s just how I learned to write, lo those many years ago, when I was a newspaper reporter. You wrote fast because the job demanded it. You had your notes in front of you, the clock was ticking, editors were waiting for copy, and you hit the keys and didn’t pick your head up until the story was done. You read it over quickly, made your changes, made sure you didn’t say something dumb or wrong, and handed it in. You didn’t use fancy words or clever turns if it meant that you slowed down the process. If you weren’t sure of something you either left it out or used some weasel words to make it accurate and beyond the reach of libel lawyers. The key was to do the best you could in the time you had.

I write fast. What of it?

I write fast. What of it?

It was the finest training for any writer, and I’m grateful to have had that experience.

Even now, when I don’t have to write fast, I still do.

There are benefits. For one thing, you get done with your work sooner. Who doesn’t want that?

Second, there’s no time for self-censorship which is the bane of many writers. Sure, you make mistakes, don’t use exactly the word you want but you can fix it later in the editing process, which is a slower and more thoughtful activity. I have a buddy who’s working on a thriller and he stopped in mid-sentence and asked me about which firearm his hero should be using in a specific situation. (I’m the author of a book about the AK-47 so I know some stuff about guns.) Anyway, I gave him the answer off the top of my head but then told him that it didn’t matter right now. I told him to just write the word “rifle” and fix it later. By stopping to think about the perfect rifle, he not only lost his train of narrative thought, but slowed his writing momentum. Writing is physical exercise, like walking or running, and when you stop, it’s sometimes difficult to get moving again.

Third, you don’t suffer writer’s block. How can you if you never stop moving?  As I’ve said many times before, there’s really no such thing as writer’s block even though some writers insist on believing that it exists.

Over the years, people have asked me how long it takes to write a particular story, article or book. When I answer, I often have to endure the usual comments about how can I write well if I do it so fast. If I’m even inclined to answer, which sometimes I’m not, I point to other writers who’ve written quickly. (Thanks to Kristen Lamb’s blog for this list.)

To wit:

  • William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks.
  • Ernest Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises in six weeks.
  • After being mocked by a fellow writer that writing so fast created junk, John D. MacDonald wrote The Executioners in a month. Simon & Schuster published it in hardback. It was also serialized in a magazine, selected by a book club, and turned into the movie Cape Fear 
  • Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in nine days on a rented typewriter.
  • Isaac Asimov was the author/editor of over 700 books during the course of his career.
  • Stephen King writes 1,500 words a day every day of the year except his birthday. He’s published over fifty novels, and I don’t even know how many short stories and novellas. Let’s just say he’s written a LOT. Could he have done this writing a book every three years? Every five?

The truth is that just because you write quickly does not indicate that your writing is either good or bad, which brings me to National Novel Writing Month. It’s going on now. For those of you unfamiliar with it, every November participants aim to write 50,000 words during the month. NaNoWriMo, as it’s called, is voluntary and you can keep track on line. If you accomplish the goal, you receive bragging rights and some words that you can rewrite at a more measured pace.

One of the main objectives of this exercise is to keep would-be writers as well as experienced authors from slogging along in misery whilst trying to write their novels. By moving so quickly, you don’t have time for self-flagellation, malingering or complaining about how difficult writing can be (boo-hoo).

Does NaNoWriMo produce some solid books? Yes, it does. Some great books. It also produces some awful crap, because speed has nothing to do with quality.

I’m not ashamed of being a fast writer. Still, this is one of those times that I’m not going to tell you how long it took me to write this blog post. Just reread the author list above, okay?

What if the US were run like a corporation and a madman was in charge? Check out my latest thriller “USA, Inc.” now available in eBook and paperback. All my books have a money back guarantee.

Don’t Let Writing Keep You From Writing

Don’t Let Writing Keep You From Writing

By Larry Kahaner

Being a novelist is like being an actor or a painter. Sometimes you need a day job to make ends meet until your artistic talents are economically appreciated. The question for writers in particular is: do you write to pay the rent or do you take a day job that’s not writing?deadline

Some say that a non-writing job keeps your mind fresh and available for your novelizing but others (I’m in this camp) say that writing non-fiction keeps your word skills sharp and your writing-mind limber.

Those of you who are familiar with my blog and website, know that I’m a working writer, journalist and author, and that I’m also writing a novel. My website and blog are devoted to the idea that non-fiction writers bring unique and valuable skills to the fiction world.

There are also challenges. For example, this is the first time that I’m writing a book on spec which is an uncomfortable and unprecedented situation for me. I’m almost 70,000 words in (all writers know their word count even if they publicly say they don’t) and I work on my thriller when I’m not making a living by writing non-fiction.

I’m always on the lookout for others, like me, who write for a living and work on their novel when they can fit it in, so I was pleased to come across this blog by Lauren Tharp where she tackles the same issues that confront me and other working writers.

It struck me as comforting, but strangely eerie, that we have many of the same feelings and beliefs about how to handle our writing work lives and our non-worklife writing.

For example, Lauren writes: I have, and will always, put my clients’ needs before my own. Mostly because I like getting paid. I agree. Ya gotta eat and pay the mortgage. I feel lucky to earn my living as a writer and I won’t jeopardize it. However, to make time for my ‘other  work,’ as I call it, I schedule the time. I may work the morning on ‘money work’ (my other pet name) and the afternoon on my other work. Although counter intuitive, I find that when I dispatch my money work, it revs me up for my other work. I also find that time becomes more precious, so instead of spending it on Facebook or some other web-related time-suck, I will dive into my other work. My money work may sometimes creep into my other work time but not the other way.

(As an aside: A few hours ago, I got a call from a friend and editor at a magazine where I once worked who asked if I was available for a six-month assignment. It would be a weekly article of about 500-600 words. I explained that I was working on my novel – he knew that already – but he understood immediately (’cause he’s a working writer) when I told him that this work would only serve to stimulate my fiction writing. So, yes, I welcomed the additional work. Thanks for thinking of me, Jim.)

The other item that Lauren wrote was: For many writers, “mood” dictates whether or not they’ll sit down and write. However, for many successful writers, “mood” needs to either be ignored or be incorporated into their work. I agree here, too. Writers have to do their jobs whether they feel like it or not –  just like everybody else in this world.

These are just two gems from Lauren’s blog. She also quotes other working writers on how they juggle their time write their passion projects. It’s worth a look.

I’d like to add one more of my own findings. Writing for a living compels you to meet deadlines so you learn to write as best as you can in the time allotted. Even if there’s no deadline for your novel, it’s a good trait to know when to stop writing and hand it in. Too many novelists work ad infinitum, trying to eke out perfection, so they never really finish their book.

Lauren ends with this: If you, really, truly, want to write for yourself, nothing, can stop you –  not even writing.

True that.

Why Writing A Novel Is Like The AK-47 Rifle

Why Writing A Novel Is Like The AK-47 Rifle

By Larry Kahaner

ak image

The AK-47 is the most used weapon in the world, but it’s not perfect.

Several years ago I wrote a non-fiction book about the AK-47 rifle. It was not a gun book, per se, but a history about how this ubiquitous weapon changed the world, certainly the world of war. For those of you who never watch television, read the web or see a magazine, the AK-47 is ‘the gun’ that you see everywhere. It’s what we think an automatic weapon should look like with its distinctive banana-shaped magazine (the part that holds bullets). It’s the most popular weapon in the world because it is simple, never jams, it’s cheap, and anyone can use it effectively. It is the choice of terrorists, mercenaries and even government armies. (Click here to watch a book promotion video that I made.)

What does this have to do with writing a novel? I’m getting there.

The inventor, Mikhail Kalashnikov – the weapon also goes by his last name – knew that it was not a perfect weapon, that it had flaws but he knew that it could operate underwater or be buried in the ground, dug up a year later, and still work. It’s not a precison, beautifully- constructed weapon like the U.S. M-16 rifle, but it did the job and, unlike the M-16, it didn’t have to be taken apart on a regular basis to be cleaned. In fact, the reason why the AK works so well is because it is not perfect. The parts don’t fit precisely together so dirt and gunk don’t accumulate in the mechanism. It just kicks out the muck and keeps firing.

One of the sayings in Kalashnikov’s Soviet Union was “Perfection is the enemy of good enough,” and I was reminded of this while reading Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It’s a great read for all artists including writers.

An important point the authors make is that many writers are stopped in their tracks because they’re trying to achieve perfection on the first go-around.

They write:

“To demand perfection is to deny your ordinary (and universal) humanity, as though you would be better off without it. Yet this humanity is the ultimate source of your work; your perfectionism denies you the very thing you need to get your work done. Getting on with your work requires a recognition that perfection itself is (paradoxically) a flawed concept…. For you, the seed for your next art work lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece. Such imperfections (or mistakes, if you’re feeling particularly depressed about them today) are your guides – valuable, reliable, objective, non-judgmental guides – to matters you need to reconsider or develop further. It is precisely this interaction between the ideal and the real that locks your art into the real world, and gives meaning to both.”

Being perfect is a hot button issue for me and I’ve discussed it in previous blogs. One reason for my interest is that I see too many writers not writing because they’re waiting for that perfect moment, that perfect phrase or that perfect muse to enter the room. That’s not how real writing (as opposed to dilettante writing) works. Real writers write and what comes out is never, ever perfect.

It bothers me greatly when I see writers paralyzed by their work, losing confidence, patience and even perspective because they want it to be perfect. Worse yet, not even starting or quitting because they don’t believe it will end up being perfect.

I know that ‘writing prompts’ are really popular these days so here’s one for you. Write something with the understanding that it will not be perfect. Give yourself permission to make  mistakes knowing that you can fix them later.

The freedom is exhilarating and your work will benefit. Without the constraints of perfection, you will see a marked difference in your book. That’s why National Novel Writing Month spells success for many authors. Writing 50,000 words in a month doesn’t allow you time to seek perfection, but you do rack up the words for more conscious and thoughtful rewriting later.

Kalashnikov had said that he wanted his weapon to be better designed, but he didn’t have the skills (he was a tinkerer not an engineer) or the know-how. He just made something that worked and put it out for the world to use.

That’s all you really want for your novel. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to work for the reader. Fix the big mistakes, for sure. The smaller ones, too. Make it as good as you can -don’t cheap-out on the rewrites – and then let it fly.

Let readers decide if it’s perfect or not.

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