Last November, just after NaNoWriMo started, I did a Way of the Cheetah post where I talked about ten things I've done that helped me break the 10K-per-day barrier.
Before we dive into this, I'm not the world's fastest writer, nor am I the most prolific, nor do I write in the largest number of genres. There are plenty of authors out there who can write circles around me, and have a backlist that makes mine look pathetic, and who are going places with their work where I will never venture. It's the same for every writer. There is always someone better, just as there is always someone taller, prettier/more handsome, in better shape, thinner, richer, more popular, etc. Accept that and you're close to being perfect.
I'm not perfect, so when I feel jealous, I fall back on my envy eraser: The only writer I have to compete with is me. This works pretty well (although sometimes I need an M&M booster.)
Now let's get into writing speed, and how to improve yours to increase your productivity. There is a myth popularized by the literati that fast writers write nothing but shit, and should be regarded as writing sluts who only do it for money. If you buy into this mindset, you should probably skip the rest of this post.
This may also sound pretty basic and stupid on the screen, but it really works, and I'm proof of that.
Everyone has a speed at which they feel they can write comfortably. It may be writing a page in a week, a day, an hour, or ten minutes -- we'll call it your personal speed zone. Your zone probably fluctuates according to your mood, your work environment, your energy level and your current health situation. If any of these are in flux, so is your zone, but if you've established a set time and place to write, and you're in good physical and emotional shape, then you've already got a fairly stable zone.
If you're writing steadily while you're in the zone, and doing nothing else but writing, then you're probably at a good speed for you. The more books you write, the more confident you'll become, and that confidence will help you build your pace a bit more. On the other hand, if you're not writing steadily, then you haven't found your zone yet. There are other things getting between you and the page, and you need to get rid of them.
I found this out by accident. When I started writing novels every year back in '84, I produced about ten pages a week, or a book a year, which I think is about average for most writers (I used a typewriter; I didn't get my own computer until 1991.) I wasn't happy with what I was getting on the page, though, and it always took a lot of effort. Sometimes I avoided writing because I wasn't up to wrestling the words onto paper or the emotional drain involved. I also had a full time job, and a family to care for, so my writing time was limited to non-existent. When I could write, I think I did all the same things most writers do: I worried, I backtracked, I fought the words and I procrastinated at the keyboard. I was inefficient and I wasted my writing time.
Then something happened to change all that. I quit my job, and I had put aside enough money to have a six-week vacation before starting the next job. On a whim, I decided to try living the life of a full-time writer for six weeks and see what it would be like. I rented a computer (I couldn't afford to buy one) and I set up my spare bedroom as an office. It took me a couple of days to teach myself how to use the word processor, and then I quickly outlined and started a brand-new book.
I worked eight hours every day, and because I knew I didn't have time to mess around, I didn't play. I went in, sat down, cleared my mind of everything but the story, and wrote. I didn't think about if I was writing badly. I didn't wonder if I was writing as well as other writers whose books I'd read. I didn't re-read what I'd written, or go back and change it each day. While I was writing, I didn't think of anything but getting the words down. Always in the back of my mind was the image of a clock ticking, and I wanted to get as much done as I could before I had to return the rental computer.
This was important to me, because I'd invested my vacation money into this project when I could have been sunning myself on a beach in California. Hating the idea of it all being a waste -- money was really tight in those days -- was what made me use the time wisely. Four weeks later I typed the last sentence of the last chapter, and had a brand-new, 100K novel that was the best thing I'd written to date. A novel that should have taken me a year to write.
That one six-week experiment changed everything for me. I went back to work my day job, but I never forgot the lessons I'd learned during my first shot at being a full-time writer. No more procrastinating, idling at the keyboard, or fighting the words. I doubled my productivity, and then I tripled it. I didn't try to write a book in four weeks, but I got more out of my writing time than ever, and I found I could write a book in eight months. Then I wrote one in six months.
A few years later, when I became a stay-at-home-mom caring for three kids, two of whom were in diapers at the same time, I learned to pre-plan and concentrate even more so I could write productively during school hours, nap times and the few minutes I had to myself at night. I was already writing two books a year, and with the kids' training me to be even more focused, I bumped it up to three.
Focus is everything. The more I wrote, the faster I became. This year I've already written seven novels, and I'll have two, maybe three more written before Dec. 31st (I want one ten book year before I slow down.)
The next time you can devote a day or a weekend to writing, try what I did. It sounds so simple -- go in, sit down, and just write -- but you may surprise yourself at how much more you can produce. Keep doing this, and you will get faster. You'll produce more, and I believe that the more you write, the better a writer you become.
And what do you do with all that worrying, angsting, procrastinating and so forth? Save it, because you're going to use it when you edit what you wrote.