Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Writing...Fast or Slow

by Matt Lynn

In case you hadn’t noticed, this is National Novel Writing Month. An American initiative, it aims to get people writing a whole novel during November. It doesn’t make much difference in my house, of course. Just about every month is novel writing month for me. But the Independent has an interesting take on it, listing some of the great books that have been written in a few weeks. I’m not sure why they included Sebastian Faulk’s James Bond pastiche ‘Devil May Cry’, because it is a laughably poor book. But it has to be admitted there are some great books there. ‘On The Road’ for example took only three weeks. So did ‘A Study in Scarlet’, and ‘A Christmas Carol’. Even Dostoyevsky managed to knock out ‘The Gambler’ in only 26 days – although he doesn’t strike you as a fast sort of a writer, in the way that Dickens does.

So is it better for writers to rattle out a book fairly quickly? I certainly think there is something to be said for it, particularly when you are writing thrillers. They are by definition pacey books. A sense of speed is one of the things that readers like about them. Like roller-coasters, they need to be designed to go very fast, and have lots of twists and turns. It is easier to create that kind of breathlessness when you are working at high speed yourself.

That said, you don’t want that to turn into sloppiness. The other key element of a thriller is structure. And that takes time to build. There is nothing worse than reading a book that is all over the place, because the writer hasn’t taken enough time to construct the plot, or do the research.

My own solution is to spend ages on the outline – the structure – but then to write pretty quickly. But I’m sure every writer has their own approach.


  1. I think it's difficult to be prescriptive, but as a general rule anything that encourages writing has to be a good idea. That said, writing a novel in a month sounds like a tall order!

  2. This is my fifth year writing for NaNoWriMo. I've also written two novel length stories without the benefit of the month long spree. I have to say, based on my experience, that it's a great way to execute a total brain dump of your story. It's free wheeling and features a bit of mass hysteria, but you don't find yourself lulled away from the project as easily as you might without the network pulling around you. If you're interested I blog about my NaNoWriMo experiences at www.puborperish.blogspot.com.

    I'm glad I found your blog. I'm switching from mystery to thriller this year and to help me get in the right frame of mind I'm reading a Frederick Forsyth novel. Any advice?

  3. Forsyth is a great place to start if you are planning a thriller. Read The Odessa File. I read and re-read his work to learn about structure. Good luck!