For those of my writer friends currently doing NaNoWriMo, here’s a piece of advice from Stephen King himself. King is famous for writing books very quickly. For years and years he kept up a pace of writing 2,000 words per day, every day, no matter what. Basically, he did NaNoWriMo full-time, as his job, for all those years. So one could perhaps argue that King is the greatest NaNoWriMo-er of all time – and he certainly has a lot more experience with it at this point than any writer I know of.
His advice comes in the context of a conversation with Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin, whose writing speed has become a bit of joke in the fan community over the years. Martin’s books are long, intricate, and well-written – but he produces them quite slowly. So when Martin got a chance to sit down with Stephen King, he asked how King managed to write books so quickly. King’s advice is pretty simple.
This entire nearly hour-long conversation between writing luminaries George R. R. Martin and Stephen King is well worth listening to in its entirety, but before that: skip to around 50:08 and hear Martin ask the one question he’s always wanted to put to King. It’s worth it.
The interview comes from a recent event in Albuquerque, New Mexico that’s been recently made available online, and Martin’s demand to know how King writes “so many books, so fast” isn’t just cute—especially considering Martin’s own infamous writing pace when it comes to A Song of Ice and Fire—but a really interesting insight into how the two writers approach their work ethic. King just writes and writes and writes, regardless of if it’ll end up being cut or not. Martin, on the other hand, prefers to take his time.
Bottom line? When you’re writing, don’t second-guess yourself. Just write, and worry about the editing later. In On Writing, King explains that he expects to edit out about ten percent of everything he writes and rework some of the rest. But that’s okay. Getting all the words on the page is important, even if not all of it winds up in the finished piece. If you try to basically edit as you go, like Martin does, your books will take a lot longer to finish. So just go for it, and trust that your writing can always be cleaned up when you go back to edit it.
After years of being an “edit-as-you-go” type, I think I finally am to the point where I can relax enough to edit later – and it’s kind of a liberating experience, to tell you the truth. I have thrown out some large sections, too – the original Pathless Void was going to be a longer piece, but I decided I didn’t like the direction I went in at about the 40,000 word mark. So I published the good part as a novella, and figure I’ll get back to doing a second section that is more to my liking later on.
So that’s my advice, which is the same as King’s – just go for it. A lot of the time when you edit later, you wind up realizing that some of the stuff you had doubts about really does work after all in context. And if it doesn’t, you can always fix in post so to speak.