Pulp Speed

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Dean Wesley Smith writes, or updates every so often, about the idea of writing at Pulp Speed, loosely based on Star Trek’s Warp Speed, obviously.

Mr. Smith believes we’ve entered into a golden age of fiction, and I’d have a hard time disagreeing if I wanted to. There’s more to read than ever before and writers have the ability to get their work in front of people in more ways than ever before. It’s actually pretty cool.

His basic concept is that you need to write fast, like the writers had to in the pulp era when their stories would be available for a few weeks and then gone forever. The more of your work you can get to your readers, the better.

He explains things a lot better than I will, I expect, so you can go read his basic logic and explanation here, but it really does come down to production.

Pulp Speed One is 1,000,000 finished words per year. Which is crazy. And it goes up from there by 200k per year. So Pulp Speed Four, for example, is 1,600,000 words per year. And keep in mind those are finished words. That’s the key: finished words.

Actually, I think the real key from Mr. Smith’s point of view is the idea of writing single-draft fiction, which is scary, at least to me. I don’t work that way. I’m not sure I can, but as he suggests, and it’s something I’ve been known to say in general, everyone has to find their own path.

In his case, he does the single-draft thing, managing about 1000 finished words per hour. Three hours fiction writing per day plus some time spent on a blog post and then the rest of his day is spent on indie publishing stuff and writing workshops (he teaches a great deal). Mr. Smith’s cruising speed runs a touch over Pulp Speed Two at about a million and a quarter words per year.

Differences between Mr. Smith and me:

  1. He’s already a successful writer.
  2. He writes a complete story in one draft.
  3. There are other aspects to his writing career.

Now, I don’t think the first one of those is relevant. The third, either. But the second is a big thing.

I work on a four-draft system because that’s what’s comfortable for me: story dump, fix what’s broken, make it pretty, read it aloud. Based on historical data (I keep track of everything), the first draft happens at about 1800 words per hour. The path to final draft turns that 1800 into 2100 in about another two hours. I’m rounding just a little on both of those, but the end result is that I’d actually average about 720 finished words per hour of work across the year, if I could maintain the pace the whole time at one hour per day. That’s about Pulp 0.26.

Which isn’t bad considering time available. Right now, since I’m not working, I’m trying to get to the point where I’m dedicating at least 20 hours per week to my writing. Reaching that is the equivalent of Pulp 0.75 or three-quarters of a million finished words per year. That tells me that I could, in theory, be productive enough to get into that hallowed realm right now if I moved back from everything else (things like housework, home repairs, and taking care of my family. The idea excites me, but I need to meet my responsibilities to more than just writing.

Actually, there’s a fourth item on the list, too, and something that can make a significant impact.

  • Not everything I write is good. Even to me.

There are things that I do a first draft of that don’t warrant a second. I maintain hope that it’s all salvageable someday, but there’s plenty of stuff in the trunk that will likely not reach human eyes until after I shuffle off this mortal coil. I’d like to think there will be less over time, but I doubt it will ever go away.

And a fifth.

  • I don’t write in as many genres.

Which I think might help. Mr. Smith, so far as I can tell, writes in just about every genre. Okay, that might be exaggerating a bit, but not by a whole lot. Science Fiction, Fantasy, YA, Action, Thriller, Western, his own monthly magazine (Smith’s Stories), and all in a variety of lengths. I do Science Fiction and Fantasy. Some of it should be considered YA and some people might call a bit of the Fantasy closer to Horror, though that’s never my intent. I have, to date, written exactly one thing that might be considered historical fiction without a hint of anything speculative in it. Should I branch out?

Dean Wesley Smith has a production rate I can only aspire to, but I have a lot of stories rattling around in my skull. If everything I currently want to edit was done, and if I could hit that magical 1M words per year of finished fiction mark and stay there, I’d get to the end to the end of the list just about five years from now. Allowing for short fiction, probably closer to six. At which point, I’ll probably have as many ideas for things to work out again.

Would all of it be worth reading? A different question.

But I do wonder if the right kind of practice will let me speed up my fiction production.

Be well, everyone.

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