Once More… For the New Year… Pulp Speed
Pulp Speed… Once More
(I wrote this post about three years ago, then brought it forward over a year ago. But with these other posts, this one might help for 2017 more than most. Or at least let you know what some people talk about when they say “Pulp Speed.” I have updated it for this coming year.)
Not at all sure why this idea of writing at Pulp Speed sort of hits me right. I think because it flies in the face of all the myths. A writer has to have all myths under control to even attempt this. So this post might just make you angry because it hits at belief systems I’m afraid.
The second reason I can’t shake this idea is because for all of my life I have idolized pulp writers. I study them and their lives. (And yet, even with all that knowledge, I still spent seven years in the rewriting death trap. Go figure.)
Many, many of the great writers of the past that we still read and enjoy were pulp writers. And there are many pulp writers working today. More than you might imagine, even through the rough times of the last twenty years in traditional publishing.
Now, right here, before I get started, I’m going to repeat what I always say. No writer is the same as any other writer.
And most writers could never do what I am about to talk about.
Pulp Speed writing is a mind-set for writers who have cleared out damn never every myth and belief taught to them about writing by English teachers.
A Pulp Speed writer loves to just tell stories, one right after another. So remember, no writer is the same as another writer. And if this hits you wrong, it might not be for you to even think about in any fashion.
But for others, this might just be the ticket to a bright new future, just to learn this is possible and happening.
There have been writers for as long as there have been stories that have had work ethics, meaning they spend a lot of time writing. In our modern world, we call writers who spend a lot of time producing new words “fast” writers.
But fast has nothing to do with it. Just a work ethic and a love of stories.
Dickens was one of the early great Pulp Writers. And there were many along the way before the turn of 1900. It was then that the “literary” group split from the “writing for the masses” group of writers.
To the literary group, their writing had to be important, something to struggle to read, and only be published in leather hardbound books.
The masses group of writers just wanted to tell stories that would entertain readers.
Around this split period of 1900, the pulp magazines were coming in, and with the pulp magazine expansion, stories were needed to fill the pages of the exploding pulp magazine field. And the writers who could write sellable stories quickly discovered they could become very rich writing for one or two cents per word.
Word production equaled money.
The pulp magazines lasted for over half a century. Each issue of every title contained many short stories and often a novel or two and sometimes serialized novels. Novels in those days ranged from 30,000 words to 50,000 words. 20,000 to 30,000 words was called a short novel. Short stories were under 20,000 words.
Novels that were in the pulps almost never made it out of the pulps. They lasted on the stands for one week or maybe two weeks or a month and were gone. A few pulp writers started their own publishing companies. One example is Burroughs. His son got his novels into books. But most novels just stayed in the pulps until the late 1940s when the paperback form started to take off and novels were needed for that form.
Doc Savage was a pulp character created mostly by Lester Dent and his publisher under a magazine house name. He wrote 159 of the Doc Savage novels for the Doc Savage pulp magazine, among many other books under other names, including his own name. There was a novel from Dent in most issues of Doc Savage Magazine for a decade or more. You can still buy Doc Savage novels by Dent (Kenneth Robison pen name) today.
Some pulp writers got so famous, they were some of the richest people in the country. One year in the 1940s, the pen name Max Brand had thirteen movies in production from his books. Some of you may even remember Max Brand’s Dr. Kildare from television. Either the first television series or the second.
But Dr. Kildare was also a movie series in the 1930s and 1940s and then a radio series before the two television series. (Bet you thought Max Brand was all westerns huh?)
By the way, the author behind Max Brand was Frederick Faust. Faust had a bunch of other prolific pen names besides Brand. For just one magazine group in the 1920s he wrote over a million words per year for the entire decade. Plus other stories and novels for other magazines. (He did this after having a major heart attack and having heart issues until killed in WWII as a war correspondent.) He supposedly wrote well over 500 novels and even more short stories, and it is said that a book of his is reprinted today every week in one place or another. (not documented, just belief)
I admire true storytellers such as Max Brand and Lester Dent who are still being read and enjoyed by millions well over a hundred years past when they started publishing.
When the pulps finally died in the late 1950s, Pulp Speed writers turned to paperbacks through the 1960s and 1970s and wrote everything a publisher wanted. There were lots and lots of Pulp Speed writers producing upwards of 30 novels a year if not more. And most books were under many pen names and across many genres. Novels in this time period were still in the 40,000 word range.
In the 1980s publishers started to artificially inflate the size of novels because of the publisher’s need to charge more for a paperback. Pulp Speed writers kept on. Numbers worked the category romance field, many worked westerns which had kept their smaller size.
And as normal, Pulp Speed writers worked across all genres. Fewer titles produced, but more words per book, so same production. Many Pulp Speed writers worked series novels for publishers during this period. And a lot of media novels.
But by the 1990s and early this century, most of the Pulp Speed writers had retired and very few new writers understood that Pulp Speed world was out there. It was almost impossible to understand when publishers limited a writer to one book per year. But some Pulp Speed writers still existed and worked through the period.
But now, with the advent of the indie world, Pulp Speed writers are coming back. It is possible again. And fun.
The golden age of fiction for readers has returned.
The crap rules the traditional publishers forced on writers are gone for writers smart enough to escape them. Just as with the pulp era, writers are free to write stories again at whatever pace they want to write. And readers are free to read what they want without some snobby person telling them it is good or bad.
The second pulp era is upon us.
How to Pick Up Speed In Your Writing
Well, since we all type about the same speed when writing, the way to pick up speed is to spend more time in the writing chair. However, to do that in this modern world takes a vast amount of getting rid of all the crap we were taught by non-writers.
And it takes a real love of telling stories and an ability to write one draft fiction. Rewriting kills Pulp Speed completely. None of the great Pulp Writers you read today and many of the great literary writers never rewrote anything. They told people they did starting in the 1970s and afterward when the rewriting craze started to hit, but they never did in reality.
Remember, to them words were money. One cent per word made them rich. The more words in sellable fiction, the richer they got.
Also, Pulp Speed writing takes a love of learning about writing and a love of learning how to keep improving on telling stories.
And once again, Pulp Speed thinking may not be right for you. In fact, chances are, it is not.
Or maybe you are the type of writer who just produces Pulp Speed amount of words, but never thinks about it. That’s fine as well. Don’t think about this.
So What Is Pulp Speed?
After discussion with a half dozen writers about this, I’ve decided to just set the amounts like Warp Drive in Star Trek. (Remember, I wrote a lot of Star Trek novels in every series.)
Just as with Warp Drive in Star Trek, each level up gets factors more difficult.
Again, I am just setting these numbers from talking with other writers and studying history of what consisted good word counts in the pulp era for the successful writers.
PULP SPEED ONE
About 1,000,000 (1 million) original words per year. This averages to about 2,750 words a day for 365 days. (numbers rounded)
Or about 83,300 words per month. So if you do 3,000 words a day and over 84,000 words per month ON AVERAGE for a year, you are writing at PULP SPEED ONE. (if you take days off, then your daily word count has to go up on your writing days. Do your own math for your schedule.)
PULP SPEED TWO
1,200,000 words in a year. 100,000 words per month. Last month I hit PULP SPEED TWO, for the month, but the key is holding it for the year. The yearly total is the key. Average is the key.
And remember, that is about 3,400 words per day. If you can write 1,000 words average an hour, that’s 3.5 hours per day.
PULP SPEED THREE
1,400,000 words in a year. To hit this, you need to be about 120,000 words per month (rounded up) or about 4,000 words per day average. Again, at this level, the difficulty factor starts increasing. Maintaining gets more difficult on the engines to keep at this speed for an entire year. (Max Brand wrote at this pace for decades, not missing.)
PULP SPEED FOUR
1,600,000 words per year. That’s about 135,000 words per month or about 4,500 words per day without a day off.
PULP SPEED FIVE
1,800,000 words per year. About 150,000 words per month. 5,000 words per day without missing a day.
PULP SPEED SIX
2 million words and more per year. 170,000 words or so per month. About 5,500 words per day average.
The engines are shaking and Scotty is looking panicked.
But I know a few writers who did this through the traditional publishing crunch on writers in the early part of this century. It can be done.
But if you think it can’t be done, ask yourself why? Why is your belief system telling you that?
Say you wanted to write for 8 hours per day for five days a week. (40 hours of writing. You know, like a work ethic.) This allows you to take the weekends off with your family. You write 1,000 words per hour. 8 hours is 8,000 words per writing day. 40,000 words per week.
So you do that, take two weeks off for a vacation. 50 weeks x 40,000 words per week = 2 million words.
Writers who write in these top speeds have a real work ethic with their writing and love to tell stories, one right after another.
As I said earlier, you need to have everything cleaned out of the myth side of the brain.
Pulp Speed Six is what a few full-time writers manage. Writers who work eight hours a day, five days per week, 50 weeks per year.
This is not for everyone. And you can’t just jump to these speeds, it takes time to work up to them. But it is possible once again for more than just a few in this new indie publishing reality.
Just remember, every writer has a different method, a different path. No one way is right for every writer. I am not saying anyone should attempt these speeds (hours writing). I just wanted to make sure the knowledge of these kinds of speeds were out there.
And I thought it would be fun to hang the Pulp Speed name on them. (grin)
Hope this helps break down a few barriers going into 2017.
Loved this last year, love it again. Thanks for posting.
Can you recommend some of your favorite biographies of some of the pulp writers? That sounds like some fun and inspiring reading to start the new year.
Start with Gruber’s “The Pulp Jungle.” His attitude is interesting, but it shows what some went through to build a career back then.
Great, thank you.
As always, great ideas to go into the new year. I will be attempting 1 million words next year, but I will also be satisfied with 10-12 novels. January will be an early test. I have a dinner/concert date with friends on 20 January, and my goal will be to say that I’ve finished my first novel of the year by that date. As a full-time day job person who also writes, that seems doable, especially considering I’ll be putting the techniques learned in your Speed and Depth workshops to work.
Thanks as always for the clear-eyed vision of this business.
Thank You for updating and resposting this, Dean. I’ve cross-posted a link back to it in my “big” blog that will come out next Tuesday and, of course, in my smaller Daily Journal. Forward!
Good luck to everyone this year. I attained about 1/3 Pulp Speed last year, if you count everything I wrote, like emails, long FB posts, forum posts, etc. Not great. My goal for 2017 overall is 3/4 Pulp, and 1/3 Pulp in fiction. We’ll see how that goes. Carrying a full load at school, so that’s taking a lot of time.
Managed to squeak past 900,000 words this year and am gunning for one million in 2017. I think it’s doable. In 2016 I was slowed down by a major nonfiction project that took huge amounts of research. Once that was done I sped up a lot.
The Pulp Jungle is a great book. Also worth reading is Pulp Writer: Twenty Years in the American Grub Street by Paul S. Powers.
Fell in love with Pulps as a kid, when Doc and the Shadow reprints were big. ERB with the Frazetta covers. Read a lot about the writers too. Steranko’s description of Walter Gibson typing away on a tree stump while his house was being built around him was an image that still makes me smile. Having done some carbons while using a manual typewriter, anyone who did major rewrites had to be a perfectionist or a masochist.
My biggest heroes have always been Edgar Wallace and Leslie Charteris. Wallace because you knew going in that the biggest draw was how ordinary he could make crazy things seem (King Kong is almost perfectly typical except that the ape would have gotten less play in one of his novels). I backed into Charteris through Roger Moore via George Sanders, though I think Louis Hayward was the best. Reading Charteris was a revelation because he used the word ‘vimful’ in a sentence. I was hopelessly hooked by the end of the story and reading his stuff taught me more about Tone and Diction than anyone else.
I’m going to pin this post up over my desk and aim at Pulp Speed One for 2017. Thanks for the target.
Fun writers all. I have the first printing paperbacks of the English editions of a bunch of the Charteris books. They are wonderful. And watch this blog because I’m going to be putting up some days things I learned about pulp writers. Some amazing men and women back in the day.
And none of them did rewrites. They did fix typos, but never rewrote. They trained themselves to write clean instead of sloppy and get it down the first time through. At least all the major ones we remember and still read.
I love pulps, and can’t think of anything more suited for the indie space. I’m operating on .5 pulp, but firing up the crystals for a run this year.