Pulp Speed Brought Forward Again
I Figured I Would Bring The Original Pulp Speed Post Forward Again…
(I wrote this post around 2014, then brought it forward to 2016, then 2017, and just about every year or so since.)
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 and critical voice under control to even attempt Pulp Speed One. 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, especially with indie 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. And they have critical voice put away.
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 back. It is possible again.
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 professional working writers about this, I 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. KEEP THAT IN MIND!
Again, I am just setting these numbers from talking with other writers and studying history of what was considered good word counts in the pulp era for the successful writers. (Remember, these are consumable words. Rewritten words do not count. Neither does emails and things like that. Just final words put out for consumption by readers.)
PULP SPEED ONE
About 1,000,000 (1 million) original consumable 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. 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 really 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, by the way.)
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 and critical voice in fiction has to be a thing of your. past.
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.
I tend to average the last number of years between Pulp Speed Three and Pulp Speed Four. This last year I was under that.
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 that they are possible and fairly common.
And I thought it would be fun to hang the Pulp Speed name on them. (grin)
Hope this helps break down a few barriers.
(I really like bringing this post into the present. Seems to make more sense every year with Indie Publishing.)
I know you bring this up every year, and it’s a good read every year… inspiring.
But is this related to your level 71-challenge?
Nope, but maybe. Last year it was publishing. This coming challenge, if I can figure a few more things out about it, focuses on writing. So in a way, sort of. (grin)
Hi Britt, I visited your website. Just so happens I was looking for a new cozy mystery novel to read. I read the sample of And Hope to Dye and got hooked. I bought the Kindle book and reading it now. I love the characters and your writing style. Well done!
I love this post. It is one of my favorites. I keep one of the previous times forward in my toolbar bookmarks to I can refer to it when I am feeling lazy. It reminds me that I need to get back in front of the keyboard if I want to make a living at writing words. Keep bringing it forward!
Still one of my favorite posts on your blog. I keep it pinned.
Timely refresher, Dean.
I was just starting to think about my goals for next year, and getting more hours in the chair is the most important part.
That, and reminding myself that I’m writing to entertain.
This is a great post. Always inspires me when I read it again.
The manual typewriter thing is what really impresses me about the pulp greats. For my 12th birthday, in 1991, I received an electric typewriter with an erasing mechanism so I could graduate from writing by hand in notebooks. It sped up my writing, but there were a million tedious aspects to it — not crossing too far into the margin, remembering to hit return, counting/setting double spacing, buying and replacing ribbon etc. I can’t imagine hammering away at a manual typewriter to the tune of millions of words. Meanwhile, here I am with a word processing program, which the greats would have fainted had they seen, and I struggle to write sometimes.
Thanks for bringing this back.
And try pounding on a manual typewriter at speed. Not an electric, a manual. The great writers of those days had arms like PopEye.
Even before the pulp era, back in early XIXth century, French literary writer Balzac wrote at pulp speed (a novel a month at some point in his career), and he wrote them with a *quill pen*. He used to write 16 manuscript (actual manuscript) pages a day this way. I can’t imagine how sore his wrist was at the end of the day.
Yup, and we still know who he was. Just like we know who the fastest and most prolific pulp writers were and still read them and watch movies from their work. Amazing how the speed and amount of work produced makes all the difference over time.
I have two manual vintage typewriters, a Smith & Corona from 1949 and the other I can’t remember. Each key must be pressed downward, with great force, an inch and a half. They are IMPOSSIBLE to type with both speed and accuracy. You go at a snail’s pace with few mistakes, or you go fast and produce so many mistakes that it looks like a Beat poet manuscript.
The only things I type on the vintage pieces are brief poems or cute messages.
Life is so much easier now, for writers, in so many ways.
Spot on, Jason. Over the years I watched Harlan pound on a manual typewriter with amazing speed and accuracy, writing one draft finished stories. I was always, always impressed, and yet I knew he was doing exactly what the great pulp writers did.
I used this (and the calculation of 20 wpm) to illustrate to someone I was talking to how low a barrier it is to be a working writer. He was astonished, but admitted the math didn’t lie.
A few years back, you did a highly generalized work up of how many books were needed for discoverability to start working in the writer’s favor, and an average number of books (over the entire list) that could be sold. I’ve been using the number (25/book, starting around book 20-25) and was wondering if you would be interested in updating that post to reflect the general market.
Thanks for bringing the pulp speed post forward again–I enjoy the reminder of what is possible.
I’m not the only one who uses that general discoverability number (with a lot of factors involved, granted). 20 Books conference is based on that.
But sure, I’ll bring it forward because of the factors. I had one writer ask me why they were not selling even though they had over 20 books out. Turns out they were under three different names. That’s 20 books or so per name. And the growth is always slow. Sales tend to start at that number and if you keep writing and getting better, the sales increase slowly over time.
Also covers and sales copy are critical. Dull, boring sales copy will stop sales and covers that are not to genre also stop sales. And so on and so on. The 20 is just a general goal if you are doing things right and telling good stories.
Does writing under one pen name, but in different languages, result in having to count it like two pen names?
Or is one pen name with original works in different languages (no translations) more like writing in different genres?
I assume the second, because all books are found under one name.
What’s your opinion, Dean?
Any thoughts to consider?
Translations are just the same book, so that would make no difference. But the question is basically does it help gain discoverability and unless your readers read in two languages, then it would not help.
I makes me realize I write more than I thought in my game design and DMing. It also makes me want to step up to write more. I should also start publishing my writing. Seems a shame to have written so much that my players enjoy but others will never see. Maybe others will benefit as well.
Thanks Dean! I kind of feel you pulled this up for me. I appreciate it.
I’ve been reading through the various Challenges from 2011 to 2013. They are on the WayBack Machine.
The best is writing the Ghost Novel. It has the most information in the comments section. Just click on the link, and that is the last entry. Use the navigation arrows at the top to move back in time through the daily entries to the start.
Ghost Novel: The Day After
The comments sections shows the shock based on the myths. Save the link and read through the series now and then.
BTW, Brandon Sanderson recorded videos of him typing story, in 2013.
Watch the videos and get a sense of him typing. Look at how slow he types, yet he writes thousand page novels.
It’s all, monkey see monkey do. The more you watch, then type your own stuff, the less fear there is.
I’ve read this post many times Dean and it never gets old. I remember when I was in writing school I was reprimanded for writing “too many words.” Well I write for a living and the same teachers are still teaching almost 25 years later. If they could make a living being a writer, they would.
I’ve been in Italy since Nov. 1 and I have written 28,450 consumable words on both a novella and articles for an agency I freelance for. In between writing, I workout for two hours, walk around Florence making Writer’s Life Videos, edit the videos, do some marketing on my existing books, and I always quit by 5Pm so I can go grab a vino and some great food, and in bed by 9 or so to read some Stephen King or whoever I want to read.
To me, pulp speed is about performing writing sprints which for me typically last around 30 minutes apiece in which I can put out anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 words. It’s different for everyone of course.
Vincent, that is cool. No one way to do the same things. Love your day.
“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.”
Wow, thanks for such a great reminder, Dean. Sometimes critical voice creeps in and I worry that there must be something wrong because I write “fast” and so much more than my peers– but in reality, it’s only this, that I don’t rewrite, I enjoy telling stories, and try to do it as much as life circumstances allow.
Your blog is always such a great resource. Thanks for everything you do!