Pulp Speed Post Brought Back
(I wrote this post about a year ago but wanted to bring it forward because people ask me about it. Here it is again)
I’ve mentioned this concept a number of times on my nightly blog and in the Topic of the Night little sections. But since Pulp Speed was almost impossible in the new traditional world, it belongs as a post in this series.
Not at all sure why this idea 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 used to study them and their lives. (And yet, even with all that knowledge, I still spent seven years in the rewriting to 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 cent 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 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.
We have set up a workshop on Productivity that deals with the demons of critical voice and fears we all fight. That might help. But otherwise, since every writer is different, every writer must fight their own battles between their own ears.
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.
Stay tuned to my blog and we’ll see how it goes for me.
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)
Those early pulp speed writers sold traditionally (except for the few who were self-publishing novels like Burroughs), right? Taking as a premise the indie world where you design your own covers for each story and book and do the publishing yourself, what would be the effect on pulp speed? I’m not trying to minimize the reality that pulp speed *is* possible. I’m just wondering what distractions from writing the new indie world offers. For example, how much time did you spend on the publishing parts (accounting, designing covers, etc.) per week before you acquired a company and staff to do parts of it?
Ton easier now, J.M., even with doing your own covers and layout and such. A thousand million times easier.
And if you don’t believe me, then do this… find a manual typewriter and with less than ten correction or mistakes on a page, type a manuscript page in manuscript format. Then get on a subway and take it to a part of New York where your editor’s office is, and he is not there, either wait, or toss it over the transom into his office, then take a subway or walk back to your apartment.
That was how it was done for most writers back then. Or mailed for the top writers who had permission and no longer needed to be in New York. But the amount of work to lay out a cover and the book is far, far less at this point. This is one of the myths of traditional publishing. Everyone thinks it takes less time to traditional publish when standing on the other side of the fence. But the reality on the traditional side of the fence is not less time, but more time. I know, I have worked both side of that fence and the green side is indie publishing.
If I may chime in… my biggest obstacle is quality control. It’s been surprisingly hard to find an affordable and *reliable* copy-editor. Then a friend who used to be a kickass beta reader for fan fiction entered a MFA program for fiction writing, so we struck a deal, and now her skills have shifted. She’s looking for the wrong things. (You’re right Dean, MFAs ruin writers. I hope she recovers from her degree.) My second speed-bump is the cover. I have these great design ideas and not enough technical know-how to pull it off. The learning curve strikes again 🙂
Yeah, learning curves on covers is fun, but time-consuming. I am constantly learning on covers because Allyson is so far ahead of me and she keeps learning. One of those art forms that has no ceiling. Which I love.
Newspapers are places to find good freelance copyeditors. Local newspapers because they often do the copyediting freelance for the papers. Give that a shot, but yes stay out of MFA programs. They all think they are writers better than you. Ask bookstores who are their most prolific readers and leave a note for them to see if they would be interested in reading a book for free in exchange for finding typos. Avid readers that buy a lot in stores would often love that.
Thanks, Dean! Haven’t thought of the bookstores and readers. Also, the local library book club, maybe. Kris told me about papers, I’ll have to do that. Inertia, here.
About covers, I saw someone else do a lovely Mucha-like cover (4 of them, it’s a series playing off the seasons) and I thought, great idea! I can use the same idea for my urban fantasy. I figured I’ll just adapt an existing Mucha poster layout. How hard can it be? (Insert wry grin.) Well, HARD. I’m not facile enough in Photoshop to paint, and I’m analog enough to feel more comfortable with traditional art materials. Thus, I’m doing an oil painting of my cover art, plus I’m learning Adobe Illustrator, which is a wonderful program for all those intricate, curved lines. Doing art is a valid use of my time, I maintain 🙂 As long as I meet my word count.
Here’s a link to the piece that inspired me. YMMV, I just find it very easy on the eyes. http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=5258
Nice to read this again. I’m working on my own pulp speed but I have to clear the deck of some things and come up with a workable schedule. I have family and they always come first of course but I do have my day hours to work with so I can create a good work day to get projects done. Look forward to your challenge.
This is awesome, and so encouraging. I love seeing what’s possible, believing what’s achievable, even if I haven’t done it yet. Or even if I never do. It’s amazing to me how much hard working writers can produce.
I think I need to read more westerns. 🙂
Thanks for this, Dean.
So Dean, for writer who is still working the day job and a part-time job and being a parent and all of that, would you say 1,000 an hour on average is a reasonable goal for a pulp pace? So that if you get that one hour a day or a couple a week that at least you’re hitting that mark?
Every writer types differently. And every story and every part of a story makes a typing per hour speed different. But if you kept track over an entire month and then took an average, 800 to 1,000 words per hour is a decent professional speed. Average!! Over a month of sessions.
Happy to see this post back, Dean. I took a ton of inspiration from the pulp speed post the first time you posted it and started a private pulp speed writing group and we’re up to about 100 members, all striving to write more, write fearlessly, and have fun in the process. I spent the first four months of the year writing pulp speed and tapered off during the summer. I’m working on getting back to it, day by day. Pulp speed is a great goal to drive toward; good luck to everyone making the commitment to trying it out.
Doing some incredibly rough and ready calculations, assuming that you really do have to go back over your work and revise/correct/edit whatever. Lets assume that together with some advance planning takes you as long again as it takes you to produce the new words. Then if we allow for the time to do things like covers, uploading to various sites, putting stuff through a proofreader, formatting and of course marketing etc.
With all that fussy stuff say you can only spend a quarter of your “working” time actually producing new words – in an eight hour day that is two hours. So how fast can you type? Well a hunt and peck typist should be able to get 30 words per minute, spend a few hours with Mavis Beacon and 50 WPM is doable. What if you get friendly with a Dragon? 100WPM! and even 150 WMP isn’t unthinkable. So what does that do for productivity? Well for fun I created a little spreadsheet (I have no idea what comments is going to do to the formatting!)
Words per minute words per hour words per week time to 60,000 time to 100,000 time to 150,000
30 1800 18000 16.7 27.8 41.7
50 3000 30000 10.0 16.7 25.0
60 3600 36000 8.3 13.9 20.8
70 4200 42000 7.1 11.9 17.9
80 4800 48000 6.3 10.4 15.6
90 5400 54000 5.6 9.3 13.9
100 6000 60000 5.0 8.3 12.5
110 6600 66000 4.5 7.6 11.4
120 7200 72000 4.2 6.9 10.4
130 7800 78000 3.8 6.4 9.6
140 8400 84000 3.6 6.0 8.9
150 9000 90000 3.3 5.6 8.3
160 9600 96000 3.1 5.2 7.8
So (In theory) using Dragon could get you to a novella every week, or a decent novel every fortnight.
I will leave everyone to their assumptions and spreadsheets.
First off you make some wrong assumptions that follow myths and not much else I’m afraid. Pulp writers don’t write sloppy, so they don’t have to go back and revise and all that. We all take care of all that the first time.
Second, typing speed has absolutely nothing to do with writing speed. Almost every long-term professional writer I have ever met has a range of 800 to 1200 words per hour average. Even your first number at 1,800 words per hour is something not even I ever attain.
Writing fiction is not typing. I know beginning writers think it is, but alas, it is not.
So your entire premise was flawed from the start. Sorry. Pulp speed has NOTHING to do with typing fast. It has everything to do with having what Kris talked about in her post. Dedication and obsession toward writing and spending more hours in the chair. Nothing more.
For kicks-and-giggles, I took Nicola’s original spreadsheet and altered it, changing the headings to:
– words per hour (500, I know a lot of people using this as their “low-end” hourly writing rate)
– hours per day (from 1 to 12, assuming even the most dedicated, obsessed writer has to sleep occasionally)
– words per day (words per hour x hours per day)
– words per week (words per day x 7 days per week)
– days to 60,000
– days to 100,000
– days to 150,000
At the low end, writing 500 words per hour x a leisurely 1 hour per day x 7 days per week, you can complete a 60,000 word novel in 120 days/four months (been there, done that around the day job a couple of times).
At the high end, writing 500 words per hour x a dedicated 12 hours per day x 7 obsessed days per week, you can complete a 150,000 word novel in 25 days.
Write only slightly faster (800 words per hour), and that hour-a-day slacker can cut the time to complete their 60,000 word novel down to 75 days (four books per year), while that obsessed, dedicated, procrastinator working twelve-hour days against a looming deadline could complete their150,000 word novel in slightly over two weeks (15.63 days).
It’s really not about typing speed at all. Just how many hours you’re willing to put in the chair to achieve your goals.
Exactly, Lyn. Exactly. Time in chair. Time having fun creating new stuff. Not work, just time playing.
Delighted to see you posting this again Dean, I have been back to the original several times, its my second favorite after the Business of Publishing Series (which probably makes it #6 but who’s counting :-). Since you posted it first, I have seen new bios of various writers whose work I love and a lot of them were secret pulp-speeders, just like you said, they had lots of pen-names. And just now I had flashback of reading the Paris Review many years ago, and one of the big names (I don’t remember who) must have also been a secret pulp-speeder who didn’t like the myths because when asked about how much he had to rewrite he said something mysterious like “I re-draft in my head before I write it down”.
I’m still in awe of how you do a day job and then find the energy to write. Some time you must do an article on how you set up WMG and how you keep it separate, I’m sure I’m not the only one who is interested in how you combine or separate the business and craft sides.
Allan R. Wallace
I did an experiment where I tried to write a ten short story series with 5,000 or more words each. The goal was one per day. I had a comfortable desk and did not rewrite. It was a joy. Then I had to move and never attempted that again. I have a new place by the ocean I’ll be moving to, I think that’s where my muses went to hide.
The excitement of creation, and the desire for growth were enthralling. I will do it again, and for a longer period.
I self published the Sparrow Swift books as e-pulps to limited success. They now need re-branding and maybe more stories.
You mentioned Lester Dent and I’m sure you are aware of his rules for a 6000 word, pulp book. http://www.paper-dragon.com/1939/dent.html
One 6k book a day would be an interesting Gumroad subscription. Managable might be one or more per week.
Thank you once again for the encouragement.
Actually have a lecture in our lecture series on Dent’s Master Plot. You can bring that forward and it really works. I do a monthly magazine that has regular subscriptions, but I’ll have time to look at Gumroad and see if that will help the other kinds of subscriptions.
It’s a good reminder that words-per-hour is less important than hours-in-chair. I’ve been beating myself up about my WPH lately because it seems to have gone down. Part of it could be related to some health issues I’m dealing with. Otherwise, I’m at a loss for the apparent slow-down.
Nevertheless, I have to remember that if I put in the time, I can still write “fast.” Maybe not pulp speed. But even at half-a-million words a year (2,000 words a day, five days a week) that’s 6-10 novels a year, depending on length. Um…that’s a lot of novels. 🙂
Yes it is a lot of books, Rob. And when my word rate per hour slows down over a period of time, not just a tough book, first thing I ask myself is if I am having fun. That tends to get to the issue. (grin)
With added pulp
Just wanted to stop by and say that I read this post about six or seven weeks ago and found it mind-boggling. The idea really took hold in my mind. I was always amazed by Michael Moorcock’s output. I read a few more of your posts, including both Holy Cow series, and decided to keep track of my word counts.
I have been writing at most 20,000 words per month for the past few months, and I considered that very good going, because I normally didn’t write regularly at all (despite considering myself a writer). I believed I needed a full story outline before I could start writing, and I could never come up with a full outline because everything I thought of would start to seem boring. So I would put it aside and think about it and wait.
After reading your posts, I started keeping track of my writing, aiming for 1,000 words per day. A few days later I sat down and for no reason at all, wrote over 5,000 words in one day. That day just happened to be my birthday, and a milestone birthday at that. That was exactly one month ago and I’ve written 118,000 words since then (I haven’t finished for the day), which I really didn’t do on purpose.
As I went along, I found that I stopped using outlines or notes and on top of that, my writing got ‘cleaner’. I used to have to edit chapters a ton before they were posted but now.
I haven’t pushed myself. I stopped when I felt tired, except for a few days when I ended up writing to the point of exhaustion solely because I wanted to know what happened next. I would say I write about 1,000 words per hour on average.
I don’t feel worried about getting ‘burned out’; on the contrary, I feel like I’ve been set free. The more I write, the more ideas come and the more trusting I feel of the process. It’s genuinely the best form of entertainment I can think of.
Just wanted to say thank you. I have bought ‘Writing Into the Dark’ and will buy more of your books soon.
Thanks, Jeff, the kind comments are really appreciated. And glad some things I said helped you jump into your natural writing. Great fun when it is going as you described.
And I also feel set from when the writing is going wonderfully.
So keep having fun and again, thanks. Very much appreciated.