Pulp Speed Time Again
Got Some Questions So Wanted This Up Front…
(I wrote this post about four-and-a-half years ago, then brought it forward over a year later. Then again for 2017 start. Now it is the middle of 2018. Time for this one again just to remind some or at least let you know what some people talk about when they say “Pulp Speed.” I have updated it this for today, July 2018.)
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.
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 teachers who couldn’t write.
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 to this day that a book of his is reprinted 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. 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. Or at least get you thinking about what is really possible for the second half of 2018.
To answer the most obvious question on this, “What Speed do I Write?”
For years on this blog I tracked it carefully and some of you remember those monthly totals I am sure. I do not count any kind of social media post or comments on this blog or any other blog. I count letters and this blog and fiction and nonfiction.
With that said, I tend to average around 1.3 million words a year. Some years a little more. Or between Pulp Two and Pulp Three.
My total word count for last July when I wrote four novels was just over 200,000 words, one of my best months in years, honestly. 170,000 of that was fiction. Plus one more nonfiction book I do not have out yet. (And just remembered right now, to be honest….Ahh, the fun of Heinlein’s Rule #4.)
Reading this post for me is like that meme of the brain that glows more and more. I’ve been writing short stories every week for the last month or so, 7-11k, and having great fun doing it. I thought maybe there was something wrong with me. 🙂
Kessie, there is something wrong with you….You are a writer. (grin) Well done!!
Absolutely great post, Dean. I’ve linked to it on the Writers Resources tab of my website. As you say, just to let folks know what is possible.
This is an excellent post. I love pulp writers, especially the old noir and hardboiled mystery writers. I think a key to hitting pulp speed is to not marry a single genre necessarily. Once I realized i could write in any genre I felt like, I always had a story idea. It seems like another writing myth that you have to brand yourself as only a mystery writer or only a science fiction writer etc. Makes no sense. I think you said the same in your short story post.
Philip, you hit that right on the head. That is a myth, the idea that you only have to be one genre or another. Especially these days. Just flat silly myth and very limiting, of that there is no doubt. Good point, Philip. Thanks.
Linda Maye Adams
It’s interesting that my great uncle, who wrote during the pulp era, was a one genre writer (children’s fiction). And he was never able to make enough money to live off.
Yup, one genre and children’s fiction. Death to pulp writers. Also, he had to be prolific and children’s fiction was never a place for that in those times.
I actually wrote 600K words in a year a few years back, but I was still deep in myths and writing super sloppy, so a lot of it went to waste unfortunately. I’m trying to get myself to pulp speed one, but I realize that’s going to take a bit of time, especially since I am only trying to crawl my way back from my writing crash a few months back. Seems like I top out at 2K a day at the moment, but I know I can do more than that, but haven’t made much progress. I keep having to battle back against the writing myths in my mind and it’s slowing me down. Any tips to increase my output that I can use that I might be missing? Thanks again for this.
I know Dean frowns on outlining, but have you ever heard of Rachel Aaron’s 10k method? I’ve tried it, and the most valuable part for me is the idea of candybar scenes.
I sorta tried it in the past and while it did get my speed up, eventually, my scenes started to feel stilted and wooden and planned out, so I dropped it.
I’m working on pulp speed one for this year. Started in June because I had Life happening the first five months. Maintained that speed in June, am doing about the same here in July. I see no reason why I can’t maintain this speed from now until the end of the year, and beyond.
Some days it’s more of a challenge to hit that word count. Primarily though, for me, it takes focus. I’ve always said the writing was my first priority. Now, I feel as though I’m really putting it into practice. Because the words are there, the stories are there. I just have to put in the time and go play.
My husband is maintaining some where between pulp speed 2 & 3. And we’ve done the math, like you have, for pulp speed six. Absolutely doable, though you need a support staff for the publishing if all you’re doing is writing. We’ve thought about it. Maybe some year…
You guys are doing great! Blaze is up to my speed and great to see him holding. It gets so much easier as you keep going. We call it “ground affect” after that affect that planes have as they near the ground. The air between the plane and the ground makes it easier to stay aloft. When you get writing, it is easier to just keep writing. Starting is always the hard part. Great job, guys. Keep having fun with it.
And you are right, up at Pulp Speed Five or Six, the publishing side would take support. If I ramped to that level (I hit it for a month or two at a time every year, but for an entire year…) I would have to hire more publishing staff. (grin) But, of course, the sales and extra books would make it worth it.
Hey Dean! Love the term ‘Pulp Speed Writing’. Timely post, I’ve been thinking about it a lot these last few weeks. When I first heard about people writing 100K words per month, I thought it was impossible. I could barely manage 500 words on any given day.
Then I heard about people writing 10K words in a day. I set my goals higher, now I can write 3K – 4K on just about any given day. I have hit one 10K day this past month, so now I’m aiming higher.
I think I could write 16K in a day by keeping my butt in the chair and focusing solely on writing. Who knows, by setting my goal higher, maybe 10k will become my new norm.
But I think the one key take away I’ve had from following your blog posts is just to keep it fun. I try not to stress about the word counts so much. Just write as much as I can in the time I have available.
Anyway, I say all of that, just to say thanks for sharing this information and pushing us on to write more.
Good attitude, Dave. Just have fun with writing the amount you can write in any give time. It’s all about the process of writing and having fun telling a story.
Michael Alan Peck
I love (and am humbled by) this info and history. Just knowing this type of thing is possible allows me to clear my head of some of the crap that keeps building up and interfering. Thanks, as always, for the learning.
One of the greatest tricks of my critical mind was “Save this cool title for a Great Book”.
It keeps saying that I shouldn’t write a genre work, but I should be waiting for a Great Idea that will create an Important Great Russian Novel.
Because “you don’t want to be just one another fantasy/horror writer”.
Then I’ve listened your course on originality and it just blasted. Then I’ve listened Sanderson’s lectures on fantasy and it blasted again – He said (among other great stuff) that “Genre is a promise you give to reader”. And of course thank you for your “Writing in the dark”.
Wow! – I though.- How wrong I was! I was waiting for ideas and inspiration instead of just having fun and satisfying promises!
Who make a book an Important Great Russian Novel? Just critics. People who judge novels but aren’t able to write even a short obscene verse.
But the critical voice doesn’t give up. he keeps saying that writing pulp-like stuff is bad, because clever people write complicated books. :You friends know you as a smart man, RikkI! Smart people in Russia are always in underground, Stay in underground, with your friends. Pulp is for fools”.
I answer, that being smart is always to be a rebel. So, I am a rebel against being smart, literary and underground. Together with my fav English-speaking authors like Silverberg, Philip K Dick, Sturgeon, Samuel Ray Delany, Ross and John McDonald’s. Raymond Chandler, Jack London, Edgar Poe (to name a few). who wrote a lot of serial fiction. Also this small partisan detachment would include some Russian names – Alexander Pushkin (not only creator of modern Russian literature language, but founder of first fiction magazine), Fydor Dostoevsky (he owned two magazines) Alexander Grin and Leonid Andreev (fantastically productive writers of gothic and neoromantical short fiction, both earned great fortune from it). People who think that a true writer lives underground probably didn’t find out yet that USSR is gone, censorship is gone, state monopoly on publishing is gone, and its underground is gone together with him.
Underground literature means forbidden subjects… but there aren’t any forbidden subjects anymore (ok, ok, you shouldn’t describe child abuse with too a lot of details or call for genocide, but Amazon forbids it too). And of course you can stay underground even beign a prolific writer. Just publish under a pen-name and never give interviews (Viktor Pelevin does, that’s why only thing we can be sure about him that he lives somewhere in Chertanovo and will publish a new book this year).
So, I know that rebel against the critical voice is a tough one. With critical voice I can be very ironic, there’s something like invisible wall between me and other writers. I can explain from another side of this wall, why %a popular author name here% is overrated or what made %a genre here% so popular today. But when I step to other side, I’m feel like a naked one. What if i’ll make a mistake? What if no one will buy what I’m writing? What if …?
I know, that’s the reason why a lot of people never cross this wall or write and rewrite years and years their Great Unfinished Book. But I know there’s a lot of fun beside it and I’m crossing it again and again, hoping to destroy it totally. That’s my rebellion.
I want to rebel on pulp speed 🙂
Wonderful, Rikki. Seeing the myths and the walls is the most important step. From there, all of us just have to keep battling it. The long-term professional writers have made it through and won most of the battles. But it never goes away. So the victory is in the battle and in having fun with the writing.
Great post, Dean. How right you are. In fact, I am part of a large group of writers, editors and publishers who produce what we collectively call New Pulp, which is new novels and stories in the style of the classic pulps with a modern sensibility.
One thing that helps me with pulp speed is simply writing shorter books, which, as you know, we can do this again in this new age of indie publishing and ebooks. No one cares or can tell at a glance how long our books are anymore. We can also genre hop almost at will, which I personally love.
I write at pulp speed one or below. I can do 1,000 an hour pretty easily, sometimes more, but usually an hour is all I get due to my day job. That means I can finish a 30k novella in a month and two weeks or thereabouts, since I can’t usually write on weekends due to family considerations. My personal best was a couple weeks ago when I did 3700 words to finish my current novel while I was on call at work.
Anyway, good stuff as always. There’s a lot we can learn from the pulp writers of old.
James, I also average around 1,000 words per hour on most projects, faster toward the end. It’s just hours, not typing speed.
Linda Maye Adams
That’s another myth…that to write fast you’re somehow madly typing at warp speed, not spending more time writing.
I love reading posts like these because I sometimes wonder if I’m an anomaly. This is my first year of self publishing and by December I would have published about ~510k words (9 books) and written another 8, which I’m actually disappointed with since I would have been able to write more if health had permitted it. Next year I’m shooting for 1 million. I realized that when I start to think that I have to stay in one genre, suddenly I can’t write. Once I remind myself that I can make money writing what I want, suddenly the ideas for 9 books and four genres pop into my head in less than five minutes and I can’t get them out fast enough. I do get a lot of comments that I need to spend my time editing more (family not readers) but there’s just something about a rough story to me that feels so charming, like the writer just wanted to entertain and had no other goal, also, editing (referring mainly to rewrites, not grammar stuff but even that to an extent) takes away time from me writing more stories and at this point I’m addicted to storytelling
Law, when readers comment on “editing” they don’t mean rewriting or all that stuff, they often just mean copyediting, meaning there were some typos and such that got through. That’s normal, but some people take great joy in finding them and telling you about them. Sort of a pathology to show how much better they are than you I think. But you do need to have a copyeditor or someone find the typos and wrong words spelled correctly. That is critical for all of us. Get that story as clean as you can regarding typos. That is not rewriting. That is just courteous to the reader.
I know what editing means on this site, that’s why I specifically referenced the rewriting just to clarify. Even before reading the articles here, I’ve always done something similar to your cycling technique which is why my first drafts are usually so clean. Then someone reads it for typos, I read through one last time to catch anything that was missed and then onto the next book.
When I spoke of the roughness, I don’t mean typos, I mean the difference between something that was done and polished for money and something that was done for fun. It’s similar to how I tend to enjoy YouTube videos more than movies. The quality in production for some YouTubers is amazingly high compared to big studios but the feel is different, it’s less for money and more for joy and there are no limits to what they can do since they don’t play by the same rules, a sense of freedom you don’t often get with movies nowadays. That’s the feeling I want people to get from my books where the story takes precedence over ego boosting and the only limitation I have is my imagination.