On Writing,  publishing

Pulp Speed Writers

Pulp Writers’ Abilities…

(I first wrote this blog back in May of 2016 and figured it might be a good one to put here at the end of the year.)

I got a great question today about some of the basics the really prolific pulp writers did to be so productive. And how to go about finding out about a lot of their styles.

How I have learned about so many of the older pulp writers is by reading book about them in their own words, reading books about the era, and just finding anything I could to read about the pulp writers of the 1920s to 1950s.

A great first book to start is Frank Gruber’s The Pulp Jungle. Oh, trust me, you will realize how little you have given to be a writer after reading that. Great stuff about other pulp writers. Lester Dent, Frederick Faust, and many others. (Frank Gruber was a great pulp writer as well.)

Also, I learned a lot about the pulp writers because I was lucky enough when I came into the field to be able meet and talk with numbers of them.

And I also know some of the main modern pulp-speed writers as well.

So I got thinking after the question today about what all of the ones I have studied have in common that were very productive. What traits as writers they had similar because they were all very different men and women.


What do I mean by productive? Basically, writing above a million words a year for years and years and years. Good years and bad years.

It is the years and years and years part that is the big eliminator in this question. Often writers would have a few good years and then just vanish for one reason or another. We mostly don’t remember them.

The ones we do remember all seemed to keep the pace up for a decade or more. That created a body of work that, for the most part, has made it down through time.

Work Patterns

Every productive pulp writer I have studied had a few work patterns in common. And they all seemed to just take most of these in stride, as if doing anything else would be just foolhardy.

1… They did regular page counts or word counts every day.

Usually seven days a week. Very few of them took time off regularly.

Frederick Faust (Max Brand and other names) did 18 pages a day every day of the week without vacation, for decades. Even when traveling with his large family. (About 4500 hundred words per day.)

2… They never rewrote anything. Any of them. They fixed typos on the manuscript and that was it. (As one of them said and I can’t remember who, “They don’t pay you to rewrite.”)

3… They all treated their writing as part of who they were. It was never work, just part of what they did every day.

The Main Key

However, over the years, I have come to the conclusion that they all had one ability in common that most modern writers don’t have.

4… They just let go of finished stories.

Now, I know that sounds simple and somewhat silly, but it is the driving thing for all of these productive writers. Once a story was finished and sold, it was gone. They always looked forward to the next story or novel.

They all had the natural ability to let go.

They typed at a decent pace on manual typewriters, they did one draft, they fixed typos, and they let the story go and moved on. No story had any more importance than any other story.

In my opinion, that is the hardest thing for writers to do, and most these days never attain it. But it is the secret to being extremely productive as a writer. Pulp-speed of a million words a year productive.

The enjoyment is in the writing of the story, the fun of the puzzle, the thrill of creating something. Once the story is over, they just move on to create a new story, have more fun with another puzzle, have another thrill of creating something.

Why this helps in production? Obvious first answer, at a writing speed of over a million words a year for years and years, you won’t remember older stories and you are producing so many, none of them much matter. Or have a difference from one to the other.

But I think it is more than that.

I think the really productive pulp-speed writers at a deep level don’t care about the finished product. They did the best they could while writing. That was all they could do, so them move on.

The lack of caring comes from the fact that real pulp-speed writers of any era love the process of writing. Some love it for the challenge, some love it for the creation, some love it for the fear.  So when a story is finished, all the things they love about writing are done.

So they move on to the next story.

They just let go.

Very few writers have that ability. That’s why there are so few pulp-speed writers like me and so many writers who want to produce more but never seem to be able to.

Have fun with the writing. It is the first step to picking up production as a writer.


  • Sheila

    Thanks for posting this. I loved it the first time, and it’s still as good now.

    I’ve got the speed down, the letting go down, it’s being consistent in the daily writing part I need to work on. That’s what’s killing me. I just don’t write every day.

    My resolution/work plan for 2017 is to write every day. I want to finally hit the pulp speed one mark. Now, if I haven’t jinxed myself ( 😉 ), I’m going to do it!

    Happy holidays and just plain ol’ days, everyone!

  • Linda Maye Adams

    When I worked with a cowriter years ago, I think of the biggest lessons I learned (other than the relationship self-destructing because of his fear) was that things don’t written unless I make the effort. I remember telling him–while an agent was reading a full–that we needed to learn how to write faster. He poo-pooed it, saying everything was negotiable, and I was horrified. Utterly horrified. I had this picture in my head that he would blow off the deadline and I would be the one left doing all the writing–but him getting half of the money. It hit me right at that moment that writing was nowhere on his priority list–everything else was more important. I think he–and a lot of other writers get into writing because they think the first book is going to a best seller and they can retire from the day job. They aren’t really enjoying the writing and having fun with it.

    For the record, I wrote on Christmas Day. Didn’t quite finish the short story, but I did that this morning. I had to go back and count what I’d published this year: 22. So far. I have a couple more back from the copy editor that I’m working on getting published.

  • J. D. Brink

    Thanks for this great reminder, Dean.
    I’m planning to streamline my process and attitude in the coming year to become more productive. Although, interesting enough, for me that might mean NOT doing the word count. I have been for the last few years, among other metrics that i think are just weighing me down and giving me reason to focus on perhaps the wrong numbers. As an alternative, I think I’ll just track my *published* word count and see how that motivates me. I’m confident now that I can crank out a decent amount of work per session. Now I want to focus on the end result more than than the day to day.
    I don’t expect to ever make a million words in a year (at least not with a demanding day job), but by working on the “not rewriting” and the ” just letting go,” those pubbed word counts will certainly rise.
    Thanks again for another great year of inspiration and pep talks!

  • Reader One

    Good to re-read this having come back to this post, and its original sister post, many times over the past eight months or so since I first discovered them.

    One thing I would add from personal experience is that for writers who naturally write very long form or “epic” type stories, pulp speed is a natural and doable rhythm. I’m thinking of long series in which each novel is 200-300k words. An epic series of 1 or 2 million words would then account for a year or two of steady work, building day by day. Very fulfilling and joyful for those who write long form, big stories.

    • Victoria Goddard

      What a lovely perspective! My stories are interwoven, part of a grand narrative universe, and the idea that this is the speed of exploration … well, that just made my thoughts for next year perk up. Having done a bit of preliminary work I have decided at last to launch into the first of the ‘proper’ books, which I have been wanting to work on for years. I am a re-reader, of other people’s books and my own, but although I care deeply about my stories I can let go of the words–which is to say, if I have to cut half of it and start over again, I can do that. Still, I’d prefer to write joyfully and get it right the first time. I have had a few long short stories/novellas come in one draft, so I believe as I get more practiced that I will get there with my full novels, too.

      For me it is mostly devoting actual *time* to writing. I did not get the book(s) finished this year that I had planned, but I did write nearly 200,000 words of a different one–and I did start a successful small business and have the first year in my first house. Now that I have a steady, if small income from the small business, I plan on building the other two parts of my ideal life, the writing and the gardening.

  • Jo

    In March will be 1 year of publishing for me. It’s been great. It’s been rocky too.

    I find that writing fast, stupid fast, is much more fun than trudging along trying to be perfect.