Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Typing Fast vs Being Prolific

Two Very Different Things…

I know a ton of writers who can type and write per hour a lot faster than me. In fact half the writers taking the Speed workshop ended up being a lot faster hour-by-hour writers than I am.

So how in 2017 did I write seventeen novels and about sixty short stories and very, very few other writers did that much, not counting all the blogs and editing I did?

The answer: I spend more time in the chair.

And I have cleared out the myths.

I honestly don’t care what you think of Bob Ross, folks. But in two posts my writing was called “happy trees.” Now, I don’t often let insulting posts through, or posts I consider insulting even though they may not have intended them to be. This is MY BLOG after all.

But I let those two through and reacted to them because of how I took them. (Both writers have said that was not was intended and I believe them. They had no idea they were saying in their posts that they thought all I did was type fast to be prolific and have fun.)

But their comments and my reaction did bring up the fact that I was insulted by being called a fast typist who only writes happy trees.

Interesting, huh? Insulted by being thought of as a fast typist. Damn, I only wish I was to be honest. It would be so, so much easier on these blogs and letters to workshop writers and so on if I could type fast.

But I don’t. And I have been clear about that for decades. So by thinking I am a fast typist, that I write only short novels that are the equal to happy trees, it insulted how many hours I do spend writing.

Now, I know, not intended. I got that, so drop it. And listen to what I am trying to say here.

Being prolific does not mean fast typing.

Being prolific is having all the parts moving together, folks. I write clean one draft into the dark. I get most of my work out to readers quickly. I sell lots of copies of some books, not so many of others at least at first.

But most of all I have all the myths out of my way and I would not trade that for one second of being able to type faster.

So in those comments, and those defending the comments, I was pushed a lot of the myth that the only reason I am prolific is because I can move my fingers quickly.


I am prolific for the following reasons.

1… I love to tell stories.

2… I spend more time making up stories than other people do.

3… I don’t waste time writing stories ahead of writing them or going back over a story after it is done. Into the dark one draft clean and I have been doing that for thirty years now.

4… I have set up systems to get my work to readers quickly.

5… I have been at this for over forty years now.

I would love to be able to type faster and over the years my speed has increased slightly. But that has nothing at all to do with me being prolific or selling millions of copies of my books.


  • Ed Knight

    “Fast typer” is a silly term anyway, because it doesn’t address “fast compared to what?”

    I manage between 250 and 500 words per hour, which is well below your rate, Dean. It’s well below the rate of a friend of mine, too, who can knock out 1000+ words in an hour. Am I slow or not?

    But over a month, I am still more prolific than my friend because I do not stop. I have a full time day job, small kids, and other obligations, but I still get more butt-in-seat time than my friend does.

    I’d like to say it’s tortoise vs. hare, but I find it more amusing to consider myself the Terminator. I. Do. Not. Stop.

    Who cares if the Terminator is fast or slow?

    • R.B.

      This post and comment were really enlightening. After struggling for seriously 5 years I’ve had it with the myths (more like rules) I’ve had bashed into my head. For me, I can’t even know where to go unless I am writing. I can’t outline. And I also jump all over the place, so I can’t really write in order. But I was told time and time again and over and over that you gotta outline. You gotta outline and also if you’re not getting in 4k words a day at least you’re doing it wrong, yadda yadda.

      Fell into the myth about writing some gd grand book that’ll save the world! and end all suffering! and spontaneously induce enlightenment! and blah blah. i know this is my fault, but there’s this concept that the only good writing or art or movie that can be made involves one in which immense struggling was done on the part of the creator.
      But I have struggled so hard under this pressure that I’ve buckled repeatedly, leaving me 5 years in with still nothing done.

      And so i remembered in passing a couple of years ago someone mentioning the way you do things. I dismissed it then. My beliefs and “myths” have been stubborn. I have found I had to get to a point where the misery is so insane that one has no choice but to change tactic, even if it goes against everything you think is “the way.” So I’m off to get your book.

      I didn’t realize the difference between the two concepts myself. And sorry, I too figured you wrote fast (i.e. sloppy) and let the piss take the wind. I see now how wrong I was. This has been illuminating for me because I’m a slow typer myself.

      I am ready, and scared, to finally have some fucking fun. And maybe practice trusting myself a little, which is incredibly hard. I used to write this way when I was younger but, life got in the way. And it’s odd but I can’t remember or figure out how to get back there. I wrote slow and into the dark but I did it consistently too. And I was in love then.

      Now it’s more like, trying to write as quickly as possibly to hit my word count goal in as short as time as possible so that I can go about my day because I’m fretting and doubting and worrying and hating the process.

      So anyway. Thank you Dean for your blog and your books and striving to end all the myths.

      • dwsmith

        R.B., sounds like you have gone through almost exactly what I went through the first seven years of my writing.

        My suggestion, climb on Heinlein’s Five Business Rules. So simple, but treat them like a wild horse and you need to hold on for dear life. You won’t be able to stay on them, the myths are far, far too powerful for anyone to stay on the Five Rules for too long, but just keep climbing back on when you realize you have fallen off and you will make it. I know, a simple solution, but it worked for me way back in 1982 and I know it still works for many today.

        But hang on. Those rules buck.

      • Peggy

        As someone who is also actively engaged in “unlearning” everything I learned over the last *mumble* years (aka, undoing all the brainwashing), I wish you luck, and Godspeed in your journey.

        As Stan Lee says, Excelsior!

      • Janine

        I can understand you as well. I spent a few years lost in myth land, reenforced by the ‘writing community’ and ‘experts’ that have single digit novels out, and crashed hard. Then I read Dean and Kris and decided to try it their way. They’ve only been succeeding in fiction for several decades (most of the ones in myth land seem to be gone in a decade). I realized how much of those myths restricted me, and now I feel free as a bird. I’m refining my process (hint, there’s no outlining or rewriting involved) and the second novel on this system is going well so far and I’m having a lot of fun doing it.

    • dwsmith

      Most long-term writers I know who have over a hundred novels and are bestsellers and have made a living for a few decades at this, have a writing speed between 300 words per hour and 1200 words per hour. Most are in the range between 700 and 1,000. I fall in that range when going along fine, sometimes a little faster when things are moving nicely.

      But that is finished copy. Long term writers hate to rewrite anything and have learned how to not do it, even though they tell their readers they do.

    • Peggy

      Well, back in the day, a fast typist was counted in words per minute when transcribing from copy (either from shorthand notes, or from a handwritten draft). Accuracy mattered, too, because those words were gotten on typewriters that didn’t necessarily have correction tape. By that definition, I was an extremely fast typist, averaging more than 85 words per minute.

      As a writer, fast has less to do with words per minute than words per hour, and by that definition … well, honestly, I have no idea how I might rate. I can still type 85 words per minute, but the brain doesn’t necessarily give me 85 words per minute. Some days, my brain might give me 1000 words an hour. Other days, it might give me only 250 in an hour.

      That said, time spent at the keyboard definitely matters more than words per minute or words per hour, and is probably the better question to ask.

      TL;DR – define your term before declaring it silly. 😉

  • Janine

    I find it odd that when most writers dissatisfied with their speed ask other writers how to write faster, their answer usually is ‘outlining’, though a lot of times it’s said in a roundabout fashion. Tried outlining and was miserable doing it with lower quality work. I like writing in the dark, it’s a lot more fun and my quality of writing went back up.

    Also, a lot of authors snivel at writers who publish more than 1-2 novels a year. They will say those writers don’t care for quality just because they have a novel out every 1-3 months. It’s all a part of the myth that quality can’t come fast.

  • Charity

    Hm. Why does the phrase happy trees make you think of bad writing? Bob Ross was about having fun with painting. That’s why he called his trees happy. Not because he thought his trees sucked, lol.

    Regardless, Dean, thank you for this post. More hours in the chair is rarely heard of in the profession of ‘gifted writer’. 🙂

  • Cora

    I just want to add my thanks to you Dean. I didn’t realize what myths I had bought into, but every time I try something in a manner that you suggest, it works out well for me and I move ahead. I’ve worked on my craft and now feel confident in my ability to write clean copy. It’s liberating and I’m getting a lot more done. You and Kris have helped me tremendously clearing out myths and my next project is to work on spending more time in my writing chair. Off to park myself there right now.

    • dwsmith

      Cora, just think about it. If you are having fun telling stories, you get to spend more time doing that now. And everything in the end wins because of that. Crazy, huh? (grin)