That’s Not What Writing Is.

Except I found out that writing is a lot more things than I had imagined.

Lemme back up.

I’m a working writer. I write for money, and I do it intentionally. It’s not a hobby. One day I’ll tell the story of how that came about, but today is not that day.

Anyway.

A problem I have that is common to many writers is the need for speed. I write relatively fast — 1500 words an hour, or thereabouts — but that still means that to write a 90,000 word novel I need to carve out 60 hours of writing time, which does not include research, editing, planning (assuming I do any of that), rewriting, junking everything before page 115 and starting over, etc.

If sixty hours doesn’t sound like a lot to you, your life and mine are very different and you should go read someone else’s stuff, because this is unlikely to help you.

I’m also fifty years old. I didn’t start getting serious (the second time) about being a writer until I reached my mid-forties, when the ticking of the Clock of Life attains audible volume, where you can hear it even when you’re not quiet and listening hard. Being the sort of person that would really, really like to have a shelf full of books with my name on them (whatever name that is, which is a discussion that will have to wait), I don’t have all manner of time to get those books out.

Add to this that I am a full-time teacher with 4 (four) side teaching jobs (that is not a misprint or an exaggeration), that I am taking classes to finish up my teaching license (which I do not really want, but that is another lengthy discussion I don’t have time for right now), that I have eight children and I am fanatically religious, and that my wife is gorgeous and worth paying a great deal of attention to, and what you have is about 75–78 hours of booked time every week already in the can. As in, Monday rolls around and I don’t have any space left on the calendar, anywhere, between 8am and 8pm Monday through Saturday. Thus, although I can find writing time before 8am (if I don’t exercise) or after 8pm (known to be both erratic and unproductive — the stuff I write after 8pm is garbage), I can’t find very much of it, meaning that sixty hours is going to take me a couple of months at the very least, and probably a lot longer than that.

Writing my first book took seven years. Twenty-five years later my second book took six months.

I wrote my latest one (number fifteen) in a little over three weeks.

How?

I recorded it. On a little device called a cell phone. While I was driving back and forth to various school gigs.

But…that’s not writing, is it?

Yes, my friends, it is. So is typing, or scribing things out longhand on legal paper, or dictating to someone else, or whatever other method you can think of (I’m fresh out, but you’re probably more creative than I am). I learned this from Kevin Anderson, who’s written dozens of novels, and produces them at a seriously ridiculous pace. At a League of Utah Writers conference I went to his session and asked him how he could churn out that much material that quickly. “I record everything,” he said. “I did 1000 words in the ten minutes between lunch and starting this session.”

This was two years ago, and I was young and naive, so I thought that was cool but not really writing. It’s not words on the page, I thought, so it’s not writing. Also, Kevin has an assistant that transcribes everything. I do not. Therefore it won’t work for me.

But I also am a fairly advanced disciple of Dean Wesley Smith and the inimitable Kristine Kathryn Rusch, both of whom extoll the virtues of writing at a pace that makes it possible to crank out five or (a lot) more novels a year, every year. I could not dismiss what Anderson was saying.

I also couldn’t do it. I did try. I got my cell phone out and started talking into it. Problems abounded.

If I had to transcribe my warblings, we’d be here forever — also, that didn’t solve the time problem. My cell phone is actually really good at transcribing text messages for me, but somehow that brilliant technology (which will punctuate!) is unavailable for longer-form text like a story. I tried Google Docs, which will transcribe pretty well but has a nasty, nasty habit of cutting off the voice transcription in the middle of a sentence for no discernible reason. I tried Dragon (not practical on the phone), and everything else I could think of.

I also couldn’t think fast enough. I’ve been writing for a long time at a particular pace — the pace I type at, roughly 45 words a minute (yes, I know that’s very slow). Voice was three, four times as fast as that, and I couldn’t make the scenes go fast enough in my head to be really tight. That meant I had to edit a lot more, and the time savings was reduced to almost nil.

Stymied, I quit, and went back to typing. That produced better copy, and hey, it’s what everyone else does.

Oh, but then.

Two fortunate things happened at nearly the same time. Still not quite abandoning all hope, I kept my eye out for good transcription services, and Google, invading my privacy, knew that and served me up an article that mentioned a new service called Trint.

Trint is a miracle.

It’s supposed to be used for transcribing interviews. Frankly — I’m being as honest as I can here — it’s not very good at that (though it’s getting better all the time). Interviews are messy, with changing speakers and weird noises and such. But a single voice, up close, like me talking into my cell phone? Oh, baby, it’s very good at that. I mean very good.

It doesn’t punctuate well. I cannot use “period” and “comma” and stuff to help it, either — it’s not built that way — but it will get all the words and spell a terrific number of them correctly. I still have to edit them, but I have to do that anyway, no matter how I put them together. That more or less cleaned up my problem with transcription.

The other problem, not being able to think fast enough, was thornier. But then I realized that I actually already do think fast enough, I just do it in a different venue — storytelling. I’ve done several storytelling festivals, including those where you take three audience-provided elements and make a story out of them on the spot (this is not for the faint of heart). I realized that when I did that, they were always fairy tales. Those I could write in my head and say them just as if I were having a conversation (well, close).

And all of a sudden I was writing three times as fast. 4500 words an hour, or thereabouts (my data show that I write about 100 words a minute like that). Trint transcribes them, and all I have to do is edit.

It’s all writing, people. It’s all creation. Don’t worry if it’s “real” writing, whatever that is. However you want to do it is good, because creation is good and if you want to do it, and your life is filled with wonderful things like your kids’ soccer matches and a junior-high production of The Little Mermaid, you can still do it. Don’t quit on it. I wrote 26,000 words of a novel while standing backstage of Beauty and the Beast waiting to put my candlesticks back on my hands and sing “Be Our Guest”. It can be done.

YOU can do it.

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