Should You Write Fast or Write Well?

write fast

Write well or write fast? Can you do both?

In recent years there has been a trend building around writing fast. The idea is to finish a book as quickly as possible, publish it, and start immediately on the next book. You quickly end up with a decent sized catalog. Each release creates new opportunities for marketing, so you are constantly able to promote your works.

This trend seems to be more popular among indie authors, since traditionally published authors are contractually obligated to go through the longer process that many publishers require, which includes multiple revisions of the work and carefully timed publication dates. I’ve seen indie authors publishing books as fast as once a month, but many are putting out a book every three months or so. They’re writing pretty fast.

Writing that fast is not a bad idea, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea either.

Writing Fast

For the past couple of years, most of the books I’ve bought have been self-published, and some of them have been very good. The difference in quality between self-published and traditionally published works is decreasing with each passing year as indie authors learn the craft and the trade. Plenty of self-published books are even better than their traditionally published counterparts.

But I don’t think self-publishing has reached the same quality that traditional publishing enjoys, universally. I found that I didn’t finish more than two-thirds of the self-published books I bought whereas I finished almost all the traditionally published books I purchased.

A Case Study

Recently, I picked up a book by an author whose blog I’d been following. The book was in the fantasy genre, and my expectations were very low because it had been written and published in less than four months. I’ll be honest — I couldn’t see how a decent book could be made in such a short time. Maybe a full-time author could pull it off, or maybe a story in a simpler genre could be written in such a short time span. But this was a pretty thick tome, complete with a large cast of a characters, an intricate world, and a detailed magic system, and the author wasn’t full-time.

I was pleasantly surprised when I read the book and found it quite good. Good — not great. In fact, I would say it was average but had the potential to be a five-star novel. There was a major plot hole, which was glaringly obvious, and a few big speed bumps where there were problems with inconsistency and inaccuracy. These moments yanked me out of the story. But I couldn’t get over the book’s potential. And I found myself thinking, If this author had set the work aside for a couple of weeks and revised it with fresh eyes, and if they had used beta readers, this book could have been truly great. Maybe even a breakout indie hit.

The author in question had been in a hurry. I remember following the writing process on the author’s blog. This person’s goal was to publish as many books as possible as quickly as possible. While I think this can work for some authors, I doubt it’s the best career path for most. If books are written quickly and published before they’ve reached their full potential, readers will be less inclined to review and recommend those books, let alone buy other books in the author’s catalog. And in the grand scheme of things, taking a couple of extra months to polish a book that is then going to generate revenue for the rest of your life is probably a smarter career strategy.

Writing Well

On the other hand, another author I follow wrote and published an excellent work of science fiction in about the same amount of time. But there were some notable differences. The science-fiction author had more books under their belt and was therefore more experienced. This author was also writing a sequel in a series, so much of the world-building and character development was already done. And this person was already a full-time author. It’s easier to write well and write fast when you have all those things going for you.

It’s a given that if you put a little more time into a project, it will get better. A couple of extra revisions, beta readers, or hiring a developmental editor will cause the project to take longer, but these actions will also improve your book tremendously.

Some authors can write fast and turn out high quality work, but I think these authors are rare. They tend to be full-time, have plenty of experience, and know what they’re doing; many of them write contemporary fiction, which means less world-building. It takes more time to write a book when you have to create a world or do a ton of research. So if you want to use the write-fast career strategy, maybe simpler stories are the way to go.

Write Fast or Write Better?

Ultimately, every author has to find his or her own artistic vision, business plan, and career path. Writing fast has worked for some indie authors, but many who write fast are sitting around wondering, where are the readers?

What you do think about writing fast or writing well? Do you think one strategy works better than the other? Do both work? Which is more important to you as a writer?

10 Core Practices for Better Writing

About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.


14 Responses to “Should You Write Fast or Write Well?”

  1. Fernando AP says:

    Write well, slow down and do the research. Quality over quantity, especially when it’s a labour of love. I couldn’t agree more with polishing a book to its full potential.

    • I do think with practice, we can write faster and faster, and as we become full-time authors, we have more time to spend on our writing and can therefore finish projects more quickly. But as a reader, I prefer books that have reached their full potential. It a bummer when you read a book and feel like it was rushed.

  2. opsimath says:

    Oh. to be faced with such a dilemma! I wish I were able to do either, but as I have always said, although this is a little O.T, writers are born, not made.

    Thank you for your interesting blog, but please try to accept that writing is NOT something just anyone can do.

    • opsimath,

      I’m not sure why you continue to come to the comments here at Writing Forward and lament about how you (or someone) simply cannot write or be a writer. It’s simply not true. If you want to write, then write. People of varying levels of skill and talent have built careers, and if you love writing, then you can do it without making it a career. Just write for the love of it. Anything else is really just an excuse unless one is physically prohibited from the act of writing for some reason.

  3. Bethie says:

    One thing I’ve learned from my critique group is to slow down. Some stories are easier than others and will come together faster. But each one deserves the time to make sure it’s well told.
    I’ve seen authors who think their work is perfect like it is and want it out fast. They get offended when others point out serious issues–bad mistake. We all need the help of friends and betas.
    We all have stories to tell so we all have the potential to be authors. It’s a matter of how much you put into it. I used to think I couldn’t be a writer, then I started writing. It wasn’t good at first and it’s not perfect now, but the more I learn and write, the better my writing gets.
    Thank you, Melissa, for another great, encouraging article.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Bethie. It’s true that every story is different and every writer is different. Sometimes I write quite fast; other times, the work plods along rather slowly. It depends on many factors.

  4. eddie henry says:

    I appreciate your measured stance on the fantasy author’s timeline, “if this author had set the work aside for a couple of weeks…” because you stress the importance of critical thinking and cooling off from a work, but in an way that doesn’t invalidate the work for not taking “years and years” to stew and be written.

    I worried when I first saw the headline for this article that the tone would reflect the kind of disdain that some longer form authors have built toward quicker authors: that their work isn’t as important or essential because it didn’t take years off their life span.

    But no, you mentioned weeks, not years, and then went into more specific details like beta readers and cooling off from a frenzied writing.

    I think that writing first drafts can be as fast as you possibly want, but rewriting or revising can take a little longer. When you’re burnt out, you know it, and you just need to step away for a day or two to orient yourself again.

    • Thanks, Eddie. It’s true that some books take years and others take weeks. It depends on the story and genre, how much time the author can spend on it throughout the day/week/month, and the writer’s skill level. There is a trend among writers to write fast, and I personally think that’s bad advice. Yes, write as fast as you can (within reason) — but the simple phrase “write fast” probably encourages a lot of writers to rush, and that leads to shoddy work.

      I’ve heard of authors who fly through first drafts and slow down as they revise. Others take a long time to get through early drafts but speed through the revisions and edits. Everyone works differently. Also, everyone has different goals. I’ve seen plenty of authors say they’re okay with their work being average or mediocre…kind of like “Yeah, I probably could have spent another month or two and made it better, but this is fine. I wanted to move on.” To each their own!

  5. Em Fairley says:

    Melissa, thank you! For me, time really is of the essence. I got together with a friend of mine and in a matter of a couple months we had written the first 13 chapters of a novel. We were both very happy with them, but then our day jobs got in the way and we ended up leaving the far from finished manuscript for over nine months before returning to it. When we did, we decided to revise the plot and pretty much do a rewrite, while leaving much of the original writing in place, just flesh it out more. The resulting plan, perhaps unbelievably, now means that the original chapters one and two are now the framework for at least the first eight in the rewrite. Having been back at it for less than a month, we’ve today signed off on chapter three and are so much happier with both the writing and the plot itself. The time away has also meant that not only is the current book in the works, but we’ve developed plot lines for at least one other book. So for me, indeed us, writing well is much more important than writing fast. Having said that, we’re hopeful that things will progress quickly from here, as we’re both excited to take it forward, but won’t panic too much if work gets in the way and we need to slow down a bit.

    • Hi Em! Thanks for sharing your experience. I think it’s important for writers to tell their own stories so we can better understand the many ways that books and stories get made — whether it takes nine weeks or nine months. I think when we’re starting out, it’s important to take our time, and as we gain experience, we can probably write faster and faster. I wish you the best of luck with your writing!

  6. fahim says:

    What a nice blog you have there!

    I will like to contribute.

    I think that a writer should start with quality at a decent pace, efficiency will improve by time.
    But more quantity with poor quality is, of course, a bad idea.

    Thank you

  7. Steve says:

    Hi Melissa, I am really enjoying your blog, I am learning so much!

    I feel like I am at the beginning of a very long journey as I have just started set my focus on writing, I am currently working on my frist novel and wow I have so far to go, so much to learn but I love it.

    I was reading a few other posts in the creative writing section and also an article you wrote about earning a degree in writing, this one I live in Canada and am a 44-year-old guy considering working toward a Bachelor of Arts in English and then possibly a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing if I could survive that far!

    Anyway, you have encouraged me today, thanks for providing valuable feedback and personal points of view for those of us standing at the edge of this precipice trying to convince ourselves it is worth the jump.


    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Steve. It’s always uplifting when I hear that the articles here have helped or inspired people. Thank you so much for your kind words; they’ll keep me going!