In case you hadn’t noticed, this is National Novel Writing Month. An American initiative, it aims to get people writing a whole novel during November. It doesn’t make much difference in my house, of course. Just about every month is novel writing month for me. But the Independent has an interesting take on it, listing some of the great books that have been written in a few weeks. I’m not sure why they included Sebastian Faulk’s James Bond pastiche ‘Devil May Cry’, because it is a laughably poor book. But it has to be admitted there are some great books there. ‘On The Road’ for example took only three weeks. So did ‘A Study in Scarlet’, and ‘A Christmas Carol’. Even Dostoyevsky managed to knock out ‘The Gambler’ in only 26 days – although he doesn’t strike you as a fast sort of a writer, in the way that Dickens does.
So is it better for writers to rattle out a book fairly quickly? I certainly think there is something to be said for it, particularly when you are writing thrillers. They are by definition pacey books. A sense of speed is one of the things that readers like about them. Like roller-coasters, they need to be designed to go very fast, and have lots of twists and turns. It is easier to create that kind of breathlessness when you are working at high speed yourself.
That said, you don’t want that to turn into sloppiness. The other key element of a thriller is structure. And that takes time to build. There is nothing worse than reading a book that is all over the place, because the writer hasn’t taken enough time to construct the plot, or do the research.
My own solution is to spend ages on the outline – the structure – but then to write pretty quickly. But I’m sure every writer has their own approach.