October 14 – 20: “Everything in the world is moving at a faster pace – communications, travel, all forms of globalization. Is writing moving faster too?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5It seems everything on this planet is moving at a faster pace: communication, travel, all forms of globalization. Join ITW Members Nina Croft, J. H. Bográn, Laurence O’Bryan and James Ziskin as they discuss the question on everyone’s mind: “Is writing moving faster too?”


manhattanLaurence O’Bryan is the thriller writer you’ve probably never heard of, yet his novels have been translated into ten languages and he’s been short listed for Irish crime writer of the year, as well as winning a writing award in California. Laurence lives in Dublin, travels when needed to get away from the rain and to research the feel and the smell of the cities he writes about. They can’t give you that on Google Street view yet, nor do they cover some of the strange locations he’s written about. Such as deep under Manhattan for his latest novel, The Manhattan Puzzle.

styx-coverA linguist by training, James Ziskin studied Romance Languages and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. He worked in New York as a photo-news producer, then as Director of NYU’s Casa Italiana. He spent fifteen years in the Hollywood post production industry, running large international operations in the subtitling/localization and visual effects fields. His international experience includes two years working and studying in France, extensive time in Italy, and more than three years in India. He speaks Italian and French fluently. Habla español. Aur wo thoda Hindi bhi bolta hai.

NinaCroft_TheDescartesLegacy3Nina Croft grew up in the north of England. After training as an accountant, she spent four years working as a volunteer in Zambia which left her with a love of the sun and a dislike of 9-5 work. She then spent a number of years mixing travel (whenever possible) with work (whenever necessary) but has now settled down to a life of writing and picking almonds on a remote farm in the mountains of southern Spain.

FirefallJ. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. He’s a member of the Short Fiction Writers Guild and the International Thriller Writers where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator and contributor editor their official e-zine THE BIG THRILL.

  1. Hi, might as well kick this off.

    And it being Sunday and me spending time online is probably a very good illustration of how things are speeding up. Twenty years ago this would have been a debate in a magazine, which may have taken months to arrange. But you know this already.

    The question is, is writing changing? I believe so. The research options are much improved with the web. We can walk down a street in Paris online, look up chemical formulas for poison and get ideas for characters from images, and all in under an hour.

    But I also believe a more fundamental change is occurring. This is the age of the accessible author. Mr Franzen may criticize the Tweeting writer from his ivory tower, but what new writer can get a contract these days unless he or she’s Tweeting? And if she isn’t she soon will be when the PR people get to her.

    This will cause a splitting of a writer’s time, but this may end up producing hybrid work, where part of the novel, the thriller extends online, into sites with pictures, maps, backstory pieces and recordings.

    Is that a bad thing? I would rather not make a value judgement about that until I see the end result. And if I write a thriller with extensions to it online would you even buy it?

    Do you want to follow us into the brave new world or stay where you are?

  2. I’m ready for Laurence’s brave new world, though I’m not sure about the hybrid thrillers. I love reading too much to want to be interrupted.

    Do I think that writing is moving faster? Definitely.

    It used to be the norm for authors to average a book a year. These days there’s often pressure to produce three or four books each year. So yes, I believe writing is moving much faster. Is that a good thing, or are we sacrificing quality for quantity? That probably depends entirely on the individual author.
    I received an email the other day inviting me to a course on how to write my first draft in twelve weeks. But if you go look, there are books out there on how to write a novel in thirty days, twenty-one days even a weekend. And it’s not only the actual writing that’s moving faster, but all aspects of the business. Even learning to write is a quicker process with so many on line courses, and easy access to beta readers and critique partners. Then once your book is written, you can publish it a day, if that’s your chosen route.
    I write fast first drafts, though I spend a lot of time before and after plotting and editing. But all writers are different, and what works for me won’t necessarily work for someone else. So are we doomed to obscurity if we can’t produce quickly, or will readers still be happy to wait for the next great thriller from their favourite author?

  3. Nice posts, Laurence and Nina. I’ll weigh in with my thoughts.

    Of course the technologies that define our faster times help us to write more productively. (If you don’t count the time squandered googling ourselves, checking our Facebook accounts, and general time-wasting on our various screens and devices.) But for this exercise, let’s assume that we’ve got that under control.

    I’m actually writing my third Ellie Stone novel entirely on my iPad. Why? It’s not the easiest device to type on, but it’s so damn easy to carry around. I can write anywhere if I have a few minutes. The iPad isn’t for editing, though. When it’s time, I’ll switch over to a laptop with a mouse and a proper version of Word. Not ready to write on a smartphone, but maybe the fourth book.

    Our brave new world has made research an instant and comfortable exercise. Provided you check your sources carefully, it can save days, even weeks of research time. As Laurence mentioned, I have used Google Maps to look at streets and neighborhoods in my books. And I’ve trolled the Internet for fact-checking and used computers for spellchecking, not to mention how efficient e-mail is for sending queries, communications of all kinds, and the finished manuscript itself. No more printing, boxing, mailing, and waiting.

    But I’ll go one step further (or backwards, if you will). Without computers — my first was a blue-and-gray KayPro — I never would have become a writer. Not for the reasons we’ve discussed so far. But because my typing was so dismal, my thoughts so scattered, that I needed a device that allowed me erase perfectly the errors I put on the page and fix them without leaving a scar. I need to revise and edit and polish and hone. And I never could have done that on a typewriter.

    I’ve strayed a bit from the topic at hand. Is writing moving faster today? Yes and no. The creative process may be marginally quicker with the technological aids we have at our disposal, but the other demands and distractions of the modern world probably cancel them out. Personally, I find it easier and faster to produce a polished, quality product today, but the creative process still has to come out of my head. And that, if anything, gets slower each year.

  4. Very nice thoughts from all three.

    Like James, my first novel draft, ever, came with the novelty of a word processor named Word Star. I write in Spanish, which means accents on vocals (á, é, í, ó, ú), along with another mark on top of the n, (ñ). Back with Word Star I had to press a combination of 5-6 keys to make the darn thing appear. And it didn’t even show on the screen, but had the hope that it would on paper. Yes, a dot-matrix printer that would not let the neighbors sleep.
    So, yes, to me writing is faster, if only by the sake of hitting fewer keys!

    You save the time of going to the library to research a particular subject, or many. With internet access, you can do your research from anywhere and very fast. So, that also saves time.

    With the above said, and probably because I still carry on with a day job, my writing has not gotten any faster. My first novel came out in 2011, the second one only last month. And I’m still on the second draft of No.3 so it’ll be at least a year, or a year and a half, before that one sees the light of day. Actually, I’ve resorted to go really low-tech and write the first draft or added scenes in longhand before I actually type them.

    So, I may be one of the last vestiges of the old-school of writing.

  5. Great ideas from all. Now, here’s the $64,000 question, does quality suffer if we write a novel in a month or two?

    I heard that the Great Gatsby was written fast. So what do you think is the optimum length in a novel now that the ebook is such a big part of all this?

    Is 70,000 words ok? I think 100,000 may have been simply a device to fill shelves in bookstores! What do you think?

  6. Great question Laurence,

    Here’s my suggested response, let me know if I won the $64,000.

    Writing fast in itself should not hurt the end product, although sometimes it does feel like it does. We are placing a product in the eyes of readers and therefore, we are bound to respect readers and present them with works that are up to par.
    Self or Trad, the product must be in great form.

    As for length, I hope 70k is fine. I may be biased because my books are usually around that figure. 🙂

    How about you, Laurence?

  7. Nice post, J.H. I too used Word Star. Then WordPerfect, which I loved, blue screen and all.

    Laurence, I’d never thought about novel length being affected by the emergence of e-books. It’s an interesting question. But couldn’t e-books be even longer more easily since production costs are lower? My books average 85K words. Somehow they all come out that long.

    I can’t imagine me writing a book in two months. I find better ideas come with time, so the shorter period would certainly produce an inferior product. At least in my case.

  8. I usually write my first draft in a month or so, but I do spend a lot of time up front plotting and a lot of time at the end editing.

    I’m actually a really slow typist though – two fingers only so there’s a limit to how fast I can physically write.

    I think optimum size should get longer now we no longer have to physically hold the book up (I love long books) But I think they are probably getting shorter – maybe a product of authors feeling the need to produce more books.

  9. Speaking of writing fast, November is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Who’s up for writing or finishing a novel next month? I’m a little bogged down on mine just now. Might be just the thing to get it done.

  10. I wrote the first draft of Firefall during a Nanowrimo. Loved it. I’m just about finished with my next novel so not the right time for me.

    Funny this came up as we discussed novel length. I get the feeling that the idea of having fifty thousand words and consider it a novel may have something to do with shorter works popping up. What do you think?

  11. J.H., I think the 50K-words target is probably the high end of what even the most prolific writers can reach in a month, not an indication that novels are getting shorter. By the way, I’m hesitating to try NANO because I doubt I’ll even get close to 50K words. But, I’m still wavering…

  12. Give it a go, James! It’s fun. I’m aiming for 60k in the month as I’m writing a category length paranormal.

    But thinking about novel length – it’s hard to know on Kindle. I bought a book yesterday, I’ve just finished it, and I have no clue what the word count was. I’m guessing about 70 but only because that’s what the other books in the series were (I have them in paperback. I used to love buying big thick books with small print – now that’s irrelevant.

  13. Thanks all. It was great being part of this. If I had my way you would all win the 64K best answer prize.

    I will be thinking hard about making my next novel shorter, but better!

    See you all at Thrillerfest one of these years!

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