June 2 – 8: “Are thriller writers particularly pressured to write too fast?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week ITW Members Karen Dionne, Cat Connor, Susan Israel, Kate White, Robert Rotstein, Ridley Pearson, Amy Lignor and Tim Waggoner discuss writingreallyfast and answer the question: “Are thriller writers particularly pressured to write too fast?”


The Killing - new cover, frontKaren Dionne is the internationally published author of the science thrillers Freezing Point and Boiling Point. Her newest novel, The Killing: Uncommon Denominator, an original story based on the Fox television series The Killing starring Joel Kinnaman and Mirelle Enos will publish June 24.

Karen is co-founder of the online writers community Backspace, and organizes the Salt Cay Writers Retreat held annually on a private island in the Bahamas. She also served on ITW’s board of directors as Vice President, Technology.


databyteCat Connor lives in Upper Hutt, New Zealand with her husband (Action Man) and their youngest two children (Squealer and Breezy). She is the author of The Byte Series published by Rebel ePublishers, USA. An FBI thriller series about the life of SSA Ellie Conway.

Cat hosts a fortnightly writing workshop at the Upper Hutt City Library. She’s coffee addict and a lover of red wine. Recently described as irresistible, infectious, and addictive. Cat believes music is essential. She knows where to hide the body and where you hid the body.


reckless disregardRobert Rotstein is a writer and attorney who’s represented many celebrities and all the major motion picture studios. He’s the author of Reckless Disregard (Seventh Street Books, June 3, 2014), about Parker Stern, an L.A.-based attorney, who takes on a dangerous case for a mysterious video game designer against a powerful movie mogul. Reckless Disregard has received starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist. His debut novel, Corrupt Practices (Seventh Street Books), was published in 2013.


RedRoom Cover2Ridley Pearson is the New York Times bestselling author of more than four dozen novels, including Choke Point and The Risk Agent, featuring globetrotting problem-solvers John Knox and Grace Chu, as well as the Walt Fleming and Lou Boldt crime series, and many books for young readers. The play “Peter and the Starcatcher,” based on his novel written with Dave Barry, was the recipient of five 2012 Tony Awards. He lives with his wife and two daughters, dividing his time between St. Louis, Missouri, and Hailey, Idaho.


eyes on youKate White is the New York Times bestselling author of six Bailey Weggins mysteries and three stand-alone suspense novels, Hush, The Sixes, and the upcoming Eyes on You (June 24). She was the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan for 14 years. She is also the editor of the upcoming MWA cookbook.



Over My Live Body - SIsraelSusan Israel lives in Connecticut with her beloved dog, but New York City lives in her heart and mind. A graduate of Yale College, her fiction has been published in Other Voices, Hawaii Review and Vignette and she has written for magazines, websites and newspapers, including Glamour, Girls Life, Ladies Home Journal and The Washington Post. She’s currently at work on the second book in the Delilah Price series, Student Bodies.


deep like riverShirley Jackson Award finalist Tim Waggoner has published over thirty novels and three short story collections of dark fiction. He teaches creative writing at Sinclair Community College and in Seton Hill University’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction program.



The Charlatans Crown_Final Online(1)As the daughter of a career librarian Amy Lignor grew up loving books; ‘Patience & Fortitude’ at the NYPL are still her heroes. Beginning in the genre of historical romance with, “THE HEART OF A LEGEND,” Amy moved into the YA world where her first team from THE ANGEL CHRONICLES became a beloved hit. Moving into the action/adventure world with TALLENT & LOWERY, Amy has created a new, incredibly suspenseful, team that has once again exploded with readers everywhere. Born in Connecticut, Amy is now living in the bright sunshine of Roswell, NM, delving into her next adventure.




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  1. Are thriller writers particularly pressured to write too fast?

    I can’t answer for thriller writers in general but for me, the answer is no. Well, kinda. I’m not under pressure from my publishers to write fast (or too fast).
    Doesn’t mean there is no pressure though. I’m pretty good at applying my own special brand of twisted stress. It’s been pointed out more than once that I am quite hard on myself, (especially if I think I’m not working as hard as I should be).
    This year is a slow year for me and it’s starting to drive me nuts. I need to know how this WIP ends. I should probably clarify slow – it takes me 3-6 months to write a complete first draft. Slow means I’ve been writing this WIP for about five months and I’m nowhere near done. I realize for a lot of people that’s not slow at all but for me it feels like I’m wading thigh deep through molasses. I naturally write fast and not just during the initial writing but later on when edits arrive. I return them fast. It’s just how my brain works.
    Being a pantser means the story unfolds as I write, therefore, I tend to write fast so I can find out what happens next, impatient maybe? Probably the wrong industry to be in for someone as impatient as me! Writing fast also means I’m always a book ahead. That’s a comfortable place for me to be – it’s just how I am. So when one book is about due for release, the next one is already with my editor and I’m working on a new one.
    Databyte’s official launch is June 13 (you can already get the paperback), Eraserbyte with my editor – contract signed, and I’m working on Psychobyte. But it doesn’t matter how fast I write – only one book a year is released.
    Pressure also comes in the form of readers (now that’s awesome pressure to have) who tell me a year between Byte books is too long! So, I tend to write short stories to fill the gap – and I guess I write them pretty fast when inspiration strikes.
    So, for me, no pressure to write too fast from the industry but plenty from within!

    That being said – it’s Monday morning and time I started work! 🙂

    Cat Connor
    Author of the Byte Series.


    Too Fast, or Too Lucky?

    As a thriller writer (and a writer of adventure novels for “younger readers”) I am asked to write to deadline. As a writer who wrote for 8 years (6 hours a day) before selling his first book, it’s a “high class problem” to have a deadline. It means: 1) a publisher wants your material 2) you and the publisher have agreed to a schedule/delivery time prior to the signing of a contract 3) You have been paid money in advance of your book ever going on sale. These are nice problems to have.

    If the question is whether we (thriller writers) should be asked to deliver a book every 12 months, that goes back to how successful you want to be as an author. There are plenty of writers who do not adhere to such a strict schedule. My friend, Scott Turow, publishes about every three years; but he’s also a top rate, practicing attorney. If you are being asked to publish once a year, you are one lucky writer. It means you have an audience large enough that your publisher believes the readers will be “waiting for” and “expecting” and therefore willing to buy, a new novel on a regular basis. Having had publishers that have moved my publishing dates all over the calendar, sometimes causing a 2 year gap between books, I have firsthand knowledge that in fact, readers do not like to wait for books. You will even see writers like Michael Connelly and Lee Child publishing two books a year, because their readership has grown so large and so impatient that the market demands more.

    If the bigger question concerns the difficulty of getting a good book written in 12 months—that’s entirely subjective and, I think, varies for each of us. I’m currently on a very tight deadline, so I’d better not take time writing anything more here! And that’s really what it comes down to: writing professionally is as much about time management as anything else!

    Ridley Pearson

    1. Chiming in late to the discussion, but I just want to say that I totally agree with Ridley’s comments. For reasons too complicated to enumerate, the time gap between my first thriller and my second was 27 months. It was REALLY difficult to keep the readership I’d gained from the first novel interested and engaged while they waited for the second. I believe it’s very important for the thriller author who wants to establish a career to write quickly!

  3. In commenting on this topic, I was sorely tempted to write only, “Yes, but I’m on deadline so I have to get back to my latest manuscript.” But the truth is that if quick turnaround is what publishers and readers want, that’s what publishers and readers will ultimately get.

    This is because writing—and not just thriller writing—is a commodity. This sounds unromantic, pejorative even, but it’s not. Books have been commodities for centuries. I’m a practicing copyright attorney, and copyright law—critical to protecting authors—developed only after Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. Why? Because with the advent of moveable type, books could be mass-produced, which meant publishing companies developed, which meant books became articles of commerce, which meant authors needed legal protection. And since then, publishers have pressured writers to produce.

    Do I wish I had more time to write? Sure. Is more time realistic in today’s publishing marketplace? I don’t think so. But as Ridley points out, it’s a wonderful problem to have.

  4. “How does James Patterson do it?” That’s a question that I ponder more than once as I keep working on my second book which was supposed to be finished by now. Like Cat, I’m a pantser too; I improvise a lot as I go along. I have a synopsis I wrote to guide me, but my characters have deviated some from the routes I planned for them. I think I am too much of a perfectionist, writing and rewriting as I go along, imagining scenes like movie clips and then writing them. I like to leave room for surprise. If I’m not surprised, I feel my readers won’t be either. If I’m numb while writing, I fear my readers will be too.

    I hope that my readers will eagerly await Student Bodies and I don’t want to disappoint them by rushing plot lines, character development, etc. The path to publication isn’t ever easy. I was thrilled that my editor loved Over My Live Body and wanted more and I want to produce books at least as good as if not better than my first. Sometimes life gets in the way in the worst possible way; the dog dies, the car malfunctions, the sink gets plugged up, the computer freezes, you strain your meniscus; the path to Book 2, Student Bodies, has been riddled with potholes. I hope to avoid pitfalls when I’m working on Book 3 later this year, but I wonder how other thriller writers deal with the exigencies of life and how they learn to write fast. What would James Patterson do?

    1. Last year I found life trying very hard to get in my way – and wrote more than usual! For me, the more life throws at me the more I write. It’s an escape. I spent a lot of time sitting next to my mum in the hospice writing, and when I wasn’t, she was telling me I should be.

      I’m not sure writing fast is a learned thing? I think it might be just how some people are or it could be a case of trust yourself to tell the story and just write?

      I do know I can’t write fast when my mind is constrained by an outline or synopsis. I need freedom to follow the story.

  5. As Ridley says, it’s an honor to be published once a year, and readers DO expect their yearly fix, but I have to say I find it tough. At one point my publisher offered me a 16 month deadline rather than 12 and it was utterly blissful. I gave myself those extra four months to really noodle over my idea and develop it before typing a single sentence. And I felt so less panicky when it was time to write. (I’m a plotter, not a pantser, and winging it doesn’t work for me at all.) But now I’m back to the yearly deadline. One thing that’s helped: Two years ago I left my job running Cosmopolitan Magazine (I’d been the editor for 14 years) solely to give myself a chance to be full time author. I figured this would provide more padding, and it has to some degree, but now there are all those demands from social media etc. What has helped even more is to block out time at the end of each day, often while I’m walking or sitting in a coffee shop, to develop the next idea. I start before I’m finished with one book and I think of it as having the four-month window but in little tiny increments. I have to hand my latest book, Strings Attached, in at the end of September, just a few months after Eyes on You is released, but I’ve already begun to play with the next book idea. It’s relieved the stress a lot.

    1. Great comments, Kate! I think it’s really interesting that those extra 4 months made such a difference. A lot of aspiring writers take years to write their first book, but once they break in, the situation changed.

  6. Everything in this industry has an ‘It depends’ label attached to it, and this is no exception. Although publishing houses, contracts, and deadlines differ, as do agents and fans, I believe the brain of the writer is actually the ‘one’ that feels the most pressure in this scenario. To me, a thriller, especially when it’s a series, is something that ‘feels’ like it must be written as fast as possible. (And, yes, the deadlines do still apply, but attempting to be a book ‘ahead’ of the game is also a help here.)

    The thriller is written with such extreme intensity, that the passion for the subject – whether it be a cozy mystery or a hard-edged, gripping tale – does not simply end when the book is finished. The writer (usually) has the next idea in their craw ready to begin, and the popularity of the one before puts pressure on the author to keep the ball rolling in the right direction. The feeling that the next set of thrills needs to come quickly so that the passion does not dwindle for the author is real; just as real is the thought that if the next offering takes too long, fans could ‘forget’ about it. But the pressure the author takes on within themselves lands on the page 9 times out of 10, translating into a fast-paced, edge of the seat novel readers won’t put down.

  7. I think Amy makes a great point at the end. Use the pressure to your advantage. Instead of letting that panicky feeling or anxiety thwart you, use it in your book. Fill your protagonist with it so that there’s an even greater sense of dread and danger in the pages.

  8. Amy and Kate make a great point about using pressure to your advantage. The knowledge that I have a deadline often gets me away from the Internet or the Kings hockey game and back to the keyboard. A mundane benefit of the pressure, perhaps, but an important one.

  9. I’ve never been pressured to write too fast by editors. They’re usually good about giving me extra time to complete a project if I need it. The tie-in novels I’ve done had often had shorter deadlines than my original novels, and there can be pressure to finish final edits in a short amount of time. This is because it usually takes the IP holder — a movie studio, TV network, etc. — forever to read a novel draft and come back with requested changes. Not only do you have a short time to make the changes, since it’s a tie-in, there’s only so much room for negotiating what changes you’ll make and which you won’t. So there’s definitely some pressure in that situation!

    1. Tim – I didn’t realize you also write tie-in novels! I wrote my first one (THE KILLING: UNCOMMON DENOMINATOR, which publishes on the 24th of this month), and the deadlines were pretty intense. When I signed the contract agreeing to write the novel in 3 months, I didn’t even know if I could write that fast, but I found out! I also learned that some experienced tie-in authors write their books in as little as six weeks! It’s a different world, for sure.

  10. And now for my “official” response to this discussion. Here’s hoping someone’s still reading! 😉

    I used to consider myself a slow writer. I have two things working against speed: 1. I tend to over-edit, and 2. I’m an obsessive-compulsive perfectionist.

    But after I signed with Titan Books to write an original novel based on the Fox/AMC television series THE KILLING, I knew I had to learn how to write faster.

    I was doing pretty well – not writing fast enough, but definitely faster than usual – until I found myself jammed up against a deadline most novelists would have thought impossible to meet. My normal writing pace produced roughly one polished chapter per week. Now, in order to meet my deadline, I had to write a polished chapter every day. I had to learn how to write faster — fast.

    Previously, my writing process looked like this:

    Think about the chapter.
    Write a great first line.
    Write a solid first paragraph.
    Write one or two more decent paragraphs.
    Put xxx in the places where the right word won’t come.
    Put notes to myself in brackets in the places that needed more research.
    Sketch out the rest of the chapter using whatever incomplete sentences and thoughts came to mind in order to get it all down.

    The result was a mess. But that was okay. Writers are often told that they should spew out their first draft quickly, without worrying about spelling or punctuation so they don’t lose momentum. Once it’s written, they can go back and fix everything later.

    Except that for me, “later” always came too soon. Because I was writing without careful thought, my chapters quickly lost coherency. So I’d go back to the beginning and read the wonderful first sentence and paragraphs again in order to ground myself in the story.

    Then as long as I was back at the beginning of the chapter and the story was fresh in my mind, I’d rework the next few paragraphs. Tweaking a word. Inverting the clauses to make a sentence read more cleanly or rewording the sentence to eliminate those pesky commas altogether. Changing “and” to “but.” Changing it back. Experimenting, exploring, trying out other options as I looked for what my gut said was the best way to tell this part of the story.

    And that was okay, because I was making progress. It wasn’t quick, and it was oftentimes painful, but each pass through the chapter made the chapter better.

    Then came my deadline. Complicating the situation was the fact that during the time I needed to be writing, my daughter was getting married in another city. I couldn’t use my laptop on the plane because it was too bulky. So I bought several writing pads and pens in order to make use of every writing opportunity, and off I went.

    And that’s when I discovered the secret to writing faster. Write in longhand.

    I’m not the first author to advocate writing by hand. But when I did walk away from the keyboard and literally take up the pen, the difference in my creative output was astounding. Instead of writing 2,500 words in a typical week, I consistently wrote between 3,000 and 5,000 words a DAY. Good words, that didn’t require so much tweaking and polishing.

    Here’s why writing by hand is faster than writing on a computer:

    When an author working on a computer makes a typo, as I just did by typing “Whey” instead of “When” at the beginning of this sentence, they stop and fix it. Why shouldn’t they? The mistake will have to be corrected at some point, the author has noted the error in the here and now, and it only takes a second to correct it.

    When I write in longhand, I don’t write “Whey” when I mean to write “When.” Occasionally, I cross out a word or a sentence, but there are no distracting typos, no time-consuming regressions.

    My sentences are also cleaner. Because I write more slowly by hand than I can type, I give more thought to what I’m writing, and am thus more careful about what I put on page.

    And that’s the corollary to writing faster. Slow down. Think about the words before you put them to paper, and the words you write are more likely to be ones that will stay.

    Necessity forced me to write the bulk of my novel in longhand. But in the process, I discovered that writing by hand is faster than writing on a computer.

    1. That’s what I do Karen! Always have. I have notebooks for each novel (I’ve kept them too) and most scenes/chapters are written long hand as they pop into my head – I can write no matter where I am as long as I have a notebook. I also make chapter summaries in the notebook – so I don’t need to reread the actual manuscript before I start work. I suspect it’s writing long hand that helps me write fast. 🙂

      1. And I’m just the opposite. I don’t think I wouldn’t have been able to write without a computer, and now an iPad, and even an iPhone if I have an idea. Even in the days of manual typewriters, I’ve always expressed myself better through a keyboard than through a pen. And Karen, I’m perfectly capable of writing “whey” for “when” in longhand. Or not being able to read what I wrote at all! 🙂

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