What’s your speed?

by Tess Gerritsen

My husband says I walk too fast.  He complains about this whenever we stroll together, even when we’re not late for any appointment but just seeing the sights.  “What’s your hurry?” he asks.  “Are you trying to make me feel like a slacker?” Really, I’m not; I just naturally walk fast. How fast?  I think people in Manhattan should stop being so pokey.   

Years ago, when I was working as a doctor in a Honolulu emergency room, I walked into a treatment room to sew up a cop who had a nasty laceration. Before I could say a word, the cop says, “You’re not from the islands, are you?”

“How the heck did you know that?” I ask, completely baffled.  As an Asian American, I look like half the population of Honolulu.  

“It’s the way you walk,” he said.  “You look like you have to get somewhere in a hurry.  Islanders don’t walk that way.”  

Now that’s an observant cop.

Another memory: my husband and I are in London, on a double date for dinner with my UK editor and her husband.  My editor and I walk together, and we both walk fast. We’re talking business while we walk, and we’re so engrossed in conversation that we’re not really paying attention to where our husbands are.  Suddenly we realize we’ve lost them.  They’re nowhere to be seen.  We halt on the sidewalk, wondering if they took a wrong turn or ducked into a pub somewhere.  A moment later the men appear, annoyed and grumbling about “these damn career women, always leaving their husbands behind.”

The thing is, I don’t think I walk fast.  This is just my natural walking pace and if I slow down, I feel as if I’m wading through molasses.  It’s something that’s inborn and not a conscious thing.  We each have our own natural rhythms that determine how much sleep we need and how fast our hearts beat.

In the same way, I think I have my own writing speed, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t change it.  I would love to write multiple novels a year.  I would love to have a new book on the shelves every four months.  The fastest I ever wrote was back when I was writing romantic thrillers for Harlequin, and one year I managed to write two books, but those were only 300-page manuscripts.  Now that I’m writing longer thrillers, I have to work hard to meet my book-a-year deadlines.

Now, this may have something to do with my chaotic process.  I don’t outline, I don’t plan ahead.  I plunge into a first draft and it goes all over the place and it ends up a mess.  Which means I have to spend the next five months cleaning it up.  Oh, if I could just have a logical system with notecards that summarize every chapter ahead of time.  If only I could approach it like an engineer with a blueprint.  But even if I could do it that way, I think I’d still be writing only a book a year.  Because of that natural rhythm thing again.  I write four pages a day and I’m bushed.  Whether those four pages are good or bad, they exhaust me.

And I have to wander off and make a martini to recover.

I’ve given up beating myself over the head about my pokey writing schedule.  Just as I’ve stopped apologizing for how fast I walk.  Too bad I couldn’t be a fast writer and a slow walker.

Then everything would be perfect.



23 thoughts on “What’s your speed?

  1. Katherine Howell

    Hear hear! Great post Tess, and a nice bit of reassurance for the others of us who fit well with a book a year. Thanks 🙂
    Looking forward to catching up when you come to Oz,

  2. JD Rhoades

    ""You look like you have to get somewhere in a hurry. Islanders don't walk that way."

    Wouldn't that have as much to do with you being, oh, I dunno, an ER DOCTOR? Remind me never to need an emergency room in Hawaii. I get an Islander for an MD, I might bleed to death before they mosey over.

    I kid, I kid.

    I know how you feel, Tess. it's an endless source of annoyance to my wife that I end up thirty feet in front of her before I realize she's lagging behind.

  3. Sylvia

    Tess, there are certainly values to admire in people – fast walking (yes), hard drinking (no).

    As for writing multiple books per year… since I can't state anything from publishing experience and personally don't know anyone who writes multiple books per year all I can go on is my gut from what I've seen from the authors who do kickout 3+ books a year – FORMULAIC – and not in a good "I follow a process way"

    I've dropped authors from my bookshelf who popout books like that Duggar woman pops out kids and gives them all names that start with the letter "J". It's like they can't be creative so just wap out character names, surrounding event (dinner party for a music festival) and the weapon with a set of flashcards and viola – new book. B-O-R-I-N-G.

    Give me thoughtful writing that grips, engages and surprises. That takes time. Take a year, take two. Just keep writing.

  4. Eika

    Pace is important, because pushing yourself too hard will reflect on the writing. If you start to hate it, it all goes downhill.

    Personally, my walking pace drives people mad; it's exactly the spot where I'm too slow for half the people I know and too fast for the other half!

  5. Alafair Burke

    Sylvia, Your Duggar comparison cracks me up.

    Tess, Since I basically idolize you, I'm glad to hear that we both walk fast and write — not slowly, but, um, organically. Yeah, I like that description.

  6. Murderati fan

    See, I'm lucky. I'm a slow walker. I'll walk with the guys and enjoy the scenery. If I walk with you, I'll get a wheelchair and let you push me!

    Acceptance of self is the key to happiness.

  7. David Corbett

    Dear Tess:

    Since as early as I can remember, I've been told I talk too fast. I've never understood why others can't listen more briskly.

    I think it's Heidegger who said we come to consciousness in the middle of things, i.e., we come pre-equipped with cultural and biological givens we can't account for and can't escape.

    Creativity — in life as well as art — may be at its core the attempt to free oneself from the generally accepted notionn of who we're supposed to be, and instead accept the givens we're born with (who we can't help being) and embrace the maybes we find impossible to live without (who we want to be).

    That three-way struggle — who we are versus who we're supposed to be versus who we want to be — is by nature ill-defined and incomplete. It's also the day-to-day business of living. Seems to me you've done not just well at it, but brilliantly. Martinis all around!

    I also believe that people who supposedly "don't plot" do in their sprawling first drafts what plotters do in outline form. It's two ways to a similar end.

    And yes, there may be no more gratifying realization in art than recognizing one's own process. This is how I do it. This is how I'm good at it. Thank God.

    I know, editors and agents would prefer otherwise but they're always somewhere else when the crime is committed, as it were.

    Lovely post. Thank you. And next time someone tells you that you walk too fast, break into a run:

  8. JT Ellison

    I love this. My brother is a fast walker – drives me crazy trying to keep up. You'd think my long legs would go really quick – not really.

    My writing though, that does – but I'm so upset with myself that I cna't seem to go faster. Two books a year is all I can seem to manage and still have fun with it. But I have four books straining to get out of my head and onto the page in addition to the one I'm writing now – I need to find some patience to deal with them all. If anyone has tips – I'm all ears. Other than dropping the social netowrking, which I'm kind of doing unconsciously. The deeper I get into story, the less I remember I need to go visiting.

    Great post, Tess.

  9. David Corbett


    Think of social networking as inadvertent PR. It inspires a bit less guilt that way.

    As for having 4 projects at once: we live in a perversely distracted era, which means we need to focus all the harder. Scheduling is how I go at it: I will work on Project A on this day from X am to Y pm, and Project B later that same afternoon, etc.

    This also forces me to prioritize, which can be enlightening: What do I REALLY want to do, what do I have to force myself to do, what do I blissfully ignore, etc.

    And because life constantly throws distractions and interruptions and digressions in the way, I have to be somewhat rude and brutal in honoring those reserved times.

    But I like being rude and brutal. As you know.

    Abrazos, mi hermana:

  10. JT Ellison

    David, are both your stories in the same genre? I'm doing a lot of the same thing – but I haven't figured out how to write similar stories at the same time. Maybe I'm just not meant to write two books at once…

  11. pari noskin taichert

    I'm not worrying about speed anymore . . . just consistency — as in writing daily — that's it. Not even worried about quality.

    The pace thing though is interesting. Tess writes about HI and the speed there. I've noticed huge differences across the country and find myself wanting to adapt. And each time I do, I think slightly different thoughts in slightly different ways.

    I notice the same phenomenon when I speak other languages.

    Maybe it's the Pisces in me coming to the surface?

  12. Allison Brennan

    I have written nearly three books a year for six years. It's a routine. I consistently write 8-10 pages a day, six days a week. Then I revise/edit the book, which takes just as long as writing the rough draft. (Ok, confession, I AVERAGE 8-10 pages a day. Some days I write minus-20 pages. Some days I write 25 pages.) I have no life outside of writing and my kids, and that's fine with me. Right now, that's all I need. I don't consider myself fast or slow, but I do write every day. I don't plot, I often write a rough draft then write a completely new ending in revisions. I rarely know where I'm going in the story, but I have the inciting incident and I know at least one of my characters. Writing a series now is both easier and harder–easier in that since I just finished book #3, I know my two main characters better than any other characters I've written; harder in keeping them evolving, growing, learning.

  13. David Corbett


    Admittedly, my projects differ: a novel, a non-fiction book, a screenplay, a teleplay. Every now and then an essay or a story or a poem. You may need to conduct a little "throat clearing" as a segue between projects if they're similar — a little preliminary writing that lets go of the last project and re-introduces you to the new one, even if it's only "writing about the writing," i.e., telling yourself where you are in the story, where you've just come from, where the next scene is going, etc. Before you know it, you'll launch in to the new project. Unless, of course, you're exhausted.


  14. Reine

    Tess… I love your writing so much I will wait for the next however long it takes, but I will read them as fast as you put them out there.

    My chair and I go about 6.3 mph on an average walk. It feels pretty fast to me. I thought it was pretty fast. Most people I walk with can't keep up, and Kendall has to run. Then I met Zoë's significant other. Kind and decent guy that he is explained his fast walk with an aw-shucksish, "That's only because you and Kendall clear the way."

    My writing is hugely slow, though. Used to be able to do 40 pages in an evening. Now it's just one totallly unbrilliant key at a time, although my birthday iPad is way easier to use.

  15. Perry Wilson

    Interesting. Everything has it's speed and there's no changing it for the better. I think I'll use a 'you don't walk like a local' idea in my writing.


  16. PD Martin

    I walk fast compared to most people…except my husband, who always ends up several steps ahead of me!

    As for writing…I don't do much planning and find it difficult to write every day with a pre-schooler at home and a few extra projects on the go! However, I have discovered these amazing things called "10k days". The aim is to write 10,000 words in a day. It's intense, stream-of-consciousness wriiting but it works well to make the deadlines and balance family life! Of course, if you did a 10k day every day, or even once a week I think you'd need more than one martini to recover 🙂

  17. lawyer

    I don't do much planning and find it difficult to write every day with a pre-schooler at home and a few extra projects on the go!…………

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