Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tortoise or Hare? What's Your Speed ~ Tess Gerritsen

Tess Gerritsen left a successful practice as an internist to raise her children and concentrate on her writing. She gained nationwide acclaim for her first novel of medical suspense, the New York Times bestseller Harvest. She is also the author of the bestsellers Life Support, Bloodstream, Gravity, and The Surgeon. Tess lives with her family in Maine. (PHOTO CREDIT: Paul D'Innocenzo)

What’s your speed?

Tess Gerritsen
(reprinted from Tess's 4/19 post on

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.


Marcia Chadwick Moston said...

That's so funny. Wonder if there's a correlation between fast walkers and just-write-the-messy draft people, and slow walkers and organize and outline first writers?

Kelly Klepfer said...

Thanks, Tess. Good stuff to think about.

Gina Holmes said...

I'm a fast walker and slow writer too. Maybe Marcia is on to something.

KC Frantzen and May the K9 Spy said...

Super post Tess!

Agreed with previous comments - definitely something to think about, though on book 2, I'm a quasi-hybrid. I am trying to fit myself into The Snowflake Method and I must say, it has real benefits.

I've not followed through completely and can tell when I get to those spots where I haven't. So far, so good, I'm liking it...

and HEYYY - thanks! I won a book! Sure appreciate that!!! :)

Will Schmit said...

Maybe you could send the critic in your head out for a looooong walk!

Gina Holmes said...

Will, you left a comment on the blog!!! :-)

Kathy Harris said...

Another fast walker, slow writer here! Great post. It's the motivation I needed today.

Ane Mulligan said...

Marcia, there's no correlation between those two. I know. I walk fast and I organize and outline some before I write It's a struggle to make myself to a messy first draft. I'm learning because it's a good way, but I have to push myself.

D. Ann Graham said...

Oh, my gosh... I'm a slow walker AND a slow writer. But I've been in the "rear guard" so long, I'm actually OK with that, now. This way, I can be totally "zeroed in" on all of you up ahead, so I can holler out, "Keep going, y'all, I've got your backs!" And while most would think mine's about the worst position anyone could be in on a march, you wouldn't believe what I can see from back here.

I see one of the most awesome, beautifully unified armies on the planet. No kidding. Everybody's in perfect position, with the perfect qualifications for their particular part of "the mission." So, "Hooah!" That's army talk for anything and everything except, no (with three kids in the military, I relate to these things). Anyway, nice post, Tess, keep walking fast. Because we need you up there, "breaking trail."

Sibella said...

Holy cow is this a relief to read. Not just the speed-walking part, but the writing pace. after five novels, I started to suspect that how we write is as innate (and intransigent) as birth weight and eye color. To hear this from an industrious novelist like Tess is like music from heaven. Thanks for sharing.