Pulp Speed

Pulp Speed

Greetings, writers, critics, and fans of the Pulp Revolution! Today I bring you a two-in-one history and writing lesson from one of the smartest and most prolific indie authors working today: Mr. Dean Wesley Smith.

Lest you're tempted to think that's just flattery, Mr. Smith displays knowledge of the real history and value of the pulps more than two years before the publication of Jeffro Johnson's monumental Appendix N.

There were still those who remembered and cherished the pulps, even in the Dark Times. Mr. Smith is one such keeper of the flame, and he is here to teach you how to write at Pulp Speed.
Many, many of the great writers of the past that we still read and enjoy were pulp writers. And there are many pulp writers working today. More than you might imagine, even through the rough times of the last twenty years in traditional publishing.
Now, right here, before I get started, I’m going to repeat what I always say. No writer is the same as any other writer.
And most writers could never do what I am about to talk about.
Pulp Speed writing is a mind-set for writers who have cleared out damn never every myth and belief taught to them about writing by English teachers. A Pulp Speed writer loves to just tell stories, one right after another. So remember, no writer is the same as another writer. And if this hits you wrong, it might not be for you to even think about in any fashion.
But for others, this might just be the ticket to a bright new future, just to learn this is possible and happening.
Can I get an amen?

Dean lays some forbidden history on us:
Dickens was one of the early great Pulp Writers. And there were many along the way before the turn of 1900. It was then that the “literary” group split from the “writing for the masses” group of writers.
To the literary group, their writing had to be important, something to struggle to read, and only be published in leather hardbound books.
The masses group of writers just wanted to tell stories that would entertain readers.
Writing to entertain readers. Imagine that.
Around this split period of 1900, the pulp magazines were coming in, and with the pulp magazine expansion, stories were needed to fill the pages of the exploding pulp magazine field. And the writers who could write sellable stories quickly discovered they could become very rich writing for one cent per word.
Let that sink in. They got rich writing at a rate of a penny a word. Even adjusting for inflation, you would have to write a lot just to reach the US median income at that rate. We're not talking about releasing two or even three novels per year, never mind the Big Five's commonly mandated one yearly novel. We're talking double digits.
Novels that were in the pulps almost never made it out of the pulps. They lasted on the stands for one week or maybe two weeks or a month and were gone. A few pulp writers started their own publishing companies. One example is Burroughs. His son got his novels into books. But most novels just stayed in the pulps until the late 1940s when the paperback form started to take off and novels were needed for that form.
Doc Savage was a pulp character created mostly by Lester Dent and his publisher under a magazine house name. He wrote 159 of the Doc Savage novels for the Doc Savage pulp magazine, among many other books under other names, including his own name. There was a novel from Dent in most issues of Doc Savage Magazine for a decade or more. You can still buy Doc Savage novels by Dent today.
Some pulp writers got so famous, they were some of the richest people in the country. One year in the 1940s, the pen name Max Brand had thirteen movies in production from his books. Some of you may even remember Max Brand’s Dr. Kildare from television. Either the first television series or the second.
This is a theme that Jeffro, John C. Wright, and Razörfist bring up again and again. The pulps weren't just big in print. They were the king of all media with a cultural dominance we can only begin to imagine today.
I admire true storytellers such as Max Brand and Lester Dent who are still being read and enjoyed by millions well over a hundred years past when they started publishing.
When the pulps finally died in the late 1950s, Pulp Speed writers turned to paperbacks through the 1960s and 1970s and wrote everything a publisher wanted. There were lots and lots of Pulp Speed writers producing upwards of 30 novels a year if not more. And most books were under many pen names and across many genres. Novels in this time period were still in the 40,000 word range.
In the 1980s publishers started to artificially inflate the size of novels because of the publisher’s need to charge more for a paperback. Pulp Speed writers kept on.  Numbers worked the category romance field, many worked westerns which had kept their smaller size.
There's that pesky date again. It looks like 1980 really is the hard expiration date for a publishing industry that was mainly interested in entertaining readers.
But by the 1990s and early this century, most of the Pulp Speed writers had retired and very few new writers understood that Pulp Speed world was out there. It was almost impossible to understand when publishers limited a writer to one book per year. But some Pulp Speed writers still existed and worked through the period.
But now, with the advent of the indie world, Pulp Speed writers are coming back. It is possible again. And fun.
The golden age of fiction for readers has returned.
The crap rules the traditional publishers forced on writers are gone for writers smart enough to escape them. Just as with the pulp era, writers are free to write stories again at whatever pace they want to write. And readers are free to read what they want without some snobby person telling them it is good or bad.
The second pulp era is upon us.
Tell it on the mountain!

Now that we know that writing like a pulp author is possible once again, how can we learn to write at pulp speed? Dean answers:
Well, since we all type about the same speed when writing, the way to pick up speed is to spend more time in the writing chair. However, to do that in this modern world takes a vast amount of getting rid of all the crap we were taught by non-writers.
And it takes a real love of telling stories and an ability to write one draft fiction. Rewriting kills Pulp Speed completely. None of the great Pulp Writers you read today and many of the great literary writers never rewrote anything. They told people they did starting in the 1970s and afterward when the rewriting craze started to hit, but they never did in reality.
Remember, to them words were money. One cent per word made them rich. The more words in sellable fiction, the richer they got.
The secret, as Dean tells it, is twofold:
  1. Unlearn what you have learned in creative writing classes and writers' workshops.
  2. Write, as Larry Correia would say, to GET PAID!
I've heard Jeffro describe Larry as one of the old pulp masters come again. Based on Dean's description of how writers operated in the pulps' heyday, I must concur.

So you've implemented Dean's advice. How do you know if you're writing fast enough? You're in luck, because Dean has come up with handy definitions of each Pulp Speed Factor.
About 1,000,000 (1 million) original words per year. This averages to about 2,750 words a day for 365 days. (numbers rounded)
Or about 83,300 words per month.  So if you do 3,000 words a day and over 84,000 words per month ON AVERAGE for a year, you are writing at PULP SPEED ONE. (if you take days off, then your daily word count has to go up on your writing days. Do your own math for your schedule.)
1,200,000 words in a year. 100,000 words per month. Last month I hit PULP SPEED TWO, for the month, but the key is holding it for the year. The yearly total is the key. Average is the key.
And remember, that is about 3,400 words per day. If you can write 1,000 words average an hour, that’s 3.5 hours per day.
1,400,000 words in a year.  To hit this, you need to be about 120,000 words per month (rounded up) or about 4,000 words per day average. Again, at this level, the difficulty factor starts increasing. Maintaining gets more difficult on the engines to keep at this speed for an entire year. (Max Brand wrote at this pace for decades, not missing.)
1,600,000 words per year. That’s about 135,000 words per month or about 4,500 words per day without a day off.
1,800,000 words per year.  About 150,000 words per month. 5,000 words per day without missing a day.
2 million words and more per year. 170,000 words or so per month. About 5,500 words per day average.
The engines are shaking and Scotty is looking panicked.
But I know a few writers who did this through the traditional publishing crunch on writers in the early part of this century. It can be done.
But if you think it can’t be done, ask yourself why? Why is your belief system telling you that?
Say you wanted to write for 8 hours per day for five days a week. (40 hours of writing. You know, like a work ethic.) This allows you to take the weekends off with your family. You write 1,000 words per hour. 8 hours is 8,000 words per writing day. 40,000 words per week.
So you do that, take two weeks off for a vacation. 50 weeks x 40,000 words per week = 2 million words.
Writers who write in these top speeds have a real work ethic with their writing and love to tell stories, one right after another.
As I said earlier, you need to have everything cleaned out of the myth side of the brain.
Pulp Speed Six is what full-time writers manage. Writers who work eight hours a day, five days per week, 50 weeks per year.
This is not for everyone. And you can’t just jump to these speeds, it takes time to work up to them. But it is possible once again for more than just a few in this new indie publishing reality.
There's even more at Dean's blog.

Dean Wesley Smith has been a major influence on my own writing career. I highly recommend his advice on indie publishing, especially his Think Like a Publisher series.

You can judge for yourself how well I've followed Dean's advice by checking out my fan-pleasing Soul Cycle series, on sale this month.



  1. He's a big part of why I jumped into the fray. Even with the full time day job, I'm averaging at least a thousand words out the door every day this year. Not too shabby.

    1. Dean or Larry? Either one is good.

      And no, not too shabby at all.

  2. I'm closing in on doing Pulp Speed One for the Year thanks to dictation - but gotta slow it down a bit for the sake of editing. ;)

    1. That's fascinating. I've heard that Kevin J. Anderson owes his prolific publishing schedule to dictation.

    2. Pulp Speed One is already intense, especially if you want to reach it on a daily basis. The higher stages are insane--Dean's finger bones must atrophy triple as fast:)

    3. Yep. I don't know how he does it.

  3. My first thought was that this is insane, only some freak could write that fast.

    Then I checked my own blog - I write about 4-5 posts a week, about 1,000 words each. I spend maybe an hour, hour and a half a day writing them.

    Soooo - speed turns out to not be the issue (plenty of other issues, but not speed). If I could somehow write for 4-5 hours a day, I'd be at pulp factor 4.... (it's just gotta be Pulp Factor X, because, c'mon!)

    Reality is that it takes me weeks or months (if ever!) to complete a single 8,000 word story. Obviously, I need to rethink what I'm doing. And then do it.

    1. "My first thought was that this is insane, only some freak could write that fast."

      I don't disagree, mostly because as Daddy Warpig has observed, all SFF writers are insane :)

  4. Brian.
    Thanks very informative. Not only Dickenson but Dumas, Victor Hugo Balzac Galdós also wrote serialized fiction in newspapers.
    I read somewhere that Dickenson even had an early form of crowd sourcing for plot developments and ending.

    Perhaps the secret is to bring back serial magazines both online and print


    1. "Perhaps the secret is to bring back serial magazines both online and print"

      Interesting that you mention that...

    2. Brian

      Really?:) Would you say that Cisnova and the Superversive magazine are attempts to bring back serialized stories that entertain?

    3. Not necessarily, but Astounding Frontiers will be.

  5. Well, since we all type about the same speed when writing, the way to pick up speed is to spend more time in the writing chair.

    This also backs up your advice about sacrifice.

    1. That's what Dean means when he says that achieving pulp speed requires a love of storytelling. Specifically, you've got to love telling stories more than something else that most people love.

      Notice how rarely I've seen the new movie we're discussing on a given episode of Geek Gab. That's because I usually don't get to go.

  6. Brian

    SorryI just remembered Simeonon the Agatha Christie of French décrive fiction and de Villiers who wrote the SAS series (not the British unit but a spy) think of de Villiers as Mike Hammer writing Tom Clancy novels

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Coming in late here, but I have been following DWS and his blog since early July. I hadn't bothered writing anything new in years because all the myths had choked the desire out of me. Since then, I've written over 300,000 words, and I'm on pace for 500,000, prorated to Pulp Speed 2. And that's along being a stay-at-home homeschooling Dad of three boys (one with autism), and being in full-time university online.

    It is very, very doable...if you want it bad enough.