It turns out this skill kind of screwed me when it came to fiction. I made the mistake of assuming that what was true for one form of writing was true for another. But it totally wasn't. My first "real" (but unpublished) novel was 105,000 words. I wrote it in 5 weeks, beginning to end, and then thought, "OK. Now let's sell this sucker." Turns out I never even made it to the query stage. My critique group gently savaged the novel, and I realized there was massive work to be done.
Since then, I've written four more books. Each has a different history, and each is somewhere in the sales process (or permanently living in a drawer). But the one thing I know for sure is that I'm not a first draft writer, and I'm barely even a second-draft writer, and to call me a third-draft writer is to be charitable. Basically, if I didn't type fast, I think it would take me about a thousand years to pound out a completed book.
I'm kind of excited about today for a few reasons. First, for me, this is the real beginning of the new year. My first 2009 work day. And I've got lots of work, which is a great thing. Second, I'm not really going to spend today doing any of that work. Instead, I'm going to work on revisions of my most recent book. It's a present to myself.
It turns out I like revisions. Crazy, I know. But it's a skill like any other skill, and after I learned how to revise, I saw how important it was. It's a little like licking a Tootsie Pop. You just keep at it, stroke after stroke, until you hit the sweet center. I like watching the real story emerge from the initial, fevered pile of words. I like engaging with each character as I go through my passes, sharpening them and learning to understand who they are. And I love the feeling when I know a chapter or passage is tight.
I've never been much for comparing myself to other writers, because I just don't think it's possible. I think every person can only produce the writing they can produce. It's an organic thing, like fingerprints and faces. If I could go back and give any advice to my 20-year-old self, I think I would say, "Be gentle with your expectations, uncompromising with your standards, and most important, take the time to get to know yourself."