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.