In an ideal world, writers would have as long as it takes to finish a particular job. Unfortunately, we don't live in an ideal world, so most of us have deadlines looming over our heads like editorial swords of Damocles.
In order to meet these deadlines, it's often necessary to write much faster than we would like. I speak from experience on this issue, having recently co-authored a book that required me to write several articles a day to stay on schedule. The articles weren't long -- just one or two pages each -- but there were a lot of them, and each required a bit of research. I quickly learned that I needed to add more hours to my workday in order to meet the mandated deadlines, so I started getting up an hour earlier, and working until around 9:30 each evening, including weekends. I didn't like it, but I did it, and I met all of my deadlines without difficulty.
This isn't the first time I've had to pound out the words to meet a deadline. Several years ago, Mark Cantrell and I wrote a 42,500-word book about the Columbia space shuttle disaster in just six days. (On the seventh day, we rested.) And previous to that, I wrote a 100,000-word book about World War II in nine weeks, at one point churning out 5,000 words a day.
The fact is, a writer who can write quickly (and well) is an editor's dream, and thus a writer who likely will get a lot of work. It's not the ideal situation, but it happens often enough that any writer looking to make freelancing his or her career should come to accept it as an inescapable part of the job. More times than not, time isn't a luxury we can afford.
Of course, I'm not suggesting that you should accept every assignment that crosses your desk, regardless of deadline. If you know in your heart that you don't have enough time to do a good job, you should decline and explain why. A smart editor will understand and not hold it against you. And if your editor DOES hold it against you, is that someone you really want to work for?
Beginning freelancers often take an excruciatingly long time with their first assignments because they want to do as good a job as they possibly can. That's commendable, but unrealistic. Bottom line: finished is better than perfect. Especially when a tight deadline looms.
-- Don Vaughan