Many of you saw the story in the New York Times this weekend about how the ereader phenomenon of consumers wanting their books NOW is driving established authors to write faster. It was an interesting piece, but one that I think struck a note of fear in all of our hearts. The story posits that authors who used to write one book a year are now being pushed to do more: two, even three novels, with shorts stories and novellas thrown in to bridge the gap between books, because ebook original authors are producing at an alarming pace, and traditionally published authors must do all they can to keep up.
I don't necessarily want to get into a discussion about the Us vs. Them mentality that is starting to emerge between traditionally published and self-published authors. A few vociferous people are leading this charge, and it won't take you many keystrokes to find them and their opinions. Nor do I want to delve into the fact that quantity does not necessarily equal quality.
No, I'd rather look at this phenomenon emerging of fast writing, and this sudden conversation cropping up in the recesses about how fast you really can write a book.
How fast is fast enough?
Different books take different efforts. Some are hugely labor intensive. Some are research heavy. Some tap into terribly difficult emotions, and are just plain difficult to write. Some write themselves. Each book is an entity unto itself.
Each writer is an entity unto him or herself, as well. Some of us can write a book in three months. Some claim to be able to write one in two weeks. For some, five years, ten years, are the norm. For most, one book a year is a steady, reasonable pace. It allows for research, writing, editing, proper time for reviews and marketing and tours. If you're familiar with everything that happens in the course of writing a book, you'd know that it is hardly languorous. Yet suddenly, people are claiming one book a year is too slow.
I personally write two books a year. Not because that's what the market is demanding of me, but because it naturally takes me on average six months to write a book. But I don't have children, and writing is my job. I've been a full-time writer from the beginning of my career, and have been blessed with the right mix of people and timing and mastering my own learning curve to figure out an appropriate, comfortable pace for ME.
But there are many ways up the mountain.
Listen, literature is not one size fits all. Every writer I know, regardless of how quickly they produce books, are working hard, every day. Grinding it out. I have a friend whose output is maybe 100 words a day - 100 proud, keepable words a day. I have another who feels short if she doesn't hit 5,000. I fall in between - averaging 1,000 minimum, and when I'm really in the groove, easily in the 3-4,000 range. I write fast, yes, in comparison to some, but not in comparison to others.
The premise of the article hinted that readers may start abandoning their favorites who put out one book a year in favor of lesser known, new-to-them authors who are cranking out a book every two to three months. This is a theme in the new Us vs. Them mentality, and it's one that's going to get all of us in trouble.
Thriller author Steve Berry is quoted at the end of the NYT article with what I felt was the most salient thought in the whole piece. He said, "You don’t ever want to get into a situation where your worth is being judged by the amount of your productivity.”
I couldn't agree more with that statement. Especially for the writers who do take a full year (or more) to write a book. We've got a lot of pressure on ourselves as it is, with the advent (necessary evil?) of increased self-promotion - social networking, marketing and PR - in addition to writing. To start getting into the mindset that oh, hey, I'm not a good enough writer because I can't crank out five books a year is dangerous.
It will stifle creativity. It will drive the muse off a cliff. It will cause divorces and suicides and make writers quit entirely. You think I'm kidding? I'm not. We are artists, for better or for worse. And while not all of us are long-suffering, the artistic mentality is, at its heart, a delicate creature that must be fed and nurtured if it will continue to produce. Think of a farm, with acres planted, rows and rows and rows of corn. If the corn isn't watered and fertilized and cared for, it dries up and rots. Words, and Muses, and Writers, are the exact same.
I often gets fan mail that ends with the words "Write Faster." It's actually kind of a joke in my house - hubby tells me that all the time. Because ultimately, the more we write, the more we get paid, and eating and paying the mortgage is a Good Thing. We all want to make money at this, and the simple fact is, more product equals more money.
But we have to take care of our gift, as well. The Muse doesn't delight in being shackled to a desk and forced to spill words onto the page all day every day. Yes, we want more readers. I want more readers. But if I start mentally outsourcing my Muse to a factory in China, chances are, there's going to be some problems. Strikes. Lawsuits. Closures.
Writing fast is becoming expected. And that could lead to some serious burnout, and the loss of some great writers.
One of my favorite quotes is from Lao Tzu: "When you are content not to compare or compete, everyone will respect you."
I think that's doubly true for writing. Work hard. Meet your deadlines. Write smart. That in and of itself will make you fast. But don't try to compare yourself to other writers and their output, and don't cave to the pressure of writing fast if that's not your nature. That way lies madness.