(This day has been a crazy day of editing and marketing, and so I'm double-posting this post, which is also up today on my writing group's blog. If you don't get over to the 4 Corners blog much, you should pop in for Erin Halm's post this weekend on E-Books: the Future or Undoing of Publishing? It's an outstanding article on e-books. Also, some insightful views in the comment section from people who have experienced this when it happened the first time in music. Seriously - go check it out and get in on the discussion!)
Lately I feel like I've been living and working in the middle of some childhood fable - one of those stories about one thing that really means something else and teaches some good life lesson - except I'm having trouble absorbing that lesson.
The story I'm living? The Tortoise and the Hare.
You know the one - where the turtle and the rabbit race, except the turtle can't really race well because he's slow, but the rabbit gets so cocky he stops off to nap and eat and enjoy the view, and before you know it the slow but steady turtle passes him and wins the race.
There are two problems to my story. One, I'm the turtle. And two, I don't think in life the turtle really always wins. It's a lovely story, don't get me wrong. But sometimes the fast aren't just fast. They're diligent, too, and disciplined. And I swear some of them never sleep.
All around me are writers who write at what seems to me to be warped speed. Six thousand - seven thousand words at a time... a book every month or two. Some of these are authors at the very start of their careers, and some are long, well-established authors.
I've felt the pressure especially lately because even though I have a great idea for a book, and even when I get a good chunk of time, even days of time, I'm slow at writing. The words don't come in a flurry - at least not for more than a few sentences at a time. I'm keeping at it, but I'll be lucky to be able to get one book a year out. Three or four? Are you kidding me?
So I was disproportionately relieved last week when Entertainment Weekly put out this review of Michael Connelly's new novel, Nine Dragons. The review was less than flattering, but this sentence was what caught my eye: James Patterson long ago proved that you can write three thrillers in a year, but even Michael Connelly can't write three good ones.
I love those words... even this great writer can't write three good ones...
Then, just today, The New Republic online had a great article called Writing and Velocity. In it author Damon Linker quoted a post by another writer (is this getting confusing or merely complicated?) who wrote that writing books should no longer take as long, since authors no longer need to go to the library and hunt through microfiche and encyclopedias, or tromp down to the police station, or take day trips in order to interview and research. With the internet, it's now all at our fingertips. With a few clicks of a button, all that great research can be ours for the taking, in very little time.
The idea, I believe, is that the greater part of writing a novel is the research that goes behind it. As the writer said: Klein’s statement implies that the only thing that might keep a writer from producing a book in a couple of months is the time it takes to conduct research. As if writing were a process of compiling and arranging lists of facts and figures.
Of course, not all novels require heavy research. But there's a host of other things that can slow a writer down. Imagination. Creativity. Uniqueness. Voice. Character. Plot. Language.
In rushing a manuscript to press, are we putting the writing secondary to the typing?
Certainly a book can be written quickly and then scrubbed to a sparkling sheen in the editing process if the author and the publisher are able to put aside ego and flashing dollar signs. The problem, I think, comes when authors and publishers don't take the time to polish. Not just the happy-to-glad kind of editing but the digging into the real guts of the story kind of editing... the turning the typing into writing.
I'm convinced a good book takes time - if not at the beginning (research) or in the middle (the writing) then at the end (the editing). In that case, it's not really a matter of whether the rabbit or the turtle crosses first. In a really good race, they'd each have their moments of being fast, but they'd cross the finish line together.
So where do you spend most of your writing time: research, writing, or editing?
And do you think it's possible to write a stellar book in three weeks? Any authors you know of that turn out three books a year that are quality books?