Early into my career I decided that I was going to write a lot. As in, seemingly impossible amounts, as my differentiator.
The reason I decided on that strategy, which many novelists believe is one that can only produce dross, is that when I looked at past generations of writers whom I admired as being particularly skilled, most of them came out of journalism. Why is that important?
Because journalists are always writing. That’s what they do. Before television taught entire generations to stare mindlessly at a screen, people read, and that required a lot of written content creation. Enter journalists, who produced much of it.
Writers in the old day became proficient at writing because they wrote a tremendous amount. They got lots of practice. And practicing, they improved.
I’ve been averaging about a novel every five weeks since I started self-publishing 37 months ago. Other authors look at me with the imbedded assumption that what I create can’t possibly be good – the quality has to suffer by virtue of the quantity and my publishing speed.
Which simply ignores how many famous authors of the past got that way. They became good by flexing their writing muscle a lot, constantly, for years.
Somewhere along the way the popular wisdom changed. The speed with which a publishing house could comfortably schedule a print run and a promotional push, which happened to be about once a year per author, defined the accepted speed with which a novel, and I mean a good novel, could be created. Any faster was crazy talk.
Which is pure bullshit, and an extraordinarily limiting belief.
If you want to get good at something, do a lot of it. Seems simple to me. Want to get good at writing? Write a lot. There. I’ve given you the keys to the kingdom. Use them wisely.
While I’m ranting, another thing that bugs me about our culture is that so few people read. I blame the media, of course. Specifically, TV and video games, and to a lesser extent, the web. Why? Because reading, especially reading deep or complicated or well-written material, requires that the reader be skilled at reading, just as it requires the author be skilled at writing. Reading stuff like David Foster Wallace or Pynchon or even Burke or Chuck P require the reader exert effort, because the material’s dense, or just more complex than simple sentences composed of monosyllables. TV and the like require no effort – they’re spectator sports, whereas reading engages the mind and requires intellectual commitment.
If you want to become a decent writer, you have to be a decent reader. That’s the first step in the journey.
And, beating the dead horse, you have to write. No substitute for that in developing respect for and facility with language, and honing a skill you can’t learn any other way.
That doesn’t mean you have to publish everything you write. I didn’t publish the first decade of my scribblings. But I wrote. Constantly.
Talent only takes you a little ways. It’s effort that takes you the rest of the distance.
So for authors who sneer at fast production speed, I’d offer two thoughts: Just because you can’t produce something of quality in X time, doesn’t mean it’s impossible – it just means you don’t think you can. And, of course, your mind will convince you that your deep seated belief is reality, and it will become yours. So believe you can’t, you’re right.
And a final observation: my average novel takes me between 150-200 hours for first draft. If you work 12-15 hour days and don’t screw around, you can quickly see that what might take someone who only has a productive hour or two per day will take a lot less time for someone willing and capable of working marathon hours. Now, I could divide those hours up and spread them across several months, but it wouldn’t make the draft any better. Same with second draft, which generally takes about 100 hours. I could make the whole process of creating a book take six months to a year, but the quality wouldn’t be any different, assuming I’m competent for sustained bursts. So the notion that the quickly produced novel is lacking somehow is actually based more on the limited ability to imagine serious application, than it is reality. Same number of hours. Just condensed into far fewer days. Or put another way, hyper-efficient use of time.
I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a business where there’s so much poor advice or lousy, limiting thinking than the writing business, nor so much misinformation. Good and commercially successful novels have been created in short time-frames for as long as there have been writers. Consider A Clockwork Orange, or The Running Man, or Mickey Spilane’s I, The Jury, A Study In Scarlet, Farenheit 451, Casino Royale, and on and on and on. To claim or believe that it can’t be done is akin to stubborn insistence that the earth is flat. Believe it at your peril – it’s your career, not mine.
Now back to work for me. Got another 5K words to write before I sleep…