Social media can be dangerously seductive to new writers in often exposing them to suggestions presented as some “new thinking,” such as this the other day from a tweeting independent author:
That caught my attention because I did not understand her extreme reaction to a statement elsewhere that it takes “years.” It was a contention that obviously REALLY annoyed her. Yet “years” is actually not a controversial view in that context – at least not when it comes to quality writing.
A Stephen King, who has managed to write at times several – occasionally massive – books in a year, is an exception, not the norm. A few years ago, George R. R. (A Game of Thrones) Martin asked King how he does it:
Martin: How the f-ck do you write so many books so fast? I think, “Oh, I’ve had a really good six months, I’ve finished three chapters.” And you’ve finished three books in that time.
King: Here’s the thing, okay? There are books, and there are books. The way that I work, I try to get out there and I try to get six pages a day. So, with a book like End of Watch, and … when I’m working I work every day–three, four hours, and I try to get those six pages, and I try to get them fairly clean. So if the manuscript is, let’s say, 360 pages long, that’s basically two months work. … But that’s assuming it goes well.
That is King.
As for that Twitter author above, she responds to one tweeter (who agrees with her) with this:
“Four” a year? Now I began to better appreciate her sensitivity to the issue of “years.” She releases a book every three months – and I had not realized that she did so. We follow each other and I generally do like her tweets and we have had a few innocuous Twitter exchanges. I had a few months ago also finally read a free sample of one of her books and recall it had several typos (in just those few initial pages) and that I was not impressed overall with her writing; some of that latter could have just been my personal taste, true, but some of it I also believed just could have been written better.
And now as I write this post after seeing those tweets, I realize that the typos might have been mostly caught and the writing most importantly might have been improved had she simply put more time into writing and proofing it. (If she had an editor and proof readers, they did not do a very thorough job.)
I almost replied to her opening salvo tweet. Then I stopped myself. I sensed it would be a waste of my time as all of the comments I saw were in line with hers, and so it would probably have turned into some Twitter-argument between me and some small mob (including authors with cats and medieval knights as their profile pics) – which tends to happen when a differing opinion is interjected into a tweeting admiration circle.
I long ago tired of those useless “debates” on Twitter that no one else sees – and particularly so when they are unlikely to change any mind. Yet I thought the topic was worth a broader blog post that people who had not already made up their minds would see here – starting with a sample of those nodding their heads in agreement with her:
Wow. To me, writing novels is about doing the BEST writing you can for READERS – people actually willing to part with money to read what you have written. It is not about pretending to make it appear to be a “hard grind.” In fact, doing your BEST at anything you do in life – including writing – usually does require real effort.
Less than a month: I can only imagine how those must read.
Note: 50,000 words is a novel, not a novella. A novella is generally from that beyond short story length (about 10,000 words or so) up to about 45,000 words.
Even producing “four” novellas year after year is a tall writing order in terms of quality – although it is reasonable if they are a continuing story, in which case they could also as easily just be one novel.
Notice that writer there also thinks he could do “four” books a year.
Four short stories a year, sure; that’s perfectly reasonable.
But no real editor actually would expect four novels a year to be producible consistently to a level of decent quality.
Far better a well-written book leaving readers wanting more, than a mediocre to poor rush job that needs tons of revisions. A reputable publisher would agree. There is no writing “award” for speed and quantity, so submitting hurried rubbish for quantity purposes will probably just mean you will not get a new contract with that publisher.
Thus here we see examples of the social media “support bubble” writers must avoid at all costs. Everyone chiming in with “Yeh! Right on! I so agree!” is comforting in its deceptive way. But in a larger sense that cocoon will not improve such writers.
Indeed actually read some of those indie books that are written so quickly. Nothing is perfect in this world, so certainly no book is, yet there is a line and we know it when we have crossed it. It is a shocker if those books are not full of typos and general sloppiness that is clearly a result of the author’s determined rush to publish.
There seems to be a hurl-wet-spaghetti-against-the-wall mentality among some writers out there to see what sticks as they hurriedly write trying to produce some “hit” formula. I blame Na-No-Na-No-Na-No also at least in part for this – that
stupid yearly writing event encouraging the production of a “50,000” word novel in a month. Amazon will not do this, but it should consider limiting a writer to publishing no more than three titles in 12 months max – if only to enforce some measure of quality. Generally speaking someone who does only one book a year probably has written A MUCH BETTER book than ALL of those written by someone else who does “four” in that same year.
And this reply takes the cake:
50,000 words in ONE day? I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here to say even the prodigious Stephen King could not pull that off. In fact that assertion is even more ridiculous than the 26 days and 23 days comment above, for basic arithmetic tells us this. Typing 60 words per minute is pretty good for a non-professional typist (as most writers are; I do between 60-80). That means it takes about 14 hours (3,600 words an hour) of nonstop typing to type out some 50,000 words – no pausing to think, no research, no corrections, no rewriting, no editing, no bathroom breaks… just incessant typing typing typing.
All of that above is why I do not pay much heed to a lot I see coming from indie writers on Twitter.
How about some real-life and proven examples of actual accomplishment:
1) Starting with that Casino Royale in 1953, Ian Fleming wrote about one “James Bond” novel a year thereafter until his death in 1964. They are all of similiar length to Casino. Casino is 229 pages.
And see this from the 2012 introduction to that reprint:
“Six” novels a year from an early 1900s spy writer… led mostly to weak (even if occasionally entertaining) writing.
Two other writers and their “yearly” outputs:
2) F. Scott Fitzgerald published four completed novels (and a novella and lots of short stories) during his twenty active writing years: 1920 to (his death in) 1940. None are books of extraordinary length. It took him about six months in 1925 to write The Great Gatsby… which is, interestingly, about 50,000 words.
3) Jane Austen evidently worked on her various novels for years, finally publishing four of them between 1811 – Sense and Sensibility being the first – and (her death in) 1817. Two completed additional ones were published shortly after her death. (One, Northanger Abbey, she had written mostly in 1803.) That is SIX novels in fourteen years. Like Fitzgerald’s a century and some after, none of hers are of “War and Peace” length either.
Despite so many other authoring examples besides Fleming, Fitzgerald, and Austen, we actually have indie authors on Twitter bragging about writing “four” books a year as if that is some badge of authoring honor. That is entirely their right. But based on what I have read of such books, those writers should spend much more time on producing quality if they truly want to be taken seriously as authors.
By the time I have published a book, I have had others proof read it, as well as practically bored myself silly re-reading and re-writing and re-reading and re-writing. I know it to the point I could recite lots of it off the top of my head from memory. Yet I suppose my five novels in nine years to date is by Twitter indie writer standards an underwhelming output…
…but I am okay with that because I attempt to follow examples set by accomplished authors like those I cited, and also my uncle, who wrote, uh, “only” eight novels in some twenty-five fully active authoring years.
If you are a new writer, my best advice is advice I heed myself: Look at examples set by those sorts of accomplished writers. Particularly look into the writing habits of those in your own genre. Little-known Twitter writers whose accounts could vanish tomorrow should NEVER be guiding “North Star” sources for writing advice.
Hope you are having a good weekend. 🙂
UPDATE, March 23: For more on the issue of writing as a “hard grind,” see “A Passionate Commitment.”