It never ceases to amaze me how sure people are that they know what other people should do.
A certain class of people you expect this from, because they have a vested interest in thinking everyone else is an idiot and incapable of tying his own shoes or wiping the snot from her own nose. After all, the more incompetent the individual is, the more power to those who crave power and who constitute themselves authorities over others. It’s the nature of the beast.
But I wish it started and stopped there. It doesn’t. And the only reason I’m surprised by this is because I’m stupid. After all I grew up in a village (Yes, yes, like Miss Marple, right…) and therefore I should know that even when there’s no payoff in power and money and pensions for life, some people SIMPLY know how things are or should be done and believe they’re the natural police of how everyone should live.
So I shouldn’t even have been shocked when I stumbled upon the blog that was doing the usual lament about how the problem is that indie published books will be mostly cr*p and that the gems will get lost in the muck. Frankly, THAT part of it is a valid argument, something rational people can discuss. I think it’s wrong – miles and miles of wrongitude – but then I’ve been at the vanguard of the ebook thing starting with fanfic, and my perspective is slightly different.
THAT part of the blog is completely understandable.
The other part isn’t. That is the part where this writer – as far as I can tell a beginner – starts laying about against what she calls Nanos and, incidentally, Amanda Hocking who has sold (roughly) three metric boatloads of books give or take a ton.
You can think whatever you want of Amanda Hocking – or any other wildly successful author – G-d knows I do. I haven’t read her yet. I love Harry Potter against my own best judgement (well, I can see the mistakes in craft. BUT that’s not what counts, is it? What counts is does the story carry you?) I loved the three first Anita Blake’s (despite the fact characters changed hair color and height without notice throughout the book. Which, incidentally was a grievous copy editing error.) I haven’t been able to make it into Twilight, possibly because it reminds me of the sickish sexual fantasies I had as a teen and pre-teen (which probably is at the root of its success.) I think Dan Brown … No. Not going there.
Still, they are all mega bestsellers. I’m not. They did something right that I’m not doing right. I don’t care what I personally, as a reader, think of their books, the LAST thing I’d do is give any of these people advice on how to write. Or how fast.
And here we come up against it – how fast.
Of all the ways to judge a book, the LAST one I’d advise is how fast that book was written. In traditional publishing (and among bestsellers too) you find both people who take ten years to write a novel and people who write a novel in a week. And you can’t tell the difference from the product.
Look every writer who has a modicum of experience in the business has got over the idea that the way he writes is “the only true way.” Yeah, we were all there at one time. But all you do when you tell someone “first you start with the plot” or “a character is the only way to start” is stand on a soap box and scream at the top of your lungs: I’m a raw beginner.
To be honest, few writers do this. Instead we gather in little worried knots at parties and say “so, are you a plotter or a pantser” – trying to get confirmation that we’re doing it right, or one of the ways that is right.
But heaven help me, every writer – with a half dozen exceptions, yours truly, Kris Rusch and Dean Smith among those – THINKS they know the one true speed to write a book. More importantly, every writer knows that if you do it any other speed it will be terrible, terrible, I say. Cats and dogs living together. The end of the world.
And every writer – with the few and exceptional excepted of course – is wrong.
Not only isn’t there one-true-speed to bind them all, there isn’t even a right speed for any given writer. I’ve written novels over three years, and I’ve written a novel in three days. Incidentally, the one I wrote in three years is unpublished (and unpublishable) and the one I wrote in three days is my highest grossing work. BUT that’s probably just coincidence.
Some novels come to me fully formed and limited only by my speed in typing them in. As Agatha Christie apparently said, the novel is finished, it just needs to be put on paper. BUT some other novels come out drip and drip, a page at a time, each one hard fought for. Both of those extremes are unpleasant. The first means that my husband has to get forceful on the subjects of food and at least cat naps. The second means I clean the house, kick the cats, pick fights with friends, anything to distract from what feels like an extremely slow and painful birth.
The final quality has nothing to do with how fast I wrote it. Nor does it success or failure.
I confess there have been years of one book and years of six. That usually had more to do with my state of health and the press of contracts than with the books or their quality.
I’ll also confess I Nano. Or I try to. Since November for us involves two family birthdays, a major holiday and USUALLY a trip out of state, many years I don’t make it, but I always mean to.
I will also mention that the author of the blog post that prompted this seemed to think the philosophy of Nanowrimo involves not editing at all. Unless it’s changed out of recognition, it doesn’t. When I’ve done it, they tell you that you’ll have to edit. Also, 50k isn’t really the size of a commercial novel these days, so you usually have to write at least another 30k.
Of course I think people should edit, no matter how fast they write. Weirdly my 3 day novel took less editing than the others, but that too I’m fairly sure is just a coincidence. Each book I do takes at LEAST three passes (and no more than five, because otherwise I kitchen sink it – i.e. throw in everything but) – one for story (depending. Actually the slow books are the worst at this point, since my idea of the story changes while writing it, which means I might have a beginning, a middle and an end, all different books.) Then one for mechanics (foreshadowing, emotional shading, length of segments) and cursory language. At this point it goes to betas. When it comes back, unless the betas found MASSIVE structure issues (hasn’t happened yet, but G-d knows it could – knock on wood they don’t find these in DSR) I correct minor mechanics and do a serious language pass. Then, depending, it either goes to secondary betas (the unsullied ones, who get to see the thing in its finished glory) or it goes to publisher. (It’s a judgement call.)
The NORMAL time for all this is three months, which is why I don’t like doing more than four books a year. (This might change, when, say, the kids are out of the house and I have fewer distractions.)
This is the normal for me. Doesn’t mean it’s normal for anyone else. It certainly doesn’t mean it’s superior. I have a colleague who rushes at a book in two weeks, and finishes it in that time, and for the record he sells WAY better than I do. And I don’t need to bring up George RR Martin, do I? Because if I had to write a book in six years, it wouldn’t even be readable. I’d completely lose the plot. BUT clearly it works for him.
Of course, part of what makes that normal for me is that I’ve done it so often. I used to have a cleaning lady come in and in two hours she did what it took me a whole day (dust, vacuum, clean bathrooms, scrub kitchen, clean fridge) and did it WAY better than I did. OTOH some people are just naturally fast. My older son’s first book was written in something like three weeks when he was thirteen. It’s profoundly odd (everything he writes is) which might make it less commercial. BUT it’s a perfectly functional novel, with beginning middle and end and better than many a novel I’ve read. He’s now been fighting the second for five years. Does that mean it will be bad? Well, no. It’s just that the novel itself is coming out differently and also that he’s learning and that takes time and… who knows? It just means it’s different.
So… as a reader, judge other writers any way you want to, including “I don’t like his font.” As a writer too, for all I care. But don’t hang up your belief you’re better than “them” on how fast (or how slow) they write. DO NOT sling insults around based on how fast people write. And, oh, btw, do not try to spit on mega bestsellers. The spit always falls back on you. You can have your private opinions about them, but this is a small field. Perhaps your interest is in awards or literary recognition and not money. Fine and dandy. But these people are successful in the way they set out to be successful. Leave them alone. Who died and made you arbiter of taste, Petronius? (And it would help you to remember how Petronius the Arbiter died.)
I’ve had people who write much slower – or differently – than I help me along the way. Some significantly. I have friends up and down the field, at all levels. At this time and place, the goodwill of your colleagues is more important than ever.
You do your work and you leave them to do theirs. In any way they wish to. And however fast or slow they wish to do it.
You don’t have to like it. You just have to let them do it.
Stick with that and you’ll find it’s the beginning of wisdom.