Many new authors slog out that first book, editing every word to perfection, revising, reworking, redoing. When I used to be a part of critique groups, it was not at all uncommon to find writers who’d been working on the same book two, five, eight and even ten years. Still see them at conferences, shopping the same book, getting rejected, then rewriting, rewriting…..
Great, maybe Kathryn Stockett, the author of The Help took five years and 62 revisions to get her story published. Awesome for her. And yes, her book was a runaway success, but this isn’t the norm. It’s playing Literary Lottery with our careers.
For most writers, it will be hard to have a long-term successful career if our pace is a book or two a decade.
Most authors who’ve made legend status were all talented, yes. But many were (are) also prolific.
Does Writing Quickly Produce Inferior Work?
I’m a huge fan of Fast Draft. Candy Havens teaches this technique, and it works. Write your novel in two weeks a month, whatever, but write fast and furious. No looking back. Always forward. You can fix stuff later.
I’ve heard some writers criticize this method, believing that writing at this increased pace somehow compromises quality. Many writers are afraid that picking up speed will somehow undermine craftsmanship, yet this isn’t necessarily so.
To prove my point, here are some interesting factoids about writing hard and fast, some taken from James Scott Bell’s WONDERFUL book The Art of War for Writers (pages 79-82):
- William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks.
- Ernest Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises in six weeks.
- After being mocked by a fellow writer that writing so fast created junk, John D. MacDonald wrote The Executioners in a month. Simon & Schuster published it in hardback. It was also serialized in a magazine, selected by a book club, and turned into the movie Cape Fear TWICE.
- Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in nine days on a rented typewriter.
- Isaac Asimov was the author/editor of over 700 books over the course of his career.
- Stephen King writes 1,500 words a day every day of the year except his birthday. He’s published over fifty novels, and I don’t even know how many short stories and novellas. Let’s just say he’s written a LOT. Could he have done this writing a book every three years? Every five?
Meet “Captain Kirk Brain” and “Spock Brain”
Here’s my explanation of why writing faster than we “are comfortable” can produce fiction just as good (if not better) than a work that’s been written slowly and deliberately. And, since all roads lead back to Star Trek…
When we write quickly, we get into The Zone and pass The Wall. We become part of the world we’re creating. Fatigue wears out the cerebral cortex (the “Inner Editor” which I will call our “Spock Brain”). Fatigue diverts us to the Limbic Brain (also known as the Reptilian or Primal Brain, or for today’s purposes—“The Captain Kirk Brain”).
The Captain Kirk Brain is emotional, visceral and has no problem kissing hot, green alien women or cheating the Kobayashi Maru. He out-bluffs Klingons, outruns Romulans, starts brawls and throws the rulebook out the window. He’s pure instinct, raw emotion and all action. In short, Kirk is the stuff of great stories. No one ever got to the end of a book and said, “Wow, that book was riveting. The grammar was PERFECT!”
Captain Kirk Brain can do it’s job better—write fiction—when Spock Brain isn’t there saying, “But Captain, you’re being illogical. It clearly states in Strunk & White….”
The BEST line in the new Star Trek movie is when the villain of the story says to Spock, “You can’t even break rules, how can you expect to break bones?” So, I’m going to apply this to writing. Are you breaking enough bones?
Many writers hold back emotionally when writing. Why? They aren’t going fast and hard and so Spock takes over and he wants us to use a seatbelt and our blinkers. He isn’t the guy you want in charge if you’re going for the GUTS and breaking bones.
Kirk is Great for Action and Spock is Better for Rules
Spock Brain is a perfectionist and wants us to take our time, make sure we follow all the rules and put the commas in the right spot. He’s seriously uncomfortable with “suspending disbelief” and he tries to explain everything so others don’t get confused.
The trick is to hop on a cerebral crotch-rocket and outrun Spock. He is seriously uncomfortable with speeding and you can easily lose him in the school zones or the parking lot of Walmart. Don’t worry, Spock will yell at us later….at the appropriate time which is during revisions.
Thing is, Kirk and Spock make the perfect team, whether on The Enterprise or in our head. They balance each other, but they are also antagonists. Kirk wants to put phasers on KILL, and Spock wants to check and see if the rules for the Oxford Comma allows this.
Blogging and Writing Quickly Helps Us Learn to Shut off The Spock Brain
Blogging helps us ship and get comfortable with going FAST. No maybe every piece isn’t the quality of a New Yorker article, but who cares? It’s a BLOG. We aren’t looking to win the Pulitzer. We’re looking to get better riding a Cerebral Ducati and ignoring all of Spock’s protests that “This isn’t safe” and “Where is our helmet?” and “Clearly the speed limit forbids you going this fast.”
When we get the stories out faster, they’re more visceral. We get more practice with more stories since we aren’t letting Spock nit-pick for the next ten years…which he will do if Kirk doesn’t go running the other way despite Spock’s protests.
What are your thoughts? Has your inner Vulcan taken over and edited all the life out of your story? Has Kirk been allowed too much sway and now you’ve got to let Spock whip it into structure shape? Does the idea of going faster scare you?
To prove it and show my love, for the month of June, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.
At the end of June I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!