Writing slowly and the myth of relative goodness

If you listen to some authors – a ton of very famous authors, writing literary fiction in particular – you would think writing, the act itself, is a torturous process, eliciting words by yanking them out of one’s very soul, and chiseling them onto paper, only to wind up discarding hundreds or thousands of words to net a paragraph at best or merely one word in the end.

While it may be a painful activity for some people, I’m not a big believer of the tortured artist thing, in any sense. That includes both the physical side (drugs, alcohol) and the mental side (“I wrote a whole book that took three years and scrapped everything but the first sentence!”).

I get that it may be difficult to write in the sense of actually getting the words on paper due to some issues, like a huge load of self-doubt, brought on by whatever factor helped build that wall. But these things do not have to result in a grand output of ten words a week that are deemed good enough to keep.

On the other side, there is, for some reason, this idea that writers can only write one book a year and have the book be good. While this may be true for some writers, I have a suspicion that a lot of writers think they can only write well if they only write one book per year, because there is a persistent theory that any more than that would automatically poor writing. I don’t agree with this. After all, I’ve read a number of books that were written in the course of a year (or more) and have found them to be terrible. This is because it is not the amount of writing a writer does that makes it good or bad, but the amount of editing and review a manuscript goes through that does (assuming that the writer is at least halfway competent at the craft and can tell a decent story). Just as it’s difficult to tell from a manuscript when a writer had a bad day, or was sick, or was dealing with some kind of issue, it’s just as difficult to determine from that manuscript when a writer was writing very quickly, or rather slowly on any given day.

Does this mean I think every writer could pump out multiple novels per year? No, of course not. Some people simply write more slowly than others, because every writer is different. My nitpicking here is related only to the myth that writing quickly automatically means the writing is bad. It isn’t.

Now, I may have a slight advantage here because I’ve had stories kicking around in my head for quite some time – decades, in a couple of cases – and by brain has been whirling them around for all this time, honing them, discarding things that are not interesting, and in general, keeping the hopper full. I also tend to write very quickly most of the time, which is part having those things in my head all this time, part dealing in the tech support world, where the tickets never seem to end and need to be worked through as quickly as possible, and because, thanks to my aha moment, the floodgates are now open, allowing everything to flow downriver.

There are some ideas I’ve had, though, that are very recent. Just today, in fact, I had an idea for a humorous series of books, that came into being from the mere fact that someone had two cell phones in their purse (no further details, sorry). The character who will wind up as the main character is already being fleshed out in my head, along with a job, and a couple of potentials for what would be the first book of the series. When it comes time to write on that, I’ll likely have much more, and I think it will be no different than what I am working on now, with the words flowing onto the screen as I work my way from Point A to Point B. Do I think the writing I’m doing any worse on this project than it would be if I wrote more slowly? No. In fact, I am quite pleased with how it’s going, and I expect to continue both in this routine and in the feeling pleased arena now that I am able, once again, to put words to paper.

Speed does not always kill – not in writing, unless someone speeds through so quickly that they do not bother with editing at all before putting a work out to the world.

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