Friday, April 27, 2012

Speed Does NOT Kill

Go, writer, go!

It can mean many things, not the least of which is that chemical stuff all the sixties hippies used to inject to enhance the creative process. But it can simply mean, going fast. Back in the olden days, when I started out writing, I sat down with one of my MFA in Writing professors and asked him what he thought was a reasonable output of work for a lifetime of writing.

I can still see the humble, raggedly dressed man ... a man who lived in Vermont and who'd written a couple of novels that were critically praised but hadn't sold very well. Thus his position in life as a teacher, not at one school, but many schools (Poor guy).

I recall him inhaling a breath before saying in a near whisper voice, "If you write two or three real good short stories and maybe five novels, that's something to be proud of."

At the time this seemed like a reasonable answer to me. In fact, the thought of writing five good novels seemed almost overwhelming to me since, like the MFA prof, my goal was to teach writing and to write on the side once I graduated from the program. If I wanted to follow the career path of the literary writer who taught, I would be more or less expected to write one novel every ten years or so. If I toed the line according to that math, five novels would carry me into my 70s.

Fast forward fifteen years.

I didn't become a teacher. I became a writer instead. A journalist, a pro blogger, and a noir novelist. Not only have a I written and published those two or three real good short stories, I've probably published fifteen of them (yes, yes, yes, in very good journals and mags). And compared to some great short story writers out there, like Dean Wesley Smith or Leslie Edgerton, that's absolutely nothing. As for the five novels, I currently have about ten in print, with two more on the way. Five of those ten are about to enter into second and their third editions.

My point to all this braggadocio?

Back to Dean Wesley Smith.
In his blog, he talks at length about "Speed" taken from a larger a piece he calls "New World of Writing." Speed, according to Smith, is what separates a professional writer from an amateur. Gone are the days of writing one book every ten years. Gone are the days when you were considered not worthy of literary status if you even thought about writing more than one book every ten years.

In today's new "golden age" of writing opportunities, where a writer can maintain major, indie, and self-publishing deals all at once, it's the writer who can put out two or three good novels and maybe at least that many short stories per year who is going to bring in about as much annual cash as your average accountant. Maybe more so, depending upon your popularity and your ability to hit some home runs in the sales department, such as having a novel hit and remain in the Amazon Top Ten for a few weeks, like my novel The Innocent did a year ago and has come very close to doing a few times again since. In fact Smith claims that you don't even need to hit a home run to make a great living, and he's got that math to back up his words. You can check out his very informative blog right here. It makes for speedy reading.

I'm still a journalist (even if I only have time to work for one trade publication right now), and I am presently writing and polishing two novels per year on average. I write maybe two or three short stories per year. I'm planning on adding one or two short novelettes to that mix soon. I've yet to spend the entire day writing, while I like to use part of my day for working out, fly fishing, walking, drinking at the local, traveling, cooking, hanging with my girlfriend and our daughter, hanging with my sons, thinking, living, reading, simply being. Imagine how much work I might put out if I wrote for as many hours as some lawyers put in at their practices? It would certainly amount to more than two or three novels per year. More like ten or twelve.

We all need to embrace speed in this, the new golden age of writing. But we also need to find a speed that we are comfortable with. A speed that doesn't compromise the quality of the work. Only when we write so fast that our work suffers does speed kill. 



1 comment:

  1. Hmmm...I'm wondering if you went to the same MFA program I did. I can definitely learn from this speed thing. On one hand, I have hustled work out for submission long before it was ready. On the other, I have clung to things too long by assigning the work too much high-art preciousness. Balance.