Archive for May 19th, 2012

Writing fast, writing slow – and why one book a year suits hardly anyone

Some books take time to write. You know that already. Having recently flogged my way through two tricky narratives, I’ve been blogging about slow writing quite a lot.

But slow isn’t the only way to write decent books. There are a lot of authors who turn in perhaps two or more a year (I once did four). If you’re writing in a well defined genre, your craft is well established and you know what you’re going to do with the ideas, it’s perfectly possible to whip your novel out in six months or faster. Especially if you’re writing a series.

With genre fiction, I know where I’m going – and here’s my rough process:

  • 1 establish the characters, using genre expectations as a start point, and then twist as much as I dare to give my version a unique flavour
  • 2 establish who will cause the biggest problems, what they want to do and whether that will have enough mileage for a story
  • 3 take the tropes of the genre as a starting point, identify the reader must-haves and work out some spectacular set-pieces
  • 4 research where necessary
  • 5 decide my locations, arm myself with details to write plausible scenes there (travel photos on Flickr are brilliant for this)
  • 6 plot, write, revise, ferment, revise, send to publisher, get notes. Done. Bring on the next one.

[If you liked my potted guide here, you might like my book Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence, which I wrote in about 6 weeks (and 20 years of experience).]

A lot of writers work like this, especially genre writers. If you know where you’re going, know your audience, you can keep fans and editors well supplied. Perhaps too well supplied – the publishing industry usually likes a writer to produce one book a year. They don’t want to publish as fast as some writers are able to deliver.

What’s the problem?

You could say this does no harm; the books can be stockpiled and everyone sits pretty for years. Except they won’t. Because readers don’t want to wait. They are used to gobbling their entertainment in the grip of a craze – they want all of Lost, right now. And these kinds of writers get more leverage the more titles they can offer. Publishers may be losing something if they can’t feed those fans right now.

I know plenty of writers who find themselves hamstrung by this and turn to indie publishing in order to satisfy their fans and make the most of their productivity.

So does the book-a-year model suit the slow-maturing novel? Not remotely. When you’ve been hit by a bizarre idea where anything is possible, these books need many drafts of experimentation before you get near the steps in my plan above. This work cannot be done in a mere 12 months.

Obviously, the traditional book-a-year schedule exists because of publication practicalities. But there are a lot of writers it doesn’t suit. And it seems it doesn’t necessarily serve readers particularly well either.

Thanks for the pic Kio

Fast writers, slow-burn writers – we are publishing in interesting times…  What writing pace suits you and why?

 

 

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