A while back, there was a conversation on one of my email lists about an award-winning author who had announced her intention to quite the publishing game. I can’t remember her name (it was QUITE a while ago) but I remember she was a British literary writer who had won awards. Her problem, as far as I can remember, was that she felt she couldn’t produce her best work within the timeframe and pressure of publishing deadlines. She was a fairly slow writer who took years to get to the end of a manuscript and the pressure of deadlines was stifling her, so she announced she would no longer be publishing.
What surprised me was the vitriol on my list toward her. I wasn’t participating on the list at the time, due to some deadlines of my own, but I was reading the posts and every one of them went something like, ‘How dare she? I would kill for her publishing deal and the ungrateful [insert uncharitable phrase] is throwing all that away because she’s SLOW?!’ Followed by contemptuous recountings about how many books they could finish a year (ranging from two to one a month), and how she should just suck it up and stop whining.
Personally, I completely get how that writer felt. I’m fairly slow for a writer depending on what I’m doing. I’ve been working on one novel for several years, for example. LEX TALIONIS took me 6 months to write and another 6 months to edit to my satisfaction. It then took me several agent and publisher submissions and huge rewrites over several years to get it edited well enough to publish, but that’s another story. (Hint: You never stop editing. Never. The book will be on the shelf, available for sale for months and you’ll see another typo and pull your hair out.)
However, I also finished a book in one month once, and a story (which I published) in a total of 2 hours writing time and about 3 hours editing time spread out over a week as beta readers responded. I’ve noticed that I wrote more, and faster, when I was younger and making a lot of mistakes, and that as I mature in the craft, I’m getting slower on the bigger projects (like series) and faster on the stand-alones (like stories).
My point is this: writers do not approach writing the same way. Writers write different. And sometimes, the same writer writes different. Some writers take 10 years to finish a novel, and I know a writer who once took 10 days. Some writers do better with deadlines, and some feel pressured and can’t produce at all under one. Some writers can be all of the above on different projects, or days. I’m like that. Sometimes a deadline helps me focus. Other times it paralyzes me. A famous writer once said, the best gift you can give a writer is free time. Without it, I feel pressured to get the housework done, or focus on my paying job, rather than give myself the time needed to write. I know from talking to other writers that I’m not alone.
Look, rather than let our petty jealousies about awards and publishing deals get in the way, let’s give ourselves permission to acknowledge and respect each other’s processes. The writing craft is hard, time intensive and doesn’t ever end. Anyone who has managed to get a book out of it deserves respect. Anyone who has managed to get someone else to pay for that book has accomplished a freaking miracle. And all of us could use support whether we get there or not.
Part of my process involves taking forever on some things, and finishing others in a flash. But quality is not determined by speed of production. A writer should not be condemned because they chose to be honest about the way the publishing world affects their craft or the way they get to a manuscript they feel proud of. In fact, writers can learn a lot from each other and the different ways we go about things. I know the best part of learning to write was all the time I spent reading and making friends with other writers on the OWW. I knew writers there who worked on books for years and others who worked on them for months. They were all eventually published. You know why? Because readers, publishers, agents–they only care about the work.
It would do a lot of beginning writers a lot of good to realise that’s all they should care about too. Criticizing people who already put themselves out there does no one any good and only serves to make you feel self-satisfied.
Here’s a better idea. Learn from other writers. Don’t repeat the mistakes you think they make. Do copy all the things they do right. Respect and support other writers. And most of all, keep writing the way that works best for you. Let the awards fall where they may and the criticism come from elsewhere because you are too busy being true to yourself.
In the words of Kid President, ‘Be Awesome!’
Because, life is too short, you know?
Stay thirsty, my friends!