A few days ago I engaged in a discussion with a writer friend about how it seems that so many beginning writers are trying to write fast, get something out there quick, perhaps without taking the time to really perfect their art or get their story in quite the right place. And this friend —Tony Southcotte by name— suggested that perhaps the reason there is so much focus on getting a first work out so quickly is because of the potential writers see for financial gain.
Because, lets face it, most of us want to get paid to do this. I’m sure I do. I won’t quit if I don’t, but getting to leave behind my dead-end no-importance job for the opportunity to be able to be paid to write would be basically the best thing ever. And every beginning writer thinks that they’re going to be the one who breaks out early with the instant best-seller, adored by millions around the world, their talent spoken of in hushed tones by popular figures and intellectuals alike.
I know this because that’s what I thought when I started. And I’m not sure anyone could have convinced me otherwise. So I’m not going to waste my time trying to tell you that you’re writer’s journey won’t be a magical and perfect rocket trip to financial and social prosperity. No doubt you’re going to be the one to break the rules and redefine the industry as we know it.
But to everyone else I have something to say.
You’re thinking about this wrong. You’re thinking about the writing as a means to an end. You think that it’s at least possible that if you write a novel that everyone loves, you’ll become rich and famous soon thereafter. So you work hard to get the novel out there as fast as you can, so the money can start rolling in.
And maybe it doesn’t happen the way you expected. No, sorry, I forgot. You were the one who was the exception right? I was talking to the guy at the other internet connection. You carry on.
Where was I? Right. The means to an end.
See, I can’t honestly offer very much deep and meaningful writing advice with any kind of authority because I haven’t had that success we all dream of. But one thing I do know. The writing isn’t the journey. It’s the destination.
You’ve got to fall in love with what it is we do as writers. And what we do is not primarily to make money. That’s a side effect. A bonus. A party favor.
What we do is write.
It’s sounds trite, and maybe it is. But this is my fear. You’re going to go through the “I’m going to be rich and famous one day” stage, and that’s fine, but assuming you’re dreams don’t turn out the way you want you’re going to need to have something press on toward. You’re going to get that fourth or fifth rejection letter and it’s going to sting hard, and because your dream didn’t come true quite the way you’re hoped you’re going to face a serious temptation to give up. I know I did.
And when that time comes, assuming it hasn’t already, you’re going to need to rethink your assumptions about why you’re doing this. You’re going to have to look yourself in the mirror and think, “Is this really worth it? Going after this dream that seems to far away every day with no promise that I’ll ever be successful?” And when that moment comes I hope you remember this post.
Because that is the moment I believe you truly become a writer. That moment of doubt and fear can be the end of you as a writer or it can be the beginning of a new era. When you’ve come through that fire you can start to see writing for what it is. Only then can you understand that the act of creation is the thing and the whole of the thing.
That’s when you can turn away from the fear of rejection truly begin to write for yourself. That when it becomes less about how quickly you’re writing and more about how well you’re writing.
And that is the moment when you can begin to create something that can truly be called art.
I think about this topic a lot because I’m always running into it and the people who embrace it: writing fast drafts, changing genres to whatever is a hot seller now, and the like. Faster, faster, more, more. As you point out, voicing our opinions on the matter isn’t going to change anyone’s minds, not when fame and fortune are the priorities. But sometimes I just want to ask people if they’re enjoying the story they’re cranking out at a million miles per hour? Is this exactly the story they want to write? Is this the best story they can possibly write right now?
Not everyone who writes quickly falls into those pitfalls, but I seem to notice a lot of writers who are. And I’m seeing more and more of these “faster” writers burning out. Hard.
To those who dream of overnight success, I like to recall George R. R. Martin whose Song of Ice and Fire series is a popular HBO show right now. Well, I was reading those books a decade ago. Not exactly overnight success. Orson Scott Card won big with Ender’s Game. He reportedly wrote it in a matter of weeks… though he thought about the story every single day for 2 years until it was ready to be written. Again, not exactly overnight success.
So to those people who want to crank out books as fast as they can, Godspeed. But I’m hoping slow and steady wins the race.
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On the race way to my first novel I keep running into barricades – primarily my elderly family members. I just spent two weeks sitting next to a hospital bed with my 91 year old dad in it. It’s frustrating and discouraging, but I wouldn’t do it any other way. It may delay the day that I pick out my first cover art, but life first art second. For my personal reading enjoyment, I bounce back and forth between modern day best sellers and the classics. There’s a reason the classics are classics and I wonder how many of today’s runaway hits will even be remembered next year. You think that you could convince Hemingway that writing about life was more important than living it? Right.
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