Sunday, August 30, 2015

Can a novelist be too productive? (Asks Stephen King)

Stephen King just published an article in the New York Times asking whether a novelist can be too productive. Here is the link to the article.

As the author of 55 books, King explores a little bit of the snobbery prolific writers face and whether quality drops when the words flow so easily. This sums it up for me:

"No one in his or her right mind would argue that quantity guarantees quality, but to suggest that quantity 
never produces quality strikes me as snobbish, inane and demonstrably untrue."

I wonder - does it boil down to jealousy?

Are other writers jealous because someone has the ability - and possibly even the time - to write quickly and efficiently?

I'm not sure, but I do subscribe to King's belief that a book can be written in a season - three months. Maybe not a book per say, but a Shitty Rough Draft as Anne Lamott calls it.

On Sept. 29 I'll have published four books in 15 months so I'm a bit sensitive to snobbery about the quality of these books. I will say that I find writing a series book much faster than a stand alone. The world is there, I pretty much sit down knowing exactly what is going to happen and then just put it on paper.

But looking at my back story - I really ended up writing a book every six months, so not exactly as it appears having them published in a 15-month-period. For instance, when I got my book deal I had the first two books in the series ready to go. Then I had six, very tense tight months to get my butt in the chair and write my third book. As soon as I turned that in to my editor, I had another fast, furious five months to write the fourth book.

I did it, but let's just say I think I'm going to slow down for one simple reason - something that King apparently recommends here -

"20. When you're finished writing, take a long step back.

King suggests six weeks of "recuperation time" after you're done writing, so you can have a clear mind to spot any glaring holes in the plot or character development. He asserts that a writer's original perception of a character could be just as faulty as the reader's.
King compares the writing and revision process to nature. "When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees," he writes. "When you're done, you have to step back and look at the forest." When you do find your mistakes, he says that "you are forbidden to feel depressed about them or to beat up on yourself. Screw-ups happen to the best of us."

Can a novelist be too productive? I say no.

What say you?


Rick Ollerman said...

I prove that I can't be too productive every day. But I live under a bridge with koi.

Scott D. Parker said...

I say no as well. Reading the JCOates quote is pretty much how I think: I've got stories to tell and I wanna tell'em. That's the only thing I can control: the writing. The reading is in the hands of others.

Dana King said...

"Can a novelist be too productive?"

The question opens a semantic can of worms. If writing too many books too quickly means a sub-standard, is the author really being "productive?" Or should we focus on the boos that meet a standard?

No answer here. Just something to ponder. As for the question as I think it should be interpreted--Can a writer write too much?-- I have the standard unsatisfactory answer: it depends. I work fairly slowly, as points of stories come to me in their own time. True, I can knock out a draft in three or four months, but various ideas and refinements for that draft almost certainly floated around in my head and notes for at least a year before I started, and new idea for later in the book came to me every day. Letting the revisions settle takes me the better part of the year until I'm happy this is a book, and not just a lot of typing.

Of course, that's me. Everyone has they're own pace. There are writers whose work would probably improve is they worked faster. So, everyone has to find their own pace and get with it.

Kristi said...

Like you, Dana, I spent part of my time writing the book in my head. I also do some plotting and work before I actually sit down to write, which seems to make it go much faster. I think I'm also lucky to be a journalist by trade so I've learned to be productive (or face the wrath of my editor!) : )

Holly West said...

Considering how much I struggle with my own productivity, I'm the last person to criticize another for being too productive. So I say no.