We live in a hurry up world. But should that apply to your writing? Author Maggie Bolitho on quality over quantity.
Welcome to RU, Maggie!
When my first box of books was delivered this year, my husband went to Period Fine Bindings down the street to have a copy bound in leather. He was told that it would take a couple of years and the cost would be in the thousands. This is a standard rule for all customers, even Johnny Depp when he wanted a copy of Nonus Porta after his role in the movie The Ninth Gate.
Why does a traditionally bound book take so long? Bookbinder Paul Tronson trained for years in his exclusive craft. He grows his own plants, from which he extracts essential dyes. He tans the leather used for the covers himself. Working slowly and exactingly, he leaves nothing to chance.
Compare that to the promise of some online sites to deliver a hard copy of a self-published book in forty-eight hours. The art of bookbinding has evolved since the Gutenberg Press first made the printed word more widely available.
In writing as in printing, things have accelerated wildly. Consider the tweets and facebook updates from writers posting their daily word counts or certain trends that urge us to write fast, fast, fast. This hurry-up culture almost gives the impression that there are meaningful prizes for the rapid completion of a book. For people hungry for a ‘write-fast’ framework, here are only a few of the sites that set speedy goals:
- National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)—write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November.
- Story A Day—write a short story every day for the month of May.
- October Poetry Writing Month—write a poem a day for 31 days.
- Three Day Novel contest, the marathon of all novel-writing competitions.
These challenges offer benefits, for sure. I’ve done NaNoWriMo. Three times. I know the dizzying feeling that comes from laying down a first draft in thirty days.
So it’s a fact: I can write fast. But I’ve learned, through sometimes embarrassing experience, to edit and submit slowly. Written words are fixed, said Edward St. Aubyn in a recent New Yorker article, a state of mind is not. To me his message is clear: take time to get your words absolutely right before declaring a work finished. Once it’s in print, all chance to improve it lies behind a locked door.
Writing is the same as all other disciplines or callings. Sure there are the gifted exceptions but how many of these things can a person, even the most skilful, aspire to learn and do, both fast and well:
- Brain surgery
- Dance the lead in Swan Lake
- Design and build a house
- Accumulate wealth
- Become an astronaut
Writing, like each one of those, takes years to master. “No great thing is created suddenly. There must be time. Give your best and always be kind.” Epictetus.
Time is critically important in personal relations and what is writing if not a reflection of the human condition? A few weeks ago in the post Pucker Up: Writing the Kiss that Makes Readers Melt, Anise Rae pointed out that men pass testosterone to their partners in their kisses. This hormone raises a woman’s sexual desire but it’s not a one-hit wonder. It happens over time. So, yes, even the physical aspect of falling in love happens slowly.
Forming a friendship takes as long if not longer. Certainly there are people we instantly like and feel close to but the bonds that last, that carry us through our highs and lows, are the ones that form slowly on a solid foundation. We need to make writing our friend, so it’s there for us even when we’re not whipping it along like a jockey on a racehorse.
Yet prevalent values urge us to write faster and more. Write your first novel in under four weeks the LifeHack site encourages. Write for ten-twenty-thirty minutes without lifting your pen from the page other sources say. Write a thousand words a day. Faster and more—a junk food diet.
Enduring novels need time to mature, before they are released to the public. J.K. Rowling took five years to write Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Hemingway wrote the final words to A Farewell to Arms 39 times. Would he have done that if he had been rushing to get his novel to an overnight, online printer?
Some of the risks of writing too fast, of not taking time to fully revise a novel, are:
- Factual errors due to poor or rushed research.
- Sloppy plotlines.
- Thin characterizations due to inadequate development.
- Poor spelling and grammar.
- Incorrect logistics. Eg: if the story is set in the Northern Hemisphere in November, there better not be daffodils blooming in the garden.
- Overwhelming use of passive voice.
- Repetition of certain words or scenes. Once you think a scene or a novel is ready, paste it into Word Cloud and search for tiresome patterns.
I know all these errors can happen because a few of them slipped into my earliest work. Some of those stories made it to print and those aren’t my proudest achievements. Now I know to slow down, hone my skills, keep reading voraciously, and give it time.
I’m not suggesting we go back to quill and parchment writing, anymore than I expect the publishing industry to revert to the hand-crafted leather bookbinding that Paul Tronson does. But somewhere between 48-hour turnaround and waiting years to see a copy of a book there is a suitable pace.
Did you ever rush your work? Submit or self-publish too soon? What would you have done differently if you had a do-over?
Author Adite Banerjie joins us on Friday, August 8th.
Maggie’s first novel, Lockdown, YA speculative fiction, was published by Great Plains Teen Fiction in 2014.
When a great earthquake rocks the Pacific Northwest, fifteen-year-old Rowan Morgan is hiking in a suburban forest. Tremors rip the coast from Oregon to Alaska and turn Rowan’s world upside down. After her father is wounded and taken to the hospital, Rowan and her brother shelter inside his earthquake-proof, survivalist home. While the electrified fences offer some protection, it isn’t long before mobs gather, desperate for some of the food and water rumoured to be inside.
Rowan knows that if the hungry neighbours had any true idea of the riches in father’s cellar and water tanks, they wouldn’t be so easily sent away. Early one morning, she leaves the compound and sets off in search of her father. She is turned away from the hospital and so goes to check on nearby friends where she finds a local gang has moved in. She escapes from them only to run into a stranger she met in the forest the day before. Why is he following her and what does he want?
Lockdown is the story of social upheaval and lives thrown into chaos. It examines how people behave when decisions have to be made quickly, often in horrific circumstances.
Bio: Born on Canada’s West Coast, I set out to see the world shortly after my 17th birthday. I lived in four different cities over the next decade. Finally I retuned to Vancouver where I settled down, took my CGA [accounting designation], and decided that I’d found my place on the planet.
Not long after that, the wanderlust was on me again and I moved to Australia. While living there, I started writing fiction. My adult short stories have been published in different anthologies in the US, Canada, and Australia. I have had poetry published in Quills Canadian Poetry magazine.
I returned to Canada in 2007 and some time later led the North Vancouver Young Writers’ Club for many exciting sessions. Now I divide my time between Victoria and Salt Spring Island, BC.
- Maggie Bolitho presents: Stage Fright? Alright!
- Carve Out a Better Beginning with Dave Thome
- 5 Easy Steps to Keeping it Fresh, by Jennifer Probst
- When Is a Word Not a Word with Kristin Anders
- From Caterpillar to Butterfly: My Evolution as a Writer by Codi Gary