Thursday, August 23, 2018

Slow Motion

            Wanted to take a few minutes and talk a little bit about a way that writing and publishing overlap.  It's not my usual sort of thing but I figured... ehhh, it's been a while since I talked about this.
            There’s a lot of pressure to be as fast as possible with writing these days.  More than a few would-be gurus—and even some small publishers—push  a business model of quantity over quality.  Why take the time on one book if I can rush through half a dozen or so and get the same result?  Selling a hundred copies of ten books is the same as selling a thousand copies of one, right?
            On top of that, the ease of electronic distribution has pushed the idea that moving slow is clunky and antiquated.  Any person or publisher that moves at such a pace gets compared to... well, dinosaurs.  
            This need for speed creates an awful sense that time’s being wasted if I write something that doesn’t sell.  That spending time on editing or revisions is wrong.  And with the raw amount of stuff being e-published, I think all of us have a lurking fear that if we don’t get our idea out there now, someone else is going to beat us to it and have it out there tomorrow.
            I know there are folks (some of whom I know and like a lot) who advocate publishing everything.  Trunk novel?  Throw that up on Amazon.  First draft no agent or editor would accept?  Kindle format for a buck-ninety-nine.  Get it out there because somebody might love it, and at the worst you make fifteen or twenty bucks off it rather than nothing.  You’d pick up twenty bucks if you found it laying in the street, right?
            And I get that this is a really appealing idea.  We want to get paid.  We should get paid.  I’m a big fan of artists (of all types) getting compensated for their work.
            But...
            We also need to acknowledge there’s a learning curve. 
            It shouldn’t be too much of a shock that the first thing I put down isn’t going to be that great.  Or the second thing.  Maybe even the third. 
            Sure, there’s always a chance that my first book is pure gold on the first pass.  Scientifically speaking, there’s some chance almost anything could happen.  I mean, I wouldn’t put money on any of those things but, hey... there’s a chance.
            Because of this—he said, bracing for angry comments—I often find myself really doubtful when people say they wrote a book in four or five weeks.  I completely believe a draft can be written in that amount of time.  I wrote the first draft of 14 in about six weeks, and that was around 150,000 words.  But a finished book manuscript?  Something ready to hand off to an editor?  Or put up for sale?
            I just don’t buy it.  Sorry.
            Writing takes time.  It can take a lot of time.  It takes time to learn how to do it right and then it takes time to do it right.  I can’t expect the first thing I write to compare to something written by someone with years of experience.  I can’t rush through one edit draft in a day and expect to get the same results as someone who spends weeks going over their whole manuscript line by line. 
            Simple truth is, the majority of us aren’t ever going to put out material that doesn’t need work.  Not later in our careers.  Definitely not at the start of our careers.
            Yeah, our careers.  This holds for me, too. I wrote a lot of stuff that never got published and probably never will.  Why?  Because it’s bad!  It’s that first attempt at making chocolate chip waffles or trying to grill Ahi tuna.  It may be edible—barely—but no one should be asked to pay for it.
            I’ve mentioned The Suffering Map here a few times.  Okay, a bunch of times.  Consider this... when you pare away all the time where I worked on other projects, it’s probably fair to say I spent two, maybe two and a half years on that book.  My first 100% completed novel.
            Any d'you know what I’ve done with it?
            Nothing.
            Oh, sure, I submitted it a lot at the time.  It got some interest.  But everyone passed on it, and (lucky for me) most of them offered a few suggestions of where it needed work.  And they were right.  It did need work.  It had some real problems, and I’m glad it’s not out there hanging on my career like some kind of literary albatross on a cursed mariner or something like that.
            Or consider the book I just turned in.  That took seven months, start to finish. And that’s considering I’d plotted out a good chunk of it years ago  It went through four drafts before I even turned it in to my editor, because there were lots of things that needed tweaks and adjustments to make the book as good as it could be.  Believable characters.  Sharp dialogue.  Solid pacing. 
            And that’s okay.  Really.  The important thing is for me to write something good.  Churning out 8000 words every day or 400 pages for NaNoWriMo is an achievement, yeah, absolutely.  But in the end it’s always better for me to have 1000 good words or 100 polished pages.
            Now, going slow isn’t an ironclad rule.  Sometimes everything just lines up and my third or fourth draft only takes a few days.  No two projects are the same and no two writers are the same. 
            But if every draft of every project I work on goes fast... maybe I should take an effort to slow down for a while and see how it affects my writing.
            Because the goal for all of us is to be great.  To write the best thing we can.  Not to rush toward “okay” and stop when we get there. 
            Even if it makes us fifteen or twenty bucks.
            Next time I’d like to come clean about a couple more things.
            Until then, go write.

5 comments:

  1. I just finished listening to The Fold again and thought, when is Peter Clines putting out something new? A quick search brings me to your site and this post. I hope your publisher gives you the time and space you need to produce more great stories. I, for one, am eagerly awaiting what’s next.

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    1. Hey, Adam-- well, since The Fold I've put out another Ex-Heroes book and Paradox Bound (there in the sidebar). Plus Audible put out a collection of my short stories called Dead Men Can't Complain and an audio version of a Robinson Crusoe mashup novel I did a few years ago.

      There's more details in the FAQ, if you didn't see that already...

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  2. Neil Gaiman, my Evil British Twin (we were born on the same day) and I happened to have the same idea about Santa Claus. I wrote a so-so story of 2000 words or so; he encapsulated the same idea in a polished literary cabochon of 100 words. Though I included a neat time-travel angle--anyway, point is, it's much more impressive to craft 100 perfect words than 2000 mediocre ones.

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  3. It took me a year and a half to go from draft to manuscript. I think I had a total of 3 drafts in between. I was chomping at the bit to get my book out there and I am so glad I listened to the advice of my beta readers and editor because the book I loved needed some serious work. It took an extra 8 months of hard revisions to get my finished product, but it was worth it and I wound up with a first novel I can be proud of.

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  4. Hey, I've just begun the process of putting my thoughts onto paper. I found this to be interesting. I really just want to get the thoughts out of my head in a logical manner that matches what I envision. I'm not really interesting in publishing, but I see how others would have these thoughts. Thanks for sharing!

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