Go faster, she cried!

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A very well-known author told me the other day that the “new normal” is three novels a year.  She didn’t mean that the new normal is to read three novels a year.  No, no, it was to write three novels a year.

As a person who took fifty years to write her first novel, the idea of three in one year made my head spin.  This, from a woman whose motto is “write like your fingers are on fire.”  Let me be the first to say, that’s not at all what I meant.

Write fast, yes.  I especially write fast when I’m trying to get a story down.  Otherwise I tend to muck about over every sentence, toying with them until they’re “perfect”—whatever that means.  In that regard, writing fast allows me to get out of my own way.

Writing fast also gets me down the road, it gets me to write long and wide so that I have the rough material to wade into and work with.  (Okay, I admit it, sometimes I write myself right off the cliff.  It happens.)

But let me be the first to say that for me writing fast is not the same as writing good.  I think of all that fast writing as the dough.  Once it’s in the bowl, it needs to be poked and prodded and rolled and then left alone to rise.

I’m not saying this to knock those of you who have the ability to write three novels in a year.  WOW.  I’m in awe of you.  And I certainly understand the financial pressure to produce.   I also know that some of you speedy types are doing excellent work—speed doesn’t necessarily mean lesser work.  Not at all.

However, for me, one of the pleasures of writing a novel is the world that I get to inhabit, the world of the novel itself.  I rather like to wallow around in it.  I enjoy getting to know the characters, even the villains, and I love the fictional places—largely because they tend to be places I don’t normally knock about in: swamps and sandbars.  I’m not always ready to abandon that, even when my editor is tugging on my sleeve.

I don’t think I could write three novels in a year, even if I had to.  Maybe?  So far, I haven’t been pressed to go there, which makes me feel lucky.  But I guess I want to know how you do it—those of you who write so fast that your fingers must be smoking?  What does it take to get those novels written?  What is lost, if anything?  And what is gained?

Inquiring minds want to know…

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Go faster, she cried!

  1. markkarlins

    Three novels in one year! I wish I could answer your question about how anyone can do that. I wish I could.

    But something, as you said, can also be said for slowness. One would hope that with slowness comes depth.

  2. terrypierce

    Well, Kathi, it took me 25 years to get a first draft done (and its taken additional years to poke, prod and roll it to a finished piece), so I’m not one to answer your question. But I sure would like to hear someone answer it in a way that would resonate with my slow-rising process.

  3. david elzey

    who are these people who get to define the new norms? is there a consortium of consensus on this?

    i remember once in college (undergrad) being told that if you wanted to become a writer you had to live in NYC. maybe LA. if you wanted to be taken seriously. another time i was told that the only “real” MFA in creative writing came from some school in iowa. others have insisted that one must acquire a habit of drinking to become great. i have also heard that if you haven’t found your voice or been published by the time you’re 25 then you can never be taken seriously. it is always fascinating how much people feel the need to codify what others *must* do to meet expectations.

    creatives of all types have tended to work the outside edges of rules and expectations, so i would have to conclude that those who dictate (or follow) such norms might not be the ones to listen to in matters of creation.

    for those who can (and do) write three or more novels in a year, congrats. but everyone does have their own speed. push yourself, yes, strive for more, but trust the process.

  4. Louise Hawes

    What David said 🙂

  5. terrypierce

    Well said, David!From: Posterous [mailto:

  6. Julie Larios

    Three novels a year – because everyone knows that quantity not quality is the yardstick…..right? Putting your creativity on a treadmill as if it were naughty, pudgy, lazy little sidekick and then shouting, “Faster, faster!”?? I can’t see how that’s a good idea.

    There’s a reason artists cringe at the word “prolific.” Well, I can think of a few writers for kids who don’t cringe – they put out a lot of product and are proud of it. And then their names are out there on some remarkably flat stuff. Some of what they write will be good, but quite a lot of it is not their best, to put it mildly.

    Here are two questions I have: 1) Why is this outlook (about output) so particular to writers of children’s books? I don’t think three novels a years is anything being talked about by Michael Ondaatje or J.M. Coetzee, for example. 2) Since it is part of the children’s book community (and maybe romance and horror writers) are we not setting outselves up for the dismissive attitude many non-kids book writers have of us?

    Side note: It’s always good to hear people talk about what the new norm is, because by the time they talk about it, it’s passe. The cutting edge now (shhh- don’t tell anyone or it will get out) must be Slow and Steady.

  7. Laura Kvasnosky

    Reminds me of the world of food. Fast food was the rage — and sure, like fast books, it has its place — but now comes the Slow Food movement which values the delicious flavors that can only be developed over time.

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