Friday, July 04, 2008

Writing Schedules--pepper

I know it's a holiday weekend for a lot of y'all (I myself have big plans of watching 1776 and playing Guitar Hero), and so I should probably wait if I want a response, but this is on my mind right now, so here we are.

Every once in awhile, a debate about quality vs quantity flares up on the blogs, with the implication being that people who are very prolific are not very good. This is both true and false, as is any generality you can ever apply to the human race (excepting this one. This generality is completely accurate). People who write too many books per year at the behest of a publisher, or because they're frightened of not making enough money (especially ebook writers) might see a decline in their quality. Alternately, people who write that much because they're inspired by ideas or because it's a comfortable pace might keep the same high quality from book to book. Or there could be about a dozen other possibilities. I don't know.

I do know that I am very prolific with my partner, Vivien, and less prolific on my own (though there are various reasons for that). I know how it might look to have several releases in a single month, let alone a single year. But then I got to thinking about something crucial that I don't see get mentioned often. Writers who want to write as career treat their writing as a career. Being professional doesn't just mean behaving on blogs, being classy at conventions, and not getting into big, public fights with your publishers. There are a hundred little things that go into the definition of professional.

For example, I believe that professionals should work full-time. That's 35-40 hours per week. While I was in grad school, I kept up that schedule, though it wasn't easy. Now that I'm out of school, it's much easier to write eight hours a day and not feel like it's taking up my whole life, and I do other jobs here and there to keep a steady paycheck. My point is though, if somebody works on their craft a minimum of 40 hours per week, should people expect an author to be prolific? Is it a sin or a crime to get a great deal of work done at your "day job"? I honestly don't believe people who warn against sacrificing quality for quantity take that opinion to their day job. Can you imagine conversations with their boss if that were the case? Yes, ma'am, I know this had a deadline, but I felt it was more important focus on quality instead of working hard and meeting your standards of high quality and timeliness.

Stephen King writes at least six hours a day, every day. Every day. He takes his birthday off, and as he said Writers write. That's all it is. It is as simple, and as complex, as that. I was reading a book about freelance writing, and the author indicated he wrote every day except he took one day off per quarter. Ray Bradbury said Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you're doomed. I've seen James D. MacDonald say on Absolute Write over and over as soon as you finish your novel, start writing a new, better novel.

Now I'm not saying one must be prolific to be a professional writer. I'm not saying one must write full time to be a professional writer. But I am saying it shouldn't come as a surprise when professional writers write and publish a lot of material from short stories to novels. Some are lucky enough (or stupid enough like me) to write (and do writing related duties) 160-200 hours every month. One way or another, that's going to have a profound effect on the amount of material and the quality of the material.


veinglory said...

I certainly don't think there is a necessary connection between rate of productivit and quality. But there can be for certain authors.

Equally I don't think there is a necessary correlation between hours per day an author gives to writing and their professionalism at the activity. Given the earning ability of ebooks, choosing to do it full time as a single income household would not always be a great choice ;)

kirsten saell said...

Heh, with kids, work, house, yard, relatives, friends and a multitude of little obigations, I find I can't write every day. On days I do write, it might be as little as half an hour or as much as four hours, and very rarely, nearly all day.

And at this point I can still write about 150-200k words of publishable fiction a year.

Would that total go up if I had more time to write? Probably not. It's either on or off with me. I can't force it by making myself write. When I do that, I just end up writing crap, and that makes me doubt my abilities.

I think writers have a maximum number of good words they can write in a given time period--a ceiling beyond which what they write will turn to dreck. That ceiling is at a different height for every writer, and some, due to the demands of daily life, will never reach it. Others reach it all too soon.

Hot Sauce Reviews said...

I've seen James D. MacDonald say on Absolute Write over and over as soon as you finish your novel, start writing a new, better novel.

I don't believe he said to start ASAP. :P

While I certainly understand treating writing as a full-time serious career, I'm also cynical enough to believe that most of the times, it is not possible to maintain a consistent level of quality without burning out eventually. I've read way too many published back-to-back "3 books in 3 months" books that are lacking in quality when one compares them to the a book by the same author that was released under a more typical a book every 6 months schedule.

Then we have instances like Sherrilyn Kenyon and, in ebooks, many authors who have a new short story out somewhere every other week or so. And oh, the short stories. Many of them read like first draft of MM fanfiction, which they probably are.

I'm already starting to view ebooks, especially the short stories, in the same category as Harlequins and WoTC fantasy novels - not really books as much as fast food equivalents.

Amanda Young said...

This belief is why a lot of writers feel like they need to write under various pseudos. I read once that mainstream authors used to be discouraged from publishing more than two books a year under any one certain name. I wish I could remember where I read that.

My writing habits vary. I write full time, so I publish several titles a year no matter how fast I write. Some months I'm glued to my laptop, and others I'm lucky to do more than outline ideas for new work.

Whether I'm working or not, there's always a little voice in the back of my mind nagging me to write. I always feel like something's missing when I'm between projects.

Pepper Espinoza said...

Whether I'm working or not, there's always a little voice in the back of my mind nagging me to write. I always feel like something's missing when I'm between projects.

This is exactly how I feel. I'm all out of sorts when I'm not working, to the point of feeling actual guilt. I am always doing something, even if I'm forced to be away from the laptop. I keep my cell phone with me only so I can call Vivien at any given time and talk to her about current projects or future projects. Fortunately, my family is understanding and only gets a little annoyed with me (and fortunately Vivien is basically the same way or we'd have problems).

Anne D said...

In theory I'm a full time writer. (Not that you could tell by this years current output rate.)

I'm also full time writer with discipline/concentration issues (I swear I need to get ADHD tested!)

So I have periods of brilliance where I'll complete a novella a month, then a few months later I can barely get a chapter a week written if I'm lucky!

What's good productivity and what's bad? Who really knows? What works for me, doesn't work for someone else and works the same in reverse.