The Classic Love/Hate Relationship

April 15th, 2005 · 4 Comments
by Booksquare

Prolific writers are viewed with distrust. Nobody should be able to produce so many words in so short a time. It isn’t seemly. It probably isn’t healthy. It surely isn’t literary. It’s like a Tom Waits song. “What’s he building in there?”

‘Round about three years ago, we flirted with the idea of becoming prolific. Do you realize that one cannot be lazy and prolific simultaneously? Let us assure you that this is a fact.

Two aspects of the to be prolific or not to be prolific argument bother us. First a quote:

Genre publishing has become so fierce that publishers will cut mid-list writers who can’t — or won’t — keep pace. Sparkle Hayter is a case in point. The Canadian-born suspense writer (Naked Brunch, the Robin Hudson series) was dumped by her American publisher when she refused to stick to the book-a-year clip; Richard Barre (the Will Hardesty novels) suffered a similar fate. (Both have since allied themselves with smaller publishers.)

We cannot state how much this type of thought bothers us. Forcing a writer to produce beyond his or her natural pace leads to crappy books. It is our belief that readers dislike poorly written work more than they dislike waiting for the newest book from a favorite author. Writing is not exactly an assembly line activity. Of course, this attitude bothers us just as much:

Updike’s absurdly prodigious output — in the form of novels, as well as short stories, travel writing and literary criticism — has undermined his stature in the eyes of Foster Wallace, as well as many fiction readers. It hearkens back to this notion we have of how “serious” novels are created — that every sentence is the result of years of contemplation and agonized toil. Anything less is deemed half-assed — or purely for a commercial audience.

Setting aside that all books for sale are destined for a commercial audience (as opposed to what, we wonder), we believe that if you want to agonize over each and every word, more power to you. The writing goes at the pace it goes. Only a person who has never dashed off a perfect sentence believes each word should be accompanied by a pint of sweat. It is just as easy to write the life out of a great story as it is to destroy it by rushing through the process. Art does not require a timetable. Either the story is good or bad, and that, we all know is highly subjective.

File Under: Tools and Craft

4 responses so far ↓

  • Bill Peschel // Apr 15, 2005 at 7:29 pm

    That second quote can only be believed by readers who can’t tell the difference between good writing and bad, and have to rely on a calendar to tell them.

    And publishers who dump writers who won’t pump don’t understand how to make a profit either. A writer who churns out bad books lose readers quickly. Their series ends and their backlist becomes worthless. The books of good writers keep selling.

    Geez, now I sound like “Goofus and Gallant.”

  • Booksquare // Apr 16, 2005 at 9:50 am

    Your final line had me laughing. Then again, I’ve always had a soft spot for Goofus. Love the underdog, you know.

    Writers are told not to write to the market, but forcing a certain level of production is writing to the market. Readers deserve a lot more credit than they receive.

  • Lee Goldberg // Apr 16, 2005 at 11:15 am

    I haven’t heard Nora Roberts or Robert B. Parker’s fans complaining too much about prodigious output (I think Parker has four books coming out this year…including two Spensers and a western). Ian Rankin, Janet Evanovich, Ed McBain, Lawrence Block, TJefferson Parker, John Sandford, Donald Westlake, are among many bestselling, crtically-acclaimed, authors, who turn out one or more books a year.

    I dont’t put myself in their class, but I’m about to test your theory myself…perhaps I’m insane, but I’ve just signed a deal with Penguin/Putnam to write four books a year, two in my DIAGNOSIS MURDER series and two in my new MONK series (both based on TV shows I’ve written and/or produced).

    I thiink if you’re writing a series, that gives you a creative edge that you don’t have if you were, say, writing one or more standalone novels a year.

  • Booksquare // Apr 16, 2005 at 3:31 pm

    Lee, first things first, probably you are insane. But don’t let that bother you — sane people are really scary. Now, wow, four books a year. Even though you’re at one with the characters, that’s a lot of work. Please tell me the Monks feature Sharona, not the new chick!

    Interesting thought on series giving one a creative edge. I would argue that Evanovich has run the course with her Stephanie Plums while Roberts/Robb has found an interesting stride with the In Death books. While I haven’t read the new Rankin, by all accounts the series continues to evolve. And that’s a key factor.