Blast From The Past To Help With the Future
(I wrote this blog in response to a letter I got after doing a novel in seven days. This might help clear out some stuff going into the new year about writing at your own pace. No matter what that pace might be.)
The Blog That Destroyed an Art Form
I got a great comment from a guy this morning. I didn’t put it through because the guy called me some pretty good names. *ss*ole was only one of them. One word I had never been called before. Creative.
But he said he had liked my writing. (I think the operative word there is “had.”)
So why was he so angry? And why did I damn near fall out of my chair laughing at this angry post with a bunch of swear words aimed at me? (Not the reaction he was hoping for I am sure.)
Because he said, basically, that with my writing a novel in seven days, I no longer respected the novel form and I had ruined and devalued an art that takes many, many writers years and years of work to create.
I am not kidding.
In his eyes, because I spent 40-some hours writing a novel over a week’s time, I had ruined all novels for all writers.
I had devalued their art.
(Didn’t know I was that powerful, did you?)
So I was still laughing when I went out into the kitchen. I told Kris what had happened and when she stopped laughing as well, she got right to the heart of the problem. She asked two very simple questions.
“I wonder who pointed your blog out to the guy? And I wonder how annoying the guy was getting continuously talking about his two-or-three-year novel?”
Yup, she hit it right on the money.
Someone, more than likely a writer friend, wanted this guy to just finish his damn work-of-art book, so the “friend” sent the poor soul to my blog. The guy read about my finished novel in seven days and hit the roof.
And, of course, I had to be to blame for ruining an entire art form and devaluing all novels in general. (Including his, I’m sure.)
The Myths Combined With Fear
When the myth about rewriting and the myth about writing-slow-to-attain-quality collide with fear, you get a writer constantly working on the same book over and over and over for years and years.
Happens all the time, sadly. And some writers escape, but very few.
Most writers don’t even know they are trapped because isn’t that how their English teacher said they needed to do it?
It was those two myths that started me writing the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing series. The chapters on both are in the first book and still available for free under the Sacred Cows tab above.
And it is pure fear of doing something wrong that holds the writers in the myths. To escape any myth, a writer must first get some courage. Much easier for me to say than for a writer to do, I admit.
And they must find other ways, study other writers. That is clearly what someone wanted this angry writer to do, more than likely to help him.
This guy was suddenly faced with a writer like me who worked a full day job (excuse gone) and watched television and took naps (excuses gone) and who is 65 years old (excuse gone) and still wrote a 43,000 word novel in seven days in one draft without rewriting.
I can understand the anger. I expect to get more.
But I never, not once, thought the guy would give me enough power to think I have devalued an entire art form. Wow, that’s just head-shakingly funny.
And it shows a frightening lack of knowing the history of writers through time. And how many of the very classics he thinks are perfect were written in a week or two, one draft.
Of course, if he knew that, he wouldn’t be angry at me.
I Will Be Careful With My Power
As Spider-Man says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” (I know, I wrote three or four of those novels.)
So I promise to act responsibly now that I have suddenly found myself with the ability to destroy an entire art form.
— I promise to just keep on telling it like it is in publishing and writing.
— I promise to just keep on showing how it’s done with my own writing.
— I promise to keep on my little donkey and jabbing at the myths of publishing as they pop up their ugly little heads.
— I promise to just keep on doing my own monthly magazine with 70,000 words of my own fiction in it every month. Just turning in Issue #30.
(And whatever you do, if you are that guy’s friend, don’t tell him about my magazine. Can’t imagine what he would say if he learned I was devaluing all of the magazine industry as well.)
So sometimes the myths come pouring at me in the form of a poor, angry person who needs to defend a way of thinking by swearing at me. Normally, I just ignore those poor souls.
But this guy anointed me with a vast power that I just had to report to all of you, just in case you didn’t know.
Until today, I didn’t know I had it either.
What great fun.
I’m so very glad you ran this again. And I’ve passed it along as a clickable link.
Congratulations on your newfound power.
Way back in high school, I learned that writing slowly and repeated rewriting does NOT equal a quality product. I learned it quite by accident, when I forgot to work on a paper for my English teacher. In one hour, I had to conceive, write, and rewrite (since she asked for the rough draft too) a paper I had been given 2-3 weeks to do.
I turned it in expecting to get a C or B. When I got an A (from a teacher known not to give them easily) I was stunned. When she told me it was probably the best paper I’d ever written for her and that she could tell I put a lot of time into it, you could have knocked me over with a feather. From then on, I wrote all my papers quickly and got consistently good grades.
In my fiction writing, there’s been a struggle between delivering “the best work I can” and “good enough” results. It’s easy to fall into a trap of writing, rewriting, re-rewriting, etc. You want to be sure your work is good before you let others see it. But there’s a definite point where the returns diminish.
It goes back to your video on Heinlein’s Rules. Write the story, get it out there, rewrite only if you’re getting paid to (and agree with the rewrite), and repeat.
So to try to drum into myself that “good enough” mentality, I started a project back in March. Each week, I have tried to write and publish a new story on the Internet. The timeframe limits how much I can rewrite and prevents me from overthinking. The fact that I know a few people (at least) watch for new stories gives me the incentive to publish them. I’m generally getting good feedback, too.
Perhaps I’m devaluing the work of other writers, too? Somehow I doubt that.
Ultimately what matters is THE STORY. If it’s a good one and we enjoy reading it, does it really matter if it took years to write, or mere hours? I think not.
Spot on, Michael. I wish I would have been as aware as you were. I wrote and sold my first two short stories without a second draft and then thought I could do better and rewrote for seven years before I caught a clue that the rewriting was killing what made those first two stories sell. Seven years. Sigh… So great job spotting it and setting up systems to stop the problem.
Michael W Lucas
we’ve had a recent flurry of books called something like “X Destroys Y.” Women Destroy SF, Hamsters Destroy Fantasy, whatever.
You CLEARLY need a “DWS Destroys Literature” issue of Smith’s Monthly.
After 36 issues of a monthly magazine that I filled every word, I think the magazine itself is proof that I destroyed literature. (grin)
I went rounds with several of my English Professors. Everybody who taught only Freshman classes wanted multiple drafts. I don’t do multiple drafts. I’ll do an editing pass but that’s mostly to check for spelling, punctuation and word usage. I had more than a few who gave me an A and then asked what I was going to do to change it. I asked what needed to be fixed. The answer was always nothing but I have to turn in 3 drafts because reasons. Could have really used your blog in college lol
Sounds exhausting – I hope you managed to squeeze in a nap in the midst of all that destruction!
When I taught myself to write fiction, as a kid of about eight or so (and that’s been more decades ago than I want to think about), I had no idea I “should” be rewriting and polishing. I wrote one draft (editing as I went), and that was it. Everyone who saw my stuff said I was a natural-born writer.
I would often only write essays and other papers due at school during recess or during study hall just before it was due. As soon as I got an assignment, I’d go find my source material and take notes on those quaint index cards, and promptly put everything aside.
I always got an A. No one knew I did this until someone at my community college saw me writing an important paper (it was half the class grade) about fifteen minutes before class. They were shocked, and even more so when I got an A+ on it.
But of course, I just had to try the plotting and editing and rewriting thing. Ouch. Nearly made me give up, until I read Dean’s articles on writing into the dark. Suddenly, I was able to let all of that other stuff go and return to my natural writing style.