I really want to jump into the conversation about whether writers need to be writing faster, but I don’t have the f’ing time. Is that irony? I don’t know. I don’t have the time to figure it out.
For years — seventeen! SEVENTEEN* — I’ve endured the less than complimentary verbs used to describe the output of a book-a-year writer. Cranking it out, churning it out. I’ve joked that people seem to think that writing a crime novel is a bit like owning a Play-doh Fun Factory: insert malleable material and it emerges in the pre-determined shape. (So want to insert lovely photograph of my Play-Doh Fun Factory here, but WordPress is slow today.)The inference seemed to be that no one would write a book a year naturally, that it is a market-directed pace. But it is my natural pace, more or less. I suspect I could go much faster. There is the case of 2008, in which I wrote a novel and two novellas. But I don’t go faster because I am rather lazy. No one believes this. (Some people also refuse to believe that I am actually the snake-mean person in my household while my husband is one of the sweetest, kindest and generous people on the face of the planet. To paraphrase Kathy Griffin: I talk behind people’s backs. It’s called manners.) But, yes, I’m pretty lazy. Today, for example, I wrote only a short chapter, 1,100 words. I could jump into the next chapter, but I don’t feel like it. Instead, I’m writing a blog post. About how I can’t write any faster.
Damn, my head hurts.
Two years ago, my life changed in a major way. A lot of people said — some with a rather sour glee — “Oh, you won’t be able to write a book a year now.” To paraphrase Kathy Griffin again: Suck it, Jesus, a book-a-year is my God now. I’ve written two books and three short stories in the past 24 months. Also a scenario for the book to a proposed musical. (Sorry, can’t talk about it.)
A few weeks ago, I stumbled on a blog maintained by another writer, a critically admired but not very successful one commercially (it needs to be said), who had decided that a Very Successful Writer — critically and commercially — was producing books at a more rapid pace because VSW is a mercenary sell-out. The thing is, I know VSW. I know VSW well-enough to know precisely why VSW is producing more work than ever. And it has nothing to do with selling out. VSW’s writer metabolism changed. Most people slow down; VSW speeded up, caught an adrenaline rush and ran with it. But NVSW didn’t like one of VSW’s books, so it had to be because of the pace, right?
Recently, a Facebook ad teased me into checking out an oil-and-vinegar set on Fab.com. It was cute. It had sold out. I wanted it. Someone showed me the same set on another website, a website less cool than Fab.com. I no longer wanted it. If you think that we respond to books with a purity that has nothing to do with our knowledge of its author, genre, reviews — then you are wrong and I direct you to this book.
I flash back, as I often do, to Alvin Pepler in Philip Roth’s Zuckerman Unbound, complaining that he can’t win: His work is either being judged as slapdash or too labored. The fact is, we all bring to our reading perceptions, real and imagined, that have nothing to do with the work. How long did it take to write? Is the writer the beneficiary of some kind of literary nepotism? Is the writer male or female? Does the book have a cool cover? Is the writer rich? is the writer poor? Am I having a migraine?
Could I have written more than 1,100 words today? Sure. But I made a calculated decision that I would rather surrender thirty minutes of the 480 I have every day to work, work out and run errands and take a meandering walk through the neighborhood. I wanted to see my daughter as she headed to “her” coffee house and pressed her face to the display case, choosing her breakfast. When you read Chapter One in Untitled Lippman #20, remember that. Or, better, don’t. It has no bearing.
*Nineteen books sounds like more than a book a year, but it’s really not. I’d explain this, but I don’t have time.