In today’s Journal
* Quote of the Day
* Topic: Sigh… Old Stuff Revisited
* Of Interest
* The Numbers
Quote of the Day
“If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.” Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, via David Farland
Yesterday I had a good writing day (4253 words). I wrote a little over 3100 words on the novel plus a little over 1300 words on the short story. If I’m able to write on both again today, I should finish the short story.
I might go back to posting the Journal later in the day so I can post fiction totals day by day in case anyone’s interested.
Topic: Sigh… Old Stuff Revisited
First, those who believe quality and quantity are mutually exclusive have a great deal to learn about writing fiction. And they’re way behind the curve.
A long-time acquaintance who is also a writer (and deeply, strongly mired in the myths) sent me an email. He wrote in part
“I read your last note on creative writing (“Looking Back, Looking Forward”) and the number of short stories and novels (was one a month correct?). Well, if so, I take a bit of an exception to that rule.”
Note: I’m not sure what “rule” he’s referring to, but judging from the rest of his email, I assume it’s my proposition that writing “fast” can produce quality stories.
“I would say that quality and the uniqueness of what one writes is far superior than quantity. Didn’t Margaret Mitchell pen Gone With the Wind as her only story in her lifetime? [And] Larry Mc Murtry … told me that he worked in the morning and his goal was to write three pages a day and then rest. He would then turn over his work … for editing right then and there.”
And my reasoned response makes up the rest of this topic:
Nothing wrong with taking exception. I disagree with you, of course, but I’ll try to explain why below. (I won’t bother to cherry pick examples. There literally are dozens of NYT bestsellers whose books have been made into films who wrote one clean draft straight through without an outline and then published them. As an added bonus, those writers have dozens or hundreds of works out there instead of one or two or three. Some of those are Lee Child, James Lee Burke, Stephen King, Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Ernest Hemingway, Jack Higgins, et al ad nauseam.)
I believe you can only reach quality through practice. Consider, how many more novels might Margaret Mitchell have written had she finished Gone with the Wind and let it go? And who’s to say it would have been “bad”? Unfortunately, we can never know. Based on my own experience, I personally believe it might well have been better.
The one thing I ask of those who disagree with my own writing process (which I really shouldn’t make public) is whether they’ve read my novels. If they haven’t, I discount their opinion. It’s difficult for me to give much credence to “a book that’s written ‘fast’ can’t possibly be any good” when the owner of the opinion hasn’t bothered to read my books, all of which were “written fast.”
(I’m talking here in particular about a writer I know who rewrites everything, runs it through critique groups, etc. Yet when I told her privately that I would never bother buying a book that I knew was written to an outline and rewritten by committee, she got upset. Go figure.)
The simple fact is, if I lied (as many famous writers do) and said it took me 11 years to write the 11-volume Wes Crowley Saga (for example), a lot of people would praise it sight unseen. And that’s just silly.
But if I tell the truth (it actually took less than 30 days to write each book, so less than 11 months total) people automatically think the books are “bad,” again without bothering to read them. And again, that’s just silly. A story is either good story or it isn’t, but shouldn’t that be the call of a reader who’s actually read it?
It takes me about 60 hours to write a 60,000 word novel. About 1000 words per hour, or 17 slothful words per minute. I turn out so mamy stories and novels because I actually spend the time in the chair.
Would my 60,000 word book be better quality if I spread those 60 hours over 6 months (10 hours per month) instead of over one month (2 hours per day)? Or if I wasted a lot more hours rewriting it? Or if I invited input from a critique group? I don’t think so.
Again, quality boils down to practice. And “practice” means putting new words on the page—hence, quantity. It means moving forward in honing your craft by writing instead of backtracking (rewriting) or standing still (hovering over one work for months or years).
To be sure, a writer’s storytelling ability will improve more quickly if he continues to read in his genre(s) and learn new techniques between or during bouts of writing, but practice remains the best teacher.
I also believe nothing good in literature ever came from the conscious mind. Rewriting, in particular, takes the work further from the writer’s original voice with every iteration. Been there, done that, will never go back. And of course, “quality” is in the eye of the beholder. What one reader loves, another won’t. Nature of the beast.
By the same token, we often say, “Writers are the worst judges of their own work.” That’s true, but it’s true both ways.
If we believe our work is great, we’re wrong. Some out there will like it and others won’t. But it’s equally true that if we think our work sucks, we’re also wrong. Some out there won’t like it, but others will. So instead of not publishing it and hiding it away, those of us with self-confidence publish it anyway. And find out that some readers love it.
I can’t believe I’ve convinced you, and that’s fine. At least you know my reasoning.
Today, I thought I would finish the short story, so I focused only on it.
As a result, I wrote nothing on the novel, I didn’t finish the short story, and I missed my word-count goal by a few hundred words. But there’s always tomorrow. At least until there isn’t. (grin) More than likely I’ll focus on the short story again tomorrow.
Anyway, today I was sidetracked a bit by the email that prompted the topic above, by laundry and a few other things, and I let the day slip away from me. Shrug. It is what it is. Tomorrow the goal resets, and the short story and the novel will be waiting for me.
Talk with you again soon.
See The Passive Guy’s take on “2020 Publishing Predictions: House of Indie on Fire” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/2020-publishing-predictions-house-of-indie-on-fire/.
See “3 First-Time Self-Publishing Mistakes to Avoid” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/3-first-time-self-publishing-mistakes-to-avoid/.
See “Learning to Love the Loneliness of Writing After My MFA” (including TPG’s take) at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/learning-to-love-the-loneliness-of-writing-after-my-mfa/.
See “What Does It Mean to Be A Full-Time Author?” at https://www.janefriedman.com/full-time-author/. Submitted in case you find gems. I especially liked the responses of Jim McCarthy.
See “Settings Repeat” at https://prowriterswriting.com/settings-repeat/.
See “What Your Choice of Dialogue Tags Says About You” at https://www.janefriedman.com/dialogue-tags/. I include this mostly because it’s wittily written. Multiple commercial writers have advised not to use verbs other than “said” (an intransitive verb that indicates a form of utterance) to carry dialogue. Most of the others the author mentions are transitive verbs, meaning they can be followed by a period and still make sense. For example, “He said.” does not make sense by itself, whereas “She whispered” does. Also “asked” isn’t really ever necessary since the question mark conveys that the preceding (or following) group of words was a question.
Fiction words yesterday………… 4253 (see specific numbers below)
Fiction words today…………………… 2479
Nonfiction words today…………… 1310 (Journal)
Writing of The Cazadores Lounge and Lonely Place (novel)
Day 1…… 3044 words. Total words to date…… 3044
Day 2…… 3189 words. Total words to date…… 6233
Day 3…… 2145 words. Total words to date…… 8378
Day 4…… 1301 words. Total words to date…… 9679
Day 5…… 3248 words. Total words to date…… 12927
Day 6…… 3180 words. Total words to date…… 16107
Day 7…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX
Writing of “Where the Music Goes to Die” (short story)
Day 1…… 1343 words. Total words to date…… 1343
Day 2…… 2479 words. Total words to date…… 3822
Day 3…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX
Total fiction words for the month……… 16885
Total fiction words for the year………… 16885
Total nonfiction words for the month… 7510
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 7510
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 24395
Calendar Year 2020 Novels to Date…………………… X
Calendar Year 2020 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2020 Short Stories to Date… X
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 45
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 197
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31
2 thoughts on “The Journal: Sigh… Old Stuff Revisited”
I can’t help coming here to read this every day, as I’m continually inspired. I’m still a bit mired, trying to do better, and find this encouraging. I’d love to write a finished 60,000 word book in 60 hours. I think I’ll try writing a scene and then go back over it right away. I tend to fly and finish a lot of words… I don’t like to stop … I tell myself I’ll go back and fix typos and such, but I don’t want to go back over it. Ever. (Haha) I dictate, and I’m slower at the moment than I used to be, but it’s still 1500 words an hour. So I end up with a lot of words that only really need fixing and checking research… I rarely change much … but dang if I can get myself to reread. I’m 55,000 words into a new book, but it feels so unfinished because it’s not a clean draft. =( I know I need to change that. Ugh. Whining. Anyway, thanks again. (And yes, I’m interested in your fiction totals.)
Thanks, Diane. Glad you find this stuff helpful. And thank you for another topic. I’ll respond much more fully in today’s Journal.
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