Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Trouble with Speed Writing

Back in the 70’s, the craze was speed-reading. Now it’s speed-writing, with authors churning out book after book at lightning speed.

They’re only words, right?

Here’s the thing: readers have access to all the words they want, for free, on the internet. They don’t need your book or mine. Not unless it’s truly worth reading.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about fluency—pushing through to the end of a crappy first draft, so you can see what you’ve got. Too much deliberation along the way, and you risk writer’s block. That’s why initiatives like NaNoWriMo, spurring writers to complete a novel draft in a month, make good sense.

To complete a book-length draft is no small achievement. But keep in mind that in the glow of your accomplishment, your draft will look better than it really is. Don’t be fooled. Don’t circulate it prematurely among agents and editors. Don’t hit that “publish” button too soon.

Particularly in the self-published e-book market, some authors are churning out book after book, each one completed in only a matter of weeks. A few have even found readers, some in substantial numbers. But if you look closely, you’ll see that most successful of these speed-writers first hit the market during a unique moment in publishing history, roughly between 2009 and 2011, when readers (of genre fiction, primarily) were just discovering how much bang they could get for their e-book bucks.

That era is already fading fast in the rear view. The authors who found their followings during those golden years continue to speed-write for their loyal readers, with decent though moderated success. These days there are exponentially more e-books to choose from, allowing readers to be a lot more discerning, quick to slam those with weak plots and flat characters and typos on every other page.

Traditional publishers sometimes push authors to speed-write, too, especially when the topic is timely and they want the book out right now. It's called "crashing a book." Too many crashes, and your writing looks pretty ugly.

Pace yourself. With ten years between books, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Donna Tartt is proof that readers will wait. 

Get it right, because books are forever.