Quantity vs. Quality: Big Issue for Today’s Writer

More, more, more! Faster, faster, faster!

Some of you probably read the NY Times article last weekend called Writer’s Cramp: In the E-Reader Era, a Book a Year Is Slacking.

Here is the gist of it, before I add my two cents’ worth.

Authors on Assembly Lines

Apparently authors are being pushed, prodded, and persuaded to write more books per year, plus short e-stories in between books to promote upcoming books. One popular author, James Patterson, writes twelve or thirteen novels per year! He writes some and co-writes some. Here are some quotes from that article:

“Authors are now pulling the literary equivalent of a double shift, churning out short stories, novellas or even an extra full-length book each year… The push for more material comes as publishers and booksellers are desperately looking for ways to hold onto readers being lured by other forms of entertainment, much of it available nonstop and almost instantaneously… Ms. Scottoline [a thriller writer] has increased her output from one book a year to two, which she accomplishes with a brutal writing schedule: 2,000 words a day, seven days a week.”

Bear this in mind: that’s 2,000 words per day in addition to all the promoting, travel, speaking, and social networking required. One author (who has to write short stories between his novels for his publisher to sell cheaply or give away) said this: “It does sap away some of your energy. You don’t ever want to get into a situation where your worth is being judged by the amount of your productivity.”

But isn’t that exactly what is being done here?

From Quality to Quantity

If this is the future of publishing, can the quality of writing go anywhere but down? We see this all the time.

A debut novel is a hit, often an award-winner. The new author explains that it took 5-10 years to write and revise. The author’s new agent and publisher want another novel from this author RIGHT NOW–while she’s still hot property.

Is it any wonder that often subsequent books are of inferior quality? [I'm not picking on anyone here. I've written series with very short deadlines, and you just can't write with the same quality when you only have six weeks to do a whole book. There is no down time, no extra think time, and little revision time.]

Great Books Take Time

Oddly enough, just before the NY Times article came out, I was re-reading Chapter After Chapter: Discover the dedication & focus you need to write the book of your dreams by Heather Sellers. In one of her chapters, she discussed how writing needed to be slow. Does this resonate with you?

“Writing books is, and should be, really slow. The great books are still around–just like the great recipes, the great songs, the great trees–because they took a long time to develop. Time-soaked writing is good writing….Are you, like so many new and experienced writers I know, constantly berating yourself for not writing more?…If so, you are quite possibly internalizing cultural tendencies–this inexorable push for speediness at the cost of quality.”

My Take on the Discussion

I personally dislike rushed books for two reasons: (1) I don’t have that much free time for leisure reading anymore, so I don’t like to read poor writing and shallow stories with what time I do have, and (2) the rushed stories that didn’t “steep” long enough just won’t hold my interest, and I refuse anymore to force myself to read something that bores me or has characters I don’t care about.

Are books that win awards and become classics written in a rush? I sincerely doubt it. [There will be a panel of writers and editors discussing "Books That Rise Above" at a Highlights workshop in October. I'd love to hear what they have to say on this subject.]

What’s Your Opinion?

What do you think? Does super fast writing mean a decline in the quality of writing? If so, do you mind?

  • Are there times you don’t mind reading a novel that was obviously rushed to the presses?
  • Are there certain authors you will read, no matter what the quality of the story?
  • As a writer, do you feel the “push” to produce faster?
  • Will you be pushed? Or will you fight against that?

I’d really like to hear your thoughts on this. I’m only one opinion. Please leave a comment.

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One Response to Quantity vs. Quality: Big Issue for Today’s Writer

  1. In our rushed culture, slowing down is hard. In so many professions expectations for productivity are increasing. As a (new) freelance writer, I sometimes churn out an article quickly. However, I generally return to a project again, and again, and again. I often discover a better way to express an idea. I always discover a grammatical error or two or three. In the end, I slow down. Way down. Thank you!

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