Authors don’t win much respect, at least not from critics, when they write a book-a- year…or more. Words like "hack" begin to get bandied about whenever the author’s name comes up. If a book is written quickly, does that automatically mean it’s bad? Is less creativity, emotion, and care invested in a book that’s written in three months instead of three years? Apparently, the assumption is yes. A book that’s written quickly must not be as good as one that’s written slowly…or that something isn’t quite right with the author. For instance, the folks over at Booksquare recently said:
Prolific writers are viewed with distrust. Nobody should be able to produce so
many words in so short a time. It isn’t seemly. It probably isn’t healthy. It
surely isn’t literary. It’s like a Tom Waits song. “What’s he building in
My sister-in-law Wendy pondered on her blog:
I often wonder about writers who crank out book after book and speculate as to
how they do it. The quality of books written in warp drive aside,
I’m curious if authors like Nora Roberts sleep and eat as the rest of the
population? Do they ever go back and rewrite, rework,
retool? I can’t imagine that they do, there doesn’t seem to be
time. Do they have moments of self doubt? Do they
ever question or second guess? Are there ever moments when a
character’s motivation, a plot point, or the perfect bit of dialog is just
out of reach, tormenting them with its nearness? Don’t they
have moments when the only answer is to walk away from a story and let the
pieces drift back in, falling into the perfect places?
In the book world, writers who are fast and prolific are suspect…but this wasn’t always the case. In the heyday of pulp novels, guys like Harry Whittington wrote several books a year. And they were great. In fact, his speedily-written paperbacks are better than many of the hardcover thrillers out today…thrillers that took some of the authors a year or more to write.
When I buy a book, I don’t care how fast it was written or how many more books the author has coming this year… as long as the books are good. That should be the measure.
But it’s not.
In the TV business, it’s different. Writers who are fast and prolific are admired, celebrated and sought-after. It’s not uncommon for episodes of TV shows, including the most highly regarded series on TV, to be written in a week or less. Yet, nobody assumes the episodes are badly written simply because they were written fast. The audience expects a new episode every week, 22 weeks or more a year, and they don’t give any thought to the time it takes to write them… all they want is a good show. In fact, networks expect writers to be fast and prolific…those who aren’t soon find it very difficult to get staff jobs.
I’ve got my feet in both the book and TV worlds. I’m primarily a TV writer…but lately I have been writing paperbacks originals, too. I’ve been trained by my years in TV to write fast, to deliver well-crafted stories on a tight deadline. So I didn’t think twice about signing a deal that will require me to write four books — two DIAGNOSIS MURDERs and two MONKS — in the next 12-14 months. Sure, I thought about how I was going to manage my time, and balance my TV and book committments, but I didn’t give any thought to how writing a book every three-to-four months would reflect on me as an author (then again, since the books are TV tie-ins, I know the assumption in the book community is that they are hack work anyway).
Why are speedily-written books suspect… but speedily-written screenplays are not?