With November all but gone, the final days of my writing sabbatical slip away like greased ferrets on meth. I’m pleased to say I achieved everything I set out to do. Now I have a little window of time to relax, work on a couple of other short projects, start to noodle around with the edits for “Papa Lucy and the Boneman” and generally pat myself on the back.
With November’s end, it also brings to a close NaNoWriMo, the annual scribble-fest that consistently generates universal love or hate. A lot of folks I admire do this every year, vomiting 50,000 words onto the screen in rapid-fire style. Participants include everyone from newbies to established authors, and by all accounts most folks get something out of it. Be it the community, the challenge, or the solid kick up the bum, something works for the participants.
I understand why folks do it, but I decline every year, even when buddies get all excited and revved up. To save time, I’ll point you to this post by the eloquent author-bot known as Alan Baxter, who says it far better than I can. For the record, I agree with pretty much all of his points (especially the, “if you do get something out of NaNoWriMo, hey, that’s just dandy” vibe): http://www.alanbaxteronline.com/2011/11/01/nanowrimo.html
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a NaNoWriMo bash. Swift writing has its place. I think it’s absolutely useful (nay, essential) that anyone who wants to write professionally can pick up this skill. If an opportunity lands on your desk with a heavy thud and a ticking deadline, you need to be able to come up with the goods. Particularly when doing write-for-hire work (inc. the lucky sods who get involved with media tie-in work) excuses just don’t cut it. If you can’t produce good copy by the time it’s needed, future work will go to someone who *can* crank out work quickly. That’s just how it is.
At this point in my own writing trajectory, I’m lucky enough to have some perspective on this issue. For the purpose of this post, I’ll simplify the NaNoers and the NaNoNoters into two camps: those who Flash-Fry their writing, and those who get out the greasy old contraption from the bottom cupboard, the devotees of the Slowcook.
Sometimes, you absolutely have to fry the shit out of something. I’ve written several novellas and short stories to deadline, and have twice completed a Three-Day Novel race (30,000 words in a weekend!!). Typically much more editing is required on the back-end, but it can be done. If you’re organised and systematic about it, it’s not impossible, and you can still walk away with a quality product. The Flashfry is a completely different discipline to the Slowcook, and every writer needs to be able to do this when the chips are down. These are the dudes who have groaning brag-shelves, when many the thwarted Slowcooker is still waiting for the stars to align properly, or “when I just have the *time*” etc).
Some examples of folks who’ve managed this successfully are Sean Williams (who famously wrote three or four books in one manic stretch) and Steve Savile. Steve can consistently turn out polished writing on any topic, and recently wrote a tie-in product in 19 days. 100,000 words in just under three weeks!!! An absolutely staggering output. And these aren’t sloppy products by any means, these are polished pieces completed by professionals, at a professional level. So it *can* be done, especially if that’s your job.
Then, there’s the Slowcook approach. You frequently hear of people who have taken *years* to write a single book. By all accounts, it took Jeff Vandermeer several years to work on his various Ambergris books (Finch etc). Ted Chiang has written a mere handful of short works over the last twenty years, and they’re all beautiful. These are all speculative fiction writers of course, I’m sure there’s a tonne of other writers wiser folks than me could point to and say “Slowcookers”. Often, new writers will take their first book and polish it down to bone, over several years and drafts. Then, joy of joys, new writer sells said book, with the proviso that book #2 is due in a scarily short time-window. So, you honestly have to be able to work to both of these methods.
So what’s the point of this ramble? Anyone who’s ever seen me eat can verify I love to fry me some food. But geez, it sure is nice to tuck into a slow-cooked casserole on a cold winter’s day. It’s been bubbling in the pot all day, and the meat virtually dissolves on your tongue. Heavenly! It sure is a beautiful thing to see a story where every word belongs, where the writer has the comfort of playing at artisanship, giving many slow hours to the work at hand. These are often the works of great resonance, that you can read over and over. By all means works written under pressure can *also* pull this off, don’t get me wrong. Some of my favourite books are masterpieces of the Flashfry method, and typically have a rattling pace, great opening hooks, and are leaner than whippets.
So fret not, ye of the Flashfry and folk of the Slowcook! For your methods are not mutually exclusive! NaNo if you must, but do yourself a favour and try your hand at a good old Slowcook once in a while, and for heaven’s sake just keep at it, no matter which method you pick. Had a 500 word day? Awesome, long as the words rock. 5K? Kick-arse! Word-counts can often be a false economy, so don’t let the figures rob you of the joy of creation.
Good writing is all, so aspire to it, no matter how you run your kitchen