In a certain writing magazine a certain author was featured, and in that story, we are told
The notebooks filled. But he reached a point where he had to stop. “I just begin, and then find I write myself into a corner of human experience about which I’m totally ignorant,” he says.
Writing paused for about six months while he plowed into research. He read 33 books, including the Koran twice. He came to the point where he felt he could teach a class on Islamic extremism. Informed and enlightened, he finished the novel. Which took five-and-a-half years to write.
I am floored by this. And it irritates me.
First, you should never try to write about something you are “totally ignorant” about. If you want to write about a subject you know nothing about, you should first research it to see if there’s a story there you might want to tell, and if not, you can stop researching early on and not waste that 6 months on information you won’t use toward getting a book written.
Now, granted, sometimes writers sit down, and if they are Pantsters (those who write by the seat of their pants, without an outline or definitive idea of the plot or characters, like Planners do), then it’s possible and often common, for the material or characters to surprise us with things we didn’t expect. In that case, it might require some research time to continue the story, if indeed, the writer decides this is the story that must be told.. But six months? It’s not nonfiction–not a master’s thesis. It’s not necessary to get a degree in the subject matter, it’s only important to gain the information to spark the story itself.
The next irritant is that after all that, it took him over FIVE YEARS to actually write the book. Now, I wrote my own magnum opus a few years ago, (God on a Stick) I too had to read a truckload of other materials and books, including the Bible, cover to cover. And while it took me three years to finish SH, I wasn’t working on it full time during that time, and it was nonfiction and required massive research and references. It also resulted in over a thousand pages, and SIX books, not one.
Aside from those who have full-time jobs and families and can only write for short periods, this prolonged methodology signifies, to me, a writer who is not what I would call a natural writer. The author of the article just might have been influenced by the fact that there were so many writers in his immediate and extended family, and perhaps he was groomed toward that vocation, when really, he would be better suited in some other area, regardless of how much he might enjoy writing. A natural writer, in my estimation, has a certain innate ability to write and has little trouble getting the writing done. Thus, it should never take over five years to write a novel. If it does, it suggests to me that the writer is stalling–using creative avoidance to side-step the actual act of writing– or he/she is struggling with the mastery of craft, or the understanding of the material, or for some other reason having to do with a generalized difficulty BEING a writer.
And further, a book is not necessarily more valuable or compelling or impressive if it takes a long time to write, but I think there is a species of writer out there who falls prey to the romanticized notions about writers, and it is as if they are playing a role. But being a fiction writer doesn’t mean being a fictional writer.
As a postscript, this is also not a wise methodology in today’s publishing climate. Readers find authors they like, and they read everything that author puts out. If there’s a gap of five or six years between one book and another, those readers will undoubtedly go elsewhere for their reading selections, since especially the Indie Writers like myself, can write and publish a book within, say, 4-6 months (sometimes faster, depending on the book, the time available to write, and the level of flow the author enjoyed in the composition process). I can say this, even though I am primarily a Planner-type writer, and I make sure I know the material, even if I have to research it. It still only takes me about 4 months to write that book. There are exceptions, of course, but not exceptions that tack on YEARS. Unless this Literary Loitering applies exclusively to the type of writer who writes only for him/herself, and doesn’t care about making any income on it, it’s an unwise way to compete in the market.
Mostly, this article and the points mentioned bothered me because I can’t stand pretension, especially among authors and other creative people.