Thursday, November 02, 2006

Writing Speeds

Within the past few days I've read two news bits that struck me with shock in different ways, illustrating opposite attitudes toward writing speed and productivity. An article about the death of distinguished author William Styron mentioned that he typically produced only a page or so per day and refused to let himself proceed with the work until the present paragraph or page had attained as close to perfection as he could make it. That approach is so diametrically opposed to the standard advice-to-writers (and it's the approach I've tried to break myself of). The conventional wisdom is that, since some revision is inevitable, working too hard at getting the first draft perfect in every detail is likely to be a waste of time—because some of those details will almost certainly get changed. Maybe Styron was like Isaac Asimov, such a confident and fluent writer that he hardly ever revised. At any rate, since he was a Pulitzer Prize winner, Styron must have been doing something right.

The other bit comes from an article in WORKING MOTHER magazine, "Get a Life," about mapping out a concrete plan to achieve the ideal life you dream of (including the possible hiring of a "coach" to help you construct and adhere to your life plan). One woman in the article aspired to become a writer. "Cate and her coach agreed she'd have 90 days to get a book deal—that long only because Cate wasn't giving up her day job to pursue her writing dream." She sent out queries to 61 literary agents and hired a babysitter so she could work on the book every Thursday in addition to nights after the kids went to sleep. Lo and behold, she met her deadline and has a nonfiction book forthcoming this spring. !!!!! I certainly hope nobody reads this article and thinks this path to publication is realistic or typical. Ninety days from proposal to publication offer? This Cate person achieved the authorial equivalent of winning a multi-state lottery jackpot. Somebody really should write an article for WORKING MOTHER describing what the typical career path of a freelance writer is really like. :)


Rowena Cherry said...


Thanks for your thoughts. Oh, my goodness! It has taken me nearly three months to work out who the "right" villain is for my next book.

The most significant point I picked up on was that working mother Cate wrote a non-fiction book.

Non-fiction can be a lot shorter. If she had a really good idea, it would have been easier to sell.

Do you know what it was that she wrote?

Best wishes,

Margaret Carter said...

I believe the topic of her book was how to combine working with breastfeeding. Not only useful to a wide readership but doubtless drawing upon her own experience!