In Praise of Slow Cooking


At times, there can be a lot of pressure to write novels quickly. Self-imposed pressure, for the most part, when authors, most of whom are in reality hyper-competitive little Hermione Granger Type A's, take a look around and see so many others zipping out three, four or even five or more books a year. Often, that's compounded by a look at our banks statements to create a lot of stress and such the joy from writing.

I have nothing but respect for authors who naturally produce a great volume of great work. From Louis L'Amour to Nora Roberts, there are a rare few who make it look easy and do it oh-so-well. What I'm trying to back away from is the idea that I need to compete on that particular field of battle, that pushing myself to blaze through projects ever-more-speedily is a bright idea. Because sometimes, it's slow cooking that brings out the richest flavors.

I'm not advocating taking three or six or more years on a project or blowing off your deadlines. In my case, I've found I can't sustain the story's momentum if I don't work every, or very nearly every, day, and my slow but steady approach covers a lot of ground. But the time spent walking in a character's footsteps, absorbing the world where she lives, and comprehending the complexities of her life add something irreplaceable to a novel, something that the reader can stop and savor on the page.

It enriches my life, too, as an author. Because when it really comes down to it, do I want to spend most of my time in Deadline Hell or Writing Heaven?

So what about the rest of you? How do you find a balance between idleness and productivity, quantity and quality?

Comments

Vicky said…
Colleen, have you noticed any changes to your process over the years? Do you think authors are writng faster because of newer marketing demands for publishing 2 or 3 books per year? I remember a time when editors expected a writer to produce a book in 9 months like the proverbial baby. :-) I don't know whether slower writing results in better quality or not, but I suspect it may have a great deal to do with a writer's process. Some writers produce 1 perfect chapter a week. They're the perfect candidates for weekly critique groups. Others are draft writers and need to close the door while racing through the first draft.

I'm still evolving. One thing I noticed is if I write too slowly, I lose the momentum. Sometimes my slow writing is the result of not knowing where I'm going ~ and I'm convinced that's when I need the craft thinking cap more than writing. OTOH, I've been in a position in the past where I had to produce a major revision (big rewrites) in a very short time period. I was writing 10 pages/night (after a full 8 hrs at the day job). It was some of the best writing I've ever done. So I'm not sure it really matters whether you're a chapter-by-chapter perfectionist or a fast drafter. Each of us just needs to embrace what works for us as individual writers. After all, the reader only cares about the final product. :-) Anyway, I enjoy reading your thought-provoking posts. :-)
I don't think there's a universal right or wrong way. I just hate feeling pressured (even if it's self-inflicted) to produce so many books so quickly. And I know editors hate getting sloppy, "phoned in" work from authors who're prepping the Fed Ex box and printing pages even as they're writing the last chapters on the day before their deadline.

But then, I've never been one of those writers who thrives on deadline pressure or procrastinates till the last possible minute, then puts in a string of 20-hour, hyper-caffeinated days. It just doesn't seem like any way to live to me, but I know plenty of authors who seem to do their best work in a pinch.

They must have stronger stomachs, but if it works for them, more power to 'em.
Suzan Harden said…
I'll let you know when I have a publisher's deadline - LOL. Unfortunately, I am the Hermione Granger type when it comes to self-imposed deadlines.
That's good practice, Suzan, as long as you remember to breathe a little, too. :)