Wednesday, 8 July 2009

The book-a-year syndrome

I wonder how many of us have succumbed to the pressure of feeling that we ought to produce a book a year, or every two years, or whatever. I know that having had two books published eighteen months apart, I immediately felt that I should continue in the same way. A book every eighteen montbs, I thought. That should be manageable. After all, I'd done it before. But it didn't work out. With hindsight, I think this is one of the reasons novel no. 3 failed to make the grade. I grabbed at a plot (having floundered hopelesssly for several months) and plunged in, without really giving it enough thought. I have huge admiration for writers such as Len and Brian, who really do seem to manage it, but maybe it's not for everyone. How do other people feel about this?


Alis said...

I think starting a book before the ideas upon which it's based have 'gestated' properly can be disastrous... I'm very aware, at the moment, of sitting with my plot and my characters, mulling it all over and imagining my way through various bits and watching them change and mutate. If I had to start writing now (quite apart from the need to do more research) I think the book would suffer.

A book a year might make economic sense but I'm not sure it makes sense in terms of the quality of the work. And, let's face it, most of us spent years perfecting the book that got us that first, all-important offer to publish from MNW, didn't we?

Matt Curran said...

Hi Frances

I don't think I've ever consciously thought I needed to write a book year, rather that I have so many ideas for books that not writing seems like folly to me. Writing a book a year, or every other year is down to how much time I have available, rather than setting myself a quota. If I was part-time, I would probably write a book a year just because I had the time to do it. If I ‘was writing a full-time, then I would expect to write 3 books every 2 years, because I have the ideas and the time to do it. (Plots are something that I'm not lacking - just ask Will who was horrified when I presented him with a list of novels I plan to write - 30 books and counting...).

Like Alis I won't throw myself into a book without knowing what I'm writing about. I tend to mull over my characters months before I start writing, but generally this happens during the latter revisions of the book I'm currently working on (this happened with The Black Hours and The Hoard of Mhorrer) so once I finish one book I tend only to take a month or two out and start the next.
Thankfully looking for a regular income from the writing hasn't become an intervening issue yet (I'm not sure I find that whole publish-to-live thing attractive) but my work ethic is that I'm only a writer if I'm writing.

Doug Worgul said...

It took me 36 months from the moment I wrote the first word of Thin Blue Smoke, to the moment I pronounced it finished. I took a few months off, then began writing a second book, and immediately began to feel intense pressure to get it done as quickly as possible. That's insane. I have needed to regularly remind myself, as I proceed with this new book, that I shouldn't expect to finish it any sooner than I did the first, and that it may very well take longer. Perhaps much longer.

A factor in all this anxiety to get it done, is that I long to feel again that rush of exhilaration and ego-gratification that comes with that e-mail from Will saying that the book has been accepted for publication. It's like a drug, isn't it.

Finally, I'm wondering if there mightn't be other factors that make the process slower or faster for folks. Myself, I have two young children, a demanding day job, a new puppy we're trying to house train, and a house I've been remodeling. Plus I try to get regular exercise and stay active in church. All that tends to put a serious drag on my writing. But I don't know which of those things I could (or would want to) put aside in order to finish the book more quickly.

David Isaak said...

Well, I do tend to write about a book a year on average--but it's not clear that I write a publishable book a year.

I'm not sure that level of output is really expected unless you're the author of a series, in which case your readers and publisher will both be drumming their fingers on the tabletop waiting for the next installment.

I can see the attraction of a series; you wouldn't have to take of from a standing start each time. Alas, I seem to use my characters up during the course of a book. Perhaps I should learn to be gentler with them?

Tim Stretton said...

I don't think I have the mental stamina to produce a book a year - and I certainly don't have enough ideas.

At the moment I have a couple of "situations", i.e. milieu and broad sweep of the stories, but if I started to write any of them up yet, I'd kill them.

Even the best ideas need room to breathe - at least that's what I'm telling myself as part of my world-class procrastination strategy.

Matt Curran said...

I think between them, Doug and Frances have hit the nail on the head. A mixture of fear and exhilaration plays a big part here. There is a definite major high when a book or short story is accepted. There’s nothing like that buzz from a letter or e-mail confirming your book will be published. That feeling doesn’t diminish on the second book, nor I guess would it for the third.
But it also goes further than that. If you think that many of us have spent years getting into print, a certain amount of impatience might creep through to catch up on those years that have been lost. Add to that the pressure of momentum - the feeling you're in a car without breaks struggling up a steep hill knowing that once you stop you'll only roll down to the bottom again - and you don't want to pause for breath in your career, as we know there are writers who have done so and have struggled to get back into print.

My motivation to write has never really been to be in print, but because I enjoy writing and being read. Being published is an ambition and since achieving that I admit it has skewed my motivation a little. I still enjoy writing, but it's transgressed from being just a hobby to a going concern and I guess the pressure to deliver a regular book will always be there now either because I love the buzz or just because I have an idea that’s desperate to be written, and as David says, writing a series also compels you to keep writing book after book after book because the publisher wants them…

Frances Garrood said...

I go along with pretty well everything everyone's said, pehaps especially Matt's point that once you've had a book published, the incentive to repeat the experience is increased. For me, there is an additional pressure. Time. Being one of the older MNWs, I have this feeling that I must write what I can before ideas/brain cells run out. The Mary Wesleys of this world are rare and wonderful, and sadly, I am not one of them. But then the one book wonders (To Kill a Mocking Bird) are important too, and writers like Donna Tartt (The Secret History, and much later, The Little Friend) seem to take years to produce each novel, and they haven't done badly.

Eliza Graham said...

Much depends on the contract. My two-book contract specified a first book to be handed in by the end of May 2009. I'd only started writing it in July 2008--so that was 10 months. Less, in fact, because of school holidays when I couldn't do much, and my freelance work.

Frances Garrood said...

Ah, but I have no contract, Eliza. You have been successful enough to be given a two book deal (?) which is another ball game altogether. By the way, did you deliver on time, and are you pleased with the book?

Ann Weisgarber said...

This conversation is making me nervous. I'm one of those super slow writers. It took seven years to write Rachel DuPree although there were long stretches when life stepped in and I had to stop writing all together.

I'm working on the second book and am enjoying it because I'm avoiding many of the mistakes I made in the early stages of Rachel DuPree. Or so I tell myself. For me, it's all about hearing the voices, seeing the characters, and understanding their motives. I try to push aside the idea of publication. When I start dreaming about the characters, the writing happens. Until that happens, it can be a dry spell.

My goals are to write the best book I can and to do it faster than seven years.