I had a moment of personal clarity the other day.
I’ve often thought that I was pretty Zen about my position in the writing world. I don’t have an agent or a publishing contract with a big press, but I don’t lie awake at night comparing myself to others who do have those things. If I did, then I’d have to look no further for angst than Jay Kristoff, who I’ve known for more than a decade. He’s been very successful with his Lotus War trilogy, and was able to quit work to write fulltime (basically every writer’s dream ever) after he signed the contract for Illuminae. Another good friend of mine, Stacey Nash, has a three-book deal (yay!) with a Harper Collins digital imprint. (And one of her books came out a few days ago.)
The thing is, I’m genuinely happy for these people, both of whom are entirely deserving. I don’t even feel a twinge of jealousy — I actually find it inspirational. Back when I was at uni, I had a very dour lecturer who told all the wannabe writers in the room that, as Australians, we’d never ever be able to quit work to write fulltime (unless we wrote romance).
I’d like to be able to rub Jay’s success in her face. Maybe with a copy of Endsinger, which is 600 pages and rather heavy. 😉
But then I realised when I was chatting to someone a few days ago that there is one thing that I am really jealous about. If I dwell on it, it actually makes me a little depressed. It’s not the end result of the book deal and the agent that triggers this reaction me.
It’s the speed at which some people write.
I’m a slow drafter, although I’m getting better. Isla’s Inheritance took over a year to draft; I was averaging maybe 2000 words a month and, because it was the first book I wrote, I was still feeling my way through the process. That means I wrote a couple of chapters that were ultimated scrapped (sob). With Isla’s Oath, I doubled my word goal, but it still took the better part of a year. With my most recent manuscripts, Melpomene’s Daughter and Lucid Dreaming, I set myself a goal of 2000 words a week and finished the first drafts in around seven months. These were also much cleaner drafts than my debut was, meaning there was less work to do in the editing stages.
Still, that’s just a first draft. Looking at all the reading and re-reading, and re-re-reading that happens during the editing process, it’s more like a year for me to produce something polished. And by comparison, Chuck Wendig – who is a fulltime writer – writes 2000 words a day.
When I see people who are releasing two or three books a year, the envy is strong in this one. I’ve got three books coming out in 2015, but that’s because Isla’s Inheritance and Isla’s Oath were done before I signed with TMP. I definitely won’t be maintaining the “several books a year” schedule after 2015.
It’s even more sobering when I see articles and posts by indie authors who talk about how you need to release at least two books a year to maintain momentum, keep your fans keen. I try to do the things “they” say, but this one’s beyond me. There’s not a lot I can do to write faster than I am now. I work thirty-five hours a week and I’m a single mother, which means the only times I get to write are after my son goes to bed, or occasionally on the weekend if I decide to let him have a “lazy day” in front of the TV or on the Wii. (I feel guilty when I do that, but a wise friend once told me that it’s important to let your kids see you pursue your goals.)
The other factor in my jealousy is that I have other book ideas I’d love to be working on. I went through my plot bunny notebook the other day, and there were ideas in there for four novels, two novellas (both for my Tammy Calder pen name) and a short story. One of the novel ideas is actually plotted out, down to character details; the rest are in the embryonic stage but could get there with a little bit of time and energy.
It should be said that I’m happy for others who are able to publish more than one book a year. Delighted. Being crazy jealous that they can do it doesn’t make me less pleased for them! And I know that the mere fact of having written a book — more than one — and then seeing it published it is a massive deal. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved to date and look forward to doing more of the same.
Thinking about it, I suppose jealousy can actually be a good thing. It’s a kick up the backside, a goad to action. And even though I’m not sure what else I can do to increase my productivity, it does at least keep me thinking about ideas to do so. It’s also an awesome spur to get my butt in the chair to write when I do have the opportunity.
So that’s my confession. I found my green-eyed monster: it was down the back of the couch this whole time!
Also, I realise this post is a bit of a ramble. It’s more me thinking aloud (well, on screen) than anything else. But I thought putting this out there might help other writers who feel the same way I do.
Some of you do feel this way, right?
A few days ago, a Huffington Post, um, post went viral on Facebook. Here it is. If you haven’t read it, go on. I’ll wait.
Back? Are you as outraged as I am?
Never mind the fact that post’s author, Lynn Shepherd, admits she has never read Harry Potter and yet implies insulting things about the mental capacity of any adult who reads the series, “…mainly because there’s [sic] so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds…”
Never mind her assumption that there is only a finite amount of success to go around, and that Rowling hogging it all results in Lynn (can I call you Lynn?) and other writers getting less.
Never mind the fact she’s targeting one of very few blockbuster female writers. Why not aim it at Stephen King, say? Is it because he hasn’t dabbled in mystery like Rowling has—which, if true, clearly gives Lynn’s objection the pungent aroma of sour grapes? Or is it because he’s a man, whereas Rowling, as a woman, should be more considerate of others? (Uh oh…)
Never even mind her assumption that writers are only entitled to write and have success in one field—in Rowling’s case, children’s fiction. They definitely shouldn’t branch out into other fields of writing endeavour. That’s just greedy.
The things that get me are the two, fatal flaws in Lynn’s logic.
If it weren’t for JK Rowling making readers of teenagers who otherwise might have spent their time playing Farmville, there would be, well, less readers. These are readers who, as adults, might dabble in mystery because Rowling went there. Readers who might then read other mystery novels.
And if it weren’t for JK Rowling, her publisher would have less money. It may not exist at all or, if it did, it’s publishing team would be less likely to risk paying advances to debut authors. It would have less money to spend on lower-return print runs by mid-list authors.
These are the reasons why blockbuster novels and writers are always a good thing. Yes, always. Regardless of what you think of Twlight’s portrayal of romance, or 50 Shades of Grey’s “representation” of BDSM, or The Da Vinci Code’s alleged (although not substantiated in court) plagiarism, they bring money into the industry and get people reading who otherwise might not.
If the price other authors pay for these benefits is that the blockbuster author gets the display at the front of the store, so be it.
There are only two reasons I can think of why Lynn would write that article. One is that she genuinely believes Rowling is taking a place in the mystery genre that rightfully belongs to others (aka “herself”). The other is that she figures bad attention is better than no attention. I’m sure her books are getting a lot of views on Amazon at the moment—although most of it is probably one-star reviews by Rowling’s fans, so I struggle to see the benefit there too.
To me, Lynn’s post looks like career suicide. Am I missing something?