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Jay Lake
Date: 2007-04-01 18:20
Subject: Writing at flank speed
Security: Public
Tags:personal, process, writing
In the comment thread to my recent post on legacies, jetse takes me to task, at length, over the way I write. I reported here a while back on a similar conversation I had with Gavin Grant last summer.

In both cases, the point they were making (to paraphrase extensively) is that I'm already a pretty good writer, and if I'd just freaking slow down and take my time, I might be a great one.

I've got two answers to that. One is, you're probably right, but I don't really know how to slow down. I have enough trouble viewing myself as being sufficiently productive as it is. (Seriously. I know it sounds weird, but that's really how I see myself.) Moving slower would be very difficult indeed. Not to mention which, when I do write it just pretty much comes shooting out of me.

The obvious counterpoint to that is fine, big boy, draft at lightspeed if it pleases you, but for the love of Ghu, let the stuff steep for a while before you chuck it out the door. Believe it or not, that's what I've been trying to do. Still, rewriting is very difficult for me, even now. I'd always rather be writing something new. By the same token, I can come back to old stories and always find things to improve. It feels like an endless process to me, and I've long lived under the engineering rubric of not letting perfect get in the way of good enough.

My second answer is, well, I'm trying that. Original Destiny, Manifest Sin has been gestating for about four years now, since its inception, and if that book gets finished before 2010, I'll be amazed. It's the one project I've ever taken on which stands outside my rapid-fire process.

Meanwhile, I do keep getting better, at least to my own eyes. Writing fast, with the full voice that comes alongside that wide-open throttle, is what brung me to the dance. As the saying goes, dance with who brung ya'.

So I don't disagree with jetse, or Gavin, in principle. I just don't know any other way to do it. I'm working on it. If I ever stop working on bettering my writing, throw a sheet over me and sell the Edsel -- that'll mean I'm done.
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Ben Peek
User: benpeek
Date: 2007-04-02 02:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
me, i love rewriting, and i recommend it for all.

but the truth is, no one can say what will survive the ages. over half those stories jetse mentions are complete rubbish to me--chiang, for example, is one of the dullest writers i've read in years, and i don't think he does much original at all. the egan stuff, likewise, has no real depth to it--not in the same way that, say, his work with refugees has depth and purpose. and the ellison piece has, to put it kindly, not aged well.

just saying.
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2007-04-02 02:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Just like everyone reads at different speeds and in different manners, writers write in a different manner. To be honest, looking at the writers I've enjoyed over the years, I don't think the volume of output necessarily affects the quality one dang bit (with the exception of some very pulpish stuff).

Different projects have different pacing to them. It is what it is.

Remember, Anthony Trollope banged out 2000 words or so a day before going to his day job. For his era, he wrote some pretty dang good stuff that's still being read and enjoyed. Now if I could only find a gig like Trollope's (who got to write, indulge his horse habit AND get paid for it!), that would be nice. Ah well.
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User: kellymccullough
Date: 2007-04-02 02:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The idea that writing slower automatically means writing better is frankly a silly one. Some of the greatest writers of history were people who wrote at incredible speed. Shakespeare and Dickens come to mind. Some of the greatest were also slow writers. Tolkien in fantasy for example. Speed is irrelevant to quality. I know professionals who do best when they craft a few paragraphs at a time and let the idea stew in between. I know professionals who write best when they get the ideas down as fast as possible and who become choppy and erratic if they try to slow down. You write the way you write. It's working so far, and as long as you continue to improve your craft working the way you do, then it's probably the best road for you.
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User: jetse
Date: 2007-04-02 10:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well, I certainly didn't mean to say you should drastically change the way you write: it's obvious that the way you write is closely linked to the way you are.

However, I was suggesting that you could try a different approach with one single story, and now it appears you actually have been doing that with Original Destiny, Manifest Sin. So I will be looking at that with a lot of interest (and that's an understatement), when it comes out.

Also, I didn't specifically say that either writing slow or writing fast was necesarily superior: I provided examples of both approaches from the top of my head that I think worked well. And even the fastest written first drafts can be revised over time.

But basically I think it's a good idea to try, even if only rarely, to approach things differently: chances are it won't work, but the one time it does work, it might pay off spectacularly.

Good writers are supposed to take risks, so should they take those risks only in the story itself, or also sometimes in their approach to the story, or in the way they write it?

Most likely this is overstating the obvious, but to be absolutely clear: when I'm 'taking you to task', I do mean that as an incentive to write something better, to create something that will blow me out of my socks, as I do think that you're an incredibly talented writer.

And I fully agree that if you can't improve as a writer, than you may as well throw in the towel. We only (partly?) disagree in the way to get better.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-04-02 13:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
We're not disagreeing, my friend, and I'm taking your comments in the spirit intended. This is a difficult point for me, and in the spirit of this lj enterprise, I'm airing my difficulties in public in case others find them informative.

We're good.
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User: marshallpayne
Date: 2007-04-02 13:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I’m sure you’ve read John Gardner’s non-fiction books on writing. What stuck with me was his calling attention to the difference in the forms. He compared short stories for some to the Japaneese painter applying paint to the canvas in between heartbeats. While the novelist can afford to stand back and throw paint every now and again. True, he has to throw well, but the forms are different. Whatever works for you, Jay. You’re certainly having success at it. :)
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