In my last post, I listed a number of authors I envy for possessing traits and qualities (or adorable pets) I cannot claim, at least to any great degree. None of the traits or qualities I referred to related to the actual process of writing (generosity, self-confidence, honesty, etc.), so an obvious follow-up post would be one in which I list authors I am equally envious of for reasons solely technical in nature (Author A’s dialogue, Author B’s characters, C’s plotting…).
But I’m not going to write that post today.
Instead, I’m going to revisit my last one, and discuss yet another non-technical gift that some authors have been blessed with that I, as of yet, have not been:
The ability to write well with relative haste. To write a paragraph, six lines one right after another, without having to stop and rewrite four of them because they’re total and unmitigated crap. To see an entire chapter with the forward vision of a world-class chess player, all twelve steps at once, and write it exactly that way.
Some people got it, and some people don’t. I’m one of the don’ts. Here’s why:
- My mind just doesn’t work that way. I may eventually construct a functional, occasionally brilliant sentence or two, but it takes me fifteen false starts to do so. No line worth a damn has ever emerged from my brain fully formed. Everything with me is two steps forward and one step back, making turn-of-phrase a sometimes interminable adventure in trial and error.
- I’m a perfectionist. Try as I might, I just can’t move on to the next line of anything until I’m satisfied the last one was as good as I’m capable of producing. “Close enough” won’t do, even in a first draft. Gods knows I’d probably feed my family a lot better and with more regularity if I were less concerned with art and more concerned with commerce, but I just can’t bring myself to prioritize that way. So I obsess over every goddamn word and pray I live long enough to write at least half of the books I’d like to write before I go.
(Note, BTW, that I’m not suggesting I ever actually achieve “perfection” — that’s for others to decide, not me. But perfection as I perceive it is my constant goal, and I spend [waste?] a lot of time re-inventing the wheel trying to get there.)
- I have no patience for multiple drafts. As I’ve mentioned here on numerous occasions, the very idea of a second, third, or sixth draft of something sends chills up my spine; when I get to the end of a manuscript, I need to know that all — and I mean all — the heavy lifting is done. To make sure that’s the case, I bust my ass writing a first draft that will, to all extents and purposes, be my last. That kind of anal retentiveness takes time.
- I’m incapable of writing in shorthand. Remember when Ken Bruen was a regular Muderati contributor, and how short and concise the sentences in all his posts were? Man, I used to marvel at that, and wish I could write precisely that way. But I can’t. I just can’t. I start out writing bare-boned sentences, only to have all the ensuing ones morph, slowly but surely, into long, compound ones. I don’t know why.
This is problematic enough when I’m writing prose, but it’s a huge pain in the ass when I’m screenwriting, because lean and mean is what writing for film or television is all about. In the outline or beat-sheet stage, in particular, one’s ability to state the purpose of a scene with a minimum of verbiage is vital — and I struggle mightily with that.
This is partly because:
- I ask — and feel compelled to answer — too many questions. When you write crime fiction, especially mysteries, asking yourself all the questions your reader is likely to ask about the story you’re telling is imperative, as is answering most of those questions in a logical, satisfactory manner. But trying to predict every question your reader might ask, and then incorporating an answer to each one in your manuscript, is over-thinking things, and this is a habit I fall into that adds hours of unnecessary writing time to my every project.
All these things combined conspire to make everything I write — this blog post included — one great slog. If the end product turns out well, that’s some consolation, to be sure. But I still wish I could just rip through what I write like the proverbial hot knife through butter and worry about the details — and perfection — just a little bit less.
Questions for the class: Writers: Are you happy with your own rate of output? Readers: Beside the obvious (typos, misspellings, etc.), what are the tip-offs to a book written too quickly? Do you sometimes wish your favorite author would take a little more time to write each new book?