The Pace of Prose

By David Corbett

Last Friday, Alexandra posted a call to the barricades titled Two Books a Year, in which she referenced a recent and already infamous New York Times article noting that, in the era of ebooks, anything less than two books a year is slacking. (Note: The Times article singled out genre fiction for this rate of productivity.)

I decided to spare my response for today’s post, because I think it’s a very important topic, and one that deserves real consideration by everyone who writes.

I agree with Alex that to write well one must write often. Daily’s not a bad regimen — some might say it’s de rigueur. An ambitious word count is great if you can manage it: say, 1,000 words.

I don’t agree, however, that: “Successful writers write a LOT of books. Tons. Staggering numbers.”

This is no doubt true of many authors, but I know a great number of superb writers for whom this simply isn’t the case. Junot Diaz is one. It took him ten years to write The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I think it was time well spent, and do not mourn the nineteen other books that were hypothetically aborted by his not keeping up a two-book-per-year pace.

I tend to shy away from the phrase “successful writer” because I consider the term loaded. In a letter to H.G. Wells, William James famously remarked:

The moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That — with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word success — is our national disease.

I could write a great deal more efficiently, and part of my modest output is due no doubt to an obsession with revision that is perhaps, well, obsessive. Charlie Stella, in our recent dialog here, referred to me as a “stone polisher.”

It may well be that this obsession with rewriting speaks not to artisitic excellence but a neurotic fear of being found imperfect. Shame has paralyzed artists far greater than me. On some level, however, I’ve accepted my imperfections and released my ambitious failures into the world. They’ve been four in number, fewer than I perhaps should have written in the same time period.

Am I therefore something less than a success?

I’m sure there are many who think so. And on some days, I’m one of them. Fortunately, those are just the bad days. (Or, as some folks call them: weekdays.)

There are writers who can crank out voluminous material without becoming stale, formulaic, or unintentional self-parodies. I marvel at Ed McBain’s output, for example, to name just one.

But there are others who focus not on overall output but on making each book a great book.

I was perhaps cursed early on in this regard by working with Tom Jenks, who among other notable accomplishments edited the unfinished Hemingway manuscript that became Garden of Eden, and who runs the online literary zine Narrative with his wife, the novelist Carol Edgarian (only two novels, both brilliant).

Tom asked a simple question: “If you’re going to write a book, why not make it a masterpiece?”

This question paralyzed another of Tom’s students, the thriller writer Andrew Gross, and it was only by putting this daunting measure aside that Andrew could write the books he knew he could write. And he is, by many measures, a success.

For whatever reason, I bought in to Tom’s point. And with each book, I’ve tried to write, if not a masterpiece, a book that at least tries to measure up to the greatest books about crime that I’ve read: The Long Goodbye, Cutter & Bone, Bellman & True, Nightmare Alley, Dog Soldiers, God’s Pocket, Clockers, The Long Firm, to name a scant few.

George Pelecanos, after reading The Devil’s Redhead, wrote: “Is this a classic? Maybe not, but I bet Corbett has one in him.”


I’ve tried to live up to that challenge with every book. Perhaps I’ve failed. It may well be that I cannot write a classic, and never will, and trying has simply slowed down my output to the point I’ve crippled my own chances for—pause for emphasis—success.

But I’ve put my heart and soul into each effort in a way I never could have if I were cranking them out at two per year. I simply don’t and can’t write well at that pace. I have and will continue to suffer the consequences.

I need time to sink into my material, to discover, as filmmaker Leslie Schwerin puts it, “The thing beneath the thing.” I need time to catch the clichés in what I at first blush thought was a stellar idea, whether it was a bit of dialog, a description, a premise, a plot turn, whatever.

Writers who do work at the faster clip are often known more for their entire output than a single book, though often a handful of books stand out among the others. (Dennis Lehane, when responding to questions about why he didn’t take the Kenzie-Gennaro series any further than he did, routinely said: “Have you every heard anyone say ‘The seventeenth book in the series was my favorite’?”)

In a recent Jonathan Franzen appearance I attended (you can find his remarks online here), he talked about how much Kafka influenced him, and why.

Basically, especially in The Trial (one of those non-genre crime books that has inspired not a few of us), Franzen admired Kafka’s commitment to teaching us “how to love ourselves even as we’re being merciless toward ourselves; how to remain humane in the face of the most awful truths about ourselves.” For Franzen, this engagement with the paradoxes of our existence, especially through examination of character, is what made the novel the great—and unique—art form it is.

Or, in Kafka’s own words:

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.

To anyone who can write two such books a year, more power to them. I can’t.

I think pushing yourself to do more, to do better, is seldom if ever misbegotten. But each of us has to choose the path of our work as we see fit and as our talent provides, whether we embrace the cold hard truth of market forces or dismiss them as anti-art. (My guess is, most of us fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.)

Being creative requires a great deal of resilience, persevering in the face of considerable resistance, frustration, negativity, and criticism—some necessary, some inevitable, some even useful. How you withstand those countering forces while remaining true to the inspirational spark that guides you will, to my mind, go a long way toward defining your capacity for success—no matter how high or low your productivity.

* * * * *

How do you see yourself and your career—as a producer of a steady output of solid work, or someone striving for that touchstone effort that simply requires more time?

Which prolific writer astonishes you with the consistency of his or her greatness?

Which author with only a few books to his or her name do you admire?

What is more important to you, the writer’s complete oeuvre or the individual book?

* * * * *

Jukebox Hero of the Week: Linda Thompson’s production has been limited by stage fright so severe it actually paralyzes her vocal chords. But she’s an artist I cherish, and I particularly love this song, “Katy Cruel” (also a favorite of our former comrade Cornelia Read):


50 thoughts on “The Pace of Prose

  1. Gordon Harries

    The Pelecanos quote is the reason I first got hold of a copy of ‘The Devils Redhead’ (well, that and the fact I found an NPR interview on the other side of a Google search –during in which I thought “Hey, this guy can talk”—and Orion were about to put out a budget paperback in the UK as part of a ‘fresh blood’ promotion. It was a perfect storm, really.)

    George is someone who’s been building a very solid body of work with yearly output, but the nature of that work (the fact that he’s often stated his intention is to leave a record of Washington over the course of about 100 years) militates against stand out individual books. The same could be argued for the Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins sequence, which is a tragedy about a man starting off as the best man in his world and ending up in a much more morally compromised place. Which is to say it’s more about the journey than it is the pitstops.

    I think John Le Carre has managed to be prolific and produce signature books within that body (the three that stand out as signature novels are: ‘The Spy who came in from the Cold’, ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ and ‘The Constant Gardner’. All three have also acted as gateways into his world, from the types of discussions I’ve had.)

    You’re not alone in feeling unable to produce a book a year though, Lehane has frequently said that the last (I guess penultimate, the final volume of the initial sequence.) Kenzie and Gennaro wasn’t what he wished it to be and, as a consequence, he just couldn’t write a book a year anymore.

    That said, I’m sure the raging success that came with Mystic River helped justify that stance.

  2. Gerald So

    I've always appreciated authors who take more time so that each book they publish is more meaningful in the big picture. That said, part of making a living as a writer is deciding whether to adapt to market demands. In some situations, a faster pace can yield good results. Writers must have some self-knowledge as to whether the pace will motivate or stall their creativity.

    I believe I'm at my best when I'm turning out work regularly. That said, there are times I've felt my work monotone and have purposely taken a break to find a new voice. I don't want to be known as someone who has mastered a particular form. (i.e. "What he does, he does better than anyone else.") I prefer to keep my mind agile, capable of a wide range of ideas, and ready to follow where those ideas lead.

    A prolific author I admire is Lawrence Block. He's had a long career but maintained several series that are different in tone, so it's hard to pigeon-hole him. Conversely, I also admire Dashiell Hammett, whose individual books made as much of an impact on crime fiction as other authors' entire series.

    And to answer your last question, an author's body of work is more important to me if the author's career spans several decades, and there's enough material there to talk about changing trends. If an author is less prolific, individual books necessarily become more meaningful to me.

  3. Richard Maguire

    David, I loved DO THEY KNOW I'M RUNNING?, and look forward to reading your other books. The quality of the writing is wonderful. So different from a lot of genre novels turned out by 2, 3 books-a-year authors. You can see – and hear – the care you took in crafting the prose.

    I'm wondering, in a bricks-and-mortar bookshop would DTKIR? be found in the Crime-Mystery section? (Living in the wilds of Bavaria, I order most of my English-language books online.) The late George V. Higgins complained that his novels were always stacked in the Crime section, and not with the mainstream novels.

    Higgins, whom I discovered on a trip to Boston in the 90s – the city where all his books are set – was prolific over 3 decades. His early stuff is wonderful. Dialogue as good as anything Elmore Leonard writes; and Mamet, too, loved the dialogue. But IMHO his later novels became almost unreadable. So, though I'm a huge Higgins fan, it's individual books he wrote, rather than his complete oeuvre. OUTLAWS is one of the best novels I've read about the American criminal justice system. Higgins was a federal prosecutor.

    An author with only a handful of books to his name that I love is Stephen Greenleaf. He wrote about a P.I., who was an ex-lawyer. Has Greenleaf stopped writing?

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I guess I've never thought I was writing a classic. Maybe it's an old-school thing to say, but I don't think that's something anyone living really knows.

    I prefer what Lee Child says about genre writing – that we aspire to "add to the genre."

    And I love the term Gerald used: Body of work. That's what I feel I'm building, and that's why I quit screenwriting to write novels – I was aware of the clock ticking and I wanted to have the rest of my life to develop a meaningful body of work. Would I be a better writer if I wrote only one book a year? I suspect the answer to that is – some years yes, some years no. Every book has its own pace. I wrote my new thriller through three straight years of loss of loved ones. That's the longest I've ever taken with a book, and it was because I didn't have a contract for it so I didn't have that insane self-imposed pressure to finish it on time. But I think it's my best book. I wouldn't ever want to have to write under those circumstances again, though. And taking that much time makes me quite sure I'd rather bash through, full-speed ahead, for a year – I need momentum or I get lost.

    I think the sequel will take me fewer than six months, at the rate I'm writing now. But I hope it will be better.

    Apart from obvious classics, my favorite authors in the genre are the one book per year ones: Mo Hayder, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, John Connolly, Denise Mina. But look how much television Lee did before he wrote the first Reacher. Look how much journalism and non fiction Connelly did before he wrote the first Bosch. Look at the graphic novels Mina is doing on the side. I maintain – their output is staggering. These are not slow writers.

    However – I think the problem is to have the luxury of TIME to write, you have to achieve a certain amount of financial stability, one way or another – through writing or a day job or whatever people do to make a living. Once you've had one breakout book, more good books are subsidized by that one.

  5. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Oh, and on the astonishing profilicness question – Stephen King, of course. Part of that was genius, which I do not have. But part of it was also cocaine, wasn't it?

    That's another post, though.

  6. Mark Liebenow

    My last book took thirteen years to write. Each revision made it a better book as I went deeper into it, immersing myself in its world and journeying around its landscape, which is when I saw how my experience connected to the rest of humanity. I was done writing when the book told me I was done, not when six months was up.

    If people can read my book in one sitting, then I've failed to put enough life into it. I don't write to entertain people. I write to share the critical experiences of existence, and they are a gnarly weave.

  7. David Corbett

    Gordon: I think Mosley, Pelecanos and LeCarre are excellent examples of prolific writers whose body of work will stand the test of time. And yet I think especially in Pelecanos’s and Mosley’s cases, it will be the body of work, not an individual book, that makes that statement. Whereas Lehane’s MYSTIC RIVER will tower over his other output, I believe. Justifiably. I think that’s a bit of a curse, but Dennis accepts that. His hero has always been Richard Price, not Elmore Leonard, and it shows with the kind of book he demands of himself now.

    Gerald: You hit on something that Alex also addresses that has real merit: The demands of needing to crank out work can actually feed the creative impulse, focus it, not diminish it. But it’s also true that if you crank out more you’ve got more to work with. You can’t revise what you haven’t written. And as Hemiongway said, there is no great writing, just great rewriting. I think your comparison of Block (who I agree is a master) to Hammett is a great one. Hammett’s novel output was relatively slim, but those books changed things. He knew it, too, which was one reason he had trouble writing after THE THIN MAN. Sometimes you just need to focus on nothing but the page in front of you. Expecting too much from yourself can just remind you of how much you’re not achieving what you want, and snuff the creative joy that’s necessary for great work. (And yet agony is part of the process as well, I suppose. That whole axe-for-the-ice-inside-us thing.)

    Richard: Thanks for the attaboy. I’ve had some problems with where my books are found – or more to the point, not found. I remember, when REDHEAD came out, I asked a manager at the Santa Monica Barnes & Noble where my book was and when we found it in fiction, not mystery, he said it was obvious the book was placed properly – he could tell by the cover. (I don’t mind being placed in both sections, as long as readers can find the damn books.) I got put off on Higgins precisely because I picked up a later book that, I agree, verged on the unreadable. I’d heard he wrote great dialog. What I got were pages of monologues, on-stand testimony, and dull as a drive through Kansas on I-70.

    Alex: Mo Hayder and Denise Mina are to my mind contemporary writers who exemplify the ability to crank out exceptional books at a yearly pace. They both astonish me. Would the books be as good at twice that rate? Are we (or publishers) actually undermining the genre by demanding more books, not better books? I don’t know, but my guess is: yes.

    That is my greatest fear, that by this communal churning we actually turn off readers because they come to realize books just aren’t that good anymore, and there’s plenty of other stuff to engage their time and attention (and shekels).

    And I didn’t say I was writing a classic. I said George’s remark made me realize that trying to write something that one day might be considered a classic perhaps should be my goal, and I accepted the challenge. I know I don’t get to decide that myself.

  8. David Corbett

    Mark: And you wrote a marvelous book. I doubt, however, you'll need quite so long for the next one — nor need the wrenching circumstances that helped bring it forth. Like Alex, I'm sure you can live with just one prolonged episode of grief of that sort. And yet it's so much a part of the fabirc of your book.

    A sampling of comments from my Facebook page on this post, which I introduced with the question: Will the ebook revolution's gluttonous maw render quantity the undisputed master over quality?

    Donald Conrad: In a word: no. I've read a few ebooks and most are under-edited drivelous spew."

    Cynthis Helen Beecher: We used to call such things 'rough drafts' I believe…

    John Lovell: "“Most” meaning most of the few ebooks that you’ve read, Donald?"

    Donald Conrad: A clarification on the word most as it applies to my previous comment: I have touched down in roughly fifty ebook worlds.

    23 were published by professionals (Jeff Strand, Nate Kenyon, and Jeremy C Shipp to name but a few). All of those ebooks were enjoyable to some degree.

    Many I started and didn't get past page one because of what I term speed bumps; then in lieu of than, excessive commas, bumble-speak, whatever… There is a lot of first draft publishing going on. Reading on a Kindle can be a frustrating experience because of this."

  9. Gordon Harries

    Early Higgins is exceptional, but he ended up chasing his own tail (who can say why? maybe a perfectionist streak, maybe not) and the books ended up as bad parodies of where they started.

    Right. At local library, so have to run. Will check in later.

  10. Thomas Burchfield

    I only started reading e-books in the last year and have read a only a few, mostly for research or by writers I wasn't acquainted enough with to have them on my overcrowded shelf. The exception is David's collection "Killing Yourself to Survive." I've written about this problem over at my webpage "A Curious Man." ( "Strong Opinion" and the "50 Percent Theory." BTW, I published "Dragon's Ark" independently and it turned out very well *considering.* It took four years to write–much too long–and may be a drowning victim of a flooded marketplace (though it's won an IPPY award). The main issue for me how good books will be discovered in the overwhelming mass. They're out there, but who's going to find them? Must go now as I'm fighting a cold.

  11. Lisa Alber

    I'm actually getting sick of thinking, pondering, stressing on this topic, because I end up feeling inadequate to the task of being a producing writer–if by "producing" we do mean 2+ novels per year. I might just have to accept the fact that to write the way I like to write, I might always have to have a day job. That's a toughie.

  12. David Corbett

    Paul, Tom: Thanks for chiming in. I think a new form of gatekeeper will emerge to distinguish "select" books from the "overwhelming mass." I'm not sure that will be an improvement, given the track record of the most recent gatekeepers.

    Lisa: I'm reminded of one of my favorite bumper stickers: Real Musicians Have Day Jobs. And one of my dearest friends, Kathi Kamen Goldmark, who passed away recently (and who I posted about a few weeks back), named her music publishing company: Don't Quit Your Day Job Records. I'd rather have a day job and write books I'm proud of than crank out enough to survive financially but look back at them and feel uncertain of their merit. But that's a choice each of us has to make–and then accept.the consequences of the decision we reach.

  13. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Well, if we're going to talk about day jobs – sometimes the question is, Can you write a side book as a day job, and does the fact that you're writing as your day job make your non-"day job", or REAL book, better or worse?

    Does the day job, whether it's a book or something else, enhance the writing or not?

    Most of the writers I know who are making a living at just writing are doing side writing jobs: ghost writing, screenwriting, writing in genres they don't care so much about, graphic novel writing, etc. No one considers those jobs their main work, but they absolutely help support the main work.

  14. Reine

    “The thing beneath the thing.” David, that is what is most important to me.

    I do not expect to earn a living writing. At this point I expect nothing. Coming to writing crime fiction was a surprise. Arriving by way of academic writing, poetry on the side, I was forewarned not to have that as a goal.

    Your books are worth everything you give them.


  15. Lisa Alber

    Good questions, Alex…My day-job is writing, but it doesn't enhance my fiction because it's technical writing and other contract work. Having said that, this writing might enhance my fiction a bit because I've learned how to write concisely, and I've learned how to edit…

    My issue with the day-job is that sometimes the deadline stress takes up all my mojo–not much creativity leftover. Also, the time it takes. I need to earn a living, and it does take away from my fiction….timewise, energy-wise…I struggle with this.

    At a conference last year, a novelist told us that he learned to write in hour chunks because of his office job. He found he could do an hour before work, an hour at lunch, and an hour at night. Three hours per day — that's pretty good! (But then, when do you get in workouts, cooking healthy meals rather than getting takeout, dogwalks, errands, life in general?)

  16. David Corbett

    Another Facebook remark, this one from Gordon Harries:

    I read paperbacks mostly, partly because I prefer them as a format and partly because they’re cheaper and my favourites are battered. The spine of my copy of Denise Mina’s ‘Still Midnight’ for example, is hopelessly warped because I’ve read it three times in the few years since it’s been published. Elsewhere I’ve sellotaped corners of books back together that have been torn or bumped along the way. I value the institutional memory of that, it’s a kind of history of my cultural interests and I value the fact that I can pass a book along to a friend or, further down the line, a kid.

    One of my great fears about the e-book revolution is that it reduces culture to an endless conveyer belt of product, that’s one major crash away from obliterating your collection. Also, I’m not the fastest reader and like/need time to digest a book. I’m not sure that there are many writers I follow that I NEED two books a year from. As it is, I mostly get to them when I get to them.

  17. David Corbett

    Reine: I'm always so happy to hear from you. Thanks for commenting. Yes, Leslie's phrase has stuck with me for good. She was talking about subtext, obviously, but that's what's missing in so many rushed books. They're so utterly obvious and formulaic and there comes a point when what used to be a pleasant frisson more resembles a vaguely irritating numbness. And I think academia and poetry are perfectly acceptable training grounds for crime writing.

    As is, Lisa, technical writing. I loved: "…this writing might enhance my fiction a bit because I've learned how to write concisely, and I've learned how to edit…" My God, that's a lot! Writing pleadings and investigative reports made me realize: The judge/lawyer has little time or patience. I have to grab his attention NOW.

    As for finding the time, three of the most important words in my life came from my ex-boss: Make it happen. AKA: Find a way. Figure it out. If we have the motivation, the desire, we have to muddle through all the complications and make them challenges, not barriers. And, of course, that means more than anything managing the stress you mention. There's no universal rule for that. You'll find your way.

    I think the underlying point of my post is: it's not about obeying some unwritten rule about what you must do to be a success. It's about choices and consequences. It's about deciding what you want to do, how you intend to go about it, and learning to live with that.

  18. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Now, see, I NEED two books a year from my favorite authors. I'll take what I can get, of course, and be infinitely grateful, but waiting a year? It pisses me off. Me, who KNOWS what it takes to write a book!

    This is what I've learned from my reader feedback. They want more, now, now, NOW.

    I have to write the best book I can, always, but… what about the people who would be just as satisfied with my sixteenth draft as they would by the thirtieth that I usually publish? I have to think about the way I read my own self, which is NOT about reading every word, but often about racing through for story. I will be completely honest and say that I have NEVER, EVER, read 100% of any book I've ever read. I take it in like I take in a play – sitting back and letting the totality of it rush over me. I reread my favorites endlessly for other parts of the experience, but…. every word? Don't make me laugh.

    Is any artistic experience perfect? Hardly!

    The incredible thing about the e book and e reader revolution is that you can instantly rewrite and republish a book after the first wave (or second, or third or twentieth) of reader comments. THAT is a revolution.

  19. Darla

    "It's about choices and consequences. It's about deciding what you want to do, how you intend to go about it, and learning to live with that." A life lesson, not just a writing lesson. Beautiful. I say this because I've always been on the 'slow train' of life; often choosing to live in dumps for low rent that allowed plenty of time for rescuing animals, or working one job to allow for plenty of solitude and contemplation, having few 'possessions' but cherishing dogs and nature and long hikes in the mountains. We all want different things and are on a variety of paths, so it really does come down to choices … setting priorities … and finding joy in those choices. I always love your posts, David. Thank you.

    Oh, as to those authors I read cross-genre, preference depends upon mood; a single book can stay with me forever, doesn't matter if the author wrote one or twenty, or, I can fall in love with a series and be avidly waiting for the next one because it's like going home.

  20. Reine

    Alex, I am totally absorbed while reading anything you right. I do read every word. How might I know which to skip? The story is the thing. Yes. But there are only a few stories. The words make them different.

  21. Reine

    Obviously I don't read each of my own words. I now choose to blame Dragon Dictate for hearing "right' instead of "write."

  22. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Reine, I'm just floored by that level of reading and completely grateful!

    I guess what I'm saying is – now that I have beta readers and constant, scrupulous feedback about what I write, I realize that some of the obsessive rewriting I do makes not one whit of difference to most readers. They GOT it – five drafts back.

    That's something to give an author pause, honestly.

    And especially because I come from theater, I totally get that people have completely different experiences of the book they're reading. We are FOOLING ourselves as authors if we think we're in control of the experience the reader is having at any given moment.

  23. David Corbett

    Reine: You get a special dispensation on homonyms.

    Darla: Thank you for the very kind words. And yes, I'm grateful for the variety of writers whose work I can turn to as the mood dictates. I think that's where the digital revolution is truly astonishing. It makes so much more available, and nothing goes out of print. But that can also be overwhelming, and we're currently in that transition period where a bit of reader vertigo from the sheer abundance isn't unusual.

  24. Lisa Alber

    So, I'll just be honest about it: The decision I made to work as little as possible hasn't born fruit (i.e. novel published the traditional way, which is still my dream), and I'm sick of it. Consequences of my writers life thus far: haven't dated seriously in eons, crappy social life in general (because takes $$), no health benefits — those are the top three. I don't own my home, I don't own anything but a 1999 Honda, in fact. My wardrobe is outdated and I go too long without a haircut.

    I'm 46 bloody years old, I haven't had a pap or a breast exam in years, I'd like to meet my soulmate, I'd like a clean bill of health, I'd like to go out with friends and not worry that it's not happy hour prices!

    That's basically where I'm at. I'm in a transition, I guess, and I don't like (in fact, I resent) that I have to get a regular job so that I can have health benefits. Right now, I seem to be dealing with all things at once: a need to see to the aspects of my life I've been neglecting in favor of fiction, a need to rethink my fiction dream in favor of epublishing, a struggle with time and creative energy, plus Mom's dementia. Plus, freaking peri-menopausal hormones!

    I barely know how fiction factors in anymore…And I'm grieving. Almost feels like a loss of a dream (but I can't let that happen).

    Mid-life crisis anyone?

    Wish Stephen were here too. I've been wondering how his transition to the job-life has been going.

  25. Reine

    Alex, yes, I am sure you are 100% correct on the rewrite business. Theatre, of course. I started in theatre, myself. I would sit backstage or in the light booth to watch my father night after night and was never bored. Every night was a different experience. Each time an actor did or said something a little different… each time something happened anywhere in the theatre, the play was different. I love theatre for that reason.

    I constantly fight the hermeneutic vs exegesis battle. Hermeneutic always wins, but the exegete it possible.

  26. David Corbett

    Alex: I agree that every reader will take away something different from the book, no matter how much care we take in its writing. But I don't think being careful with revisions and such is an attempt to control the reader's experience.

    The degree of care we take reflects the respect we have for the reader. They may well "get it" without the excessive doorknob polishing. But in trying to write well I'm simply acknowledging my gratitude for the reader's investment in the time to read my book, and I want to make it as enjoyable as I can. And words are pleasurable, they're sensual. I read for the subtleties of language that only come with great care. Many of my readers do as well. Apparently those of us who read this way "make you laugh."

    One of the best pieces of advice on being creative I ever got was from Joseph Chaikin's THE PRESENCE OF THE ACTOR. He talked about aiming your performance to the highest level you could, and to do this (for himself) he always imagined Martin Luther King was in the audience. He noted that Shakespeare wrote for kings, Shaw for philosophers, and he suggested every actor place in the audience some person worthy of respect and the actor's best effort. I do this as I'm writing. I'm not trying to control my reader. I'm trying to gratify the imagined reader (I won't name him or her) who deserves not just a good effort, but the best I can deliver.

  27. David Corbett

    Another Facebook entry, this one from Mette Hansen-Karademir:

    Something that is always exciting to me is when a favorite author is coming out with a new book. I sometimes even put the release date in my calendar so I can get it right away. To wait a year or more builds the anticipation. If an author constantly had new books coming out, faster than I could read them, I think I'd be overwhelmed instead of eager for more.

  28. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Lisa, it's so easy to let the LIFE things go in pursuit of the writing dream. No writer I know is very good at the life stuff, so believe me, you're in good company. As long as you're not doing crack or in an alcoholic stupor every night you're pretty much ahead of the game, really.

    This has been a rough four years for EVERYONE. Please. The economic freefall we were left in in 2008? It's a miracle we're not all homeless. Everyone I know has lost money, houses, loved ones, jobs, you name it, it's gone.

    I just beg of you… don't think that e publishing isn't AT THIS MOMENT comparable to any traditional fiction publishing dream deal you could get. That may change next month, but at the moment, you HAVE to release that stigma. Take something you've written and get it out there.

    And get a Pap smear and breast exam, or I'll come up there and walk you into a clinic myself. Seriously.

  29. Lisa Alber

    Thanks, Reine. Ultimately I will…right now it feels like the pace is so slow and fitful that I'm not progressing at all. A little disheartening. (I need to give myself a break, I know this.)

  30. David Corbett

    Lisa: Listen to Alex. Please. And Reine. We're all getting our asses kicked on more levels than we ever thought possible. But you can give your health short shrift. I'd add get a CA 125 but for whatever reasons, doctors and hospitals don't want to given them to middle-aged women, supposedly because of "false positives." Better that, imho, than discovering you've got stage 4 ovarian cancer. But the number of women friends I know who;ve been turned down truly takes my breath away. So get the tests they will give you. Soon. Please.

  31. Lisa Alber

    Made me laugh, Alex. Thanks. Pap smear and breast exam will happen before year end, for sure. (Saluting you now. Yes, Mam!)

    It's true: life's tough for most these days. I guess I can't tell because my life has been so insular.

    And, yes, epublishing. It's not so much the stigma anymore, as it is doing it all by myself without an agent or an editor to give me pointers and, hopefully, moral support. I know people are throwing their books on Amazon. It's a bloody no-brainer. But I want to do it RIGHT, which means planning ahead with a publicity and self-promotion plan, and all that stuff…If I can't do it right (whatever the hell that means), then I have trouble doing it at all. Plus, I need to save up some money to hire a good copyeditor and a cover artist. Good news on that front is that I'll be able to save up $$ because of my new day-job. That's the plan.

    I'm a little bit tired right now, just generally.

  32. Sarah W

    I sympathize with Andrew Greer. I’m trying to stomp the concept of “perfect or nothing” to death during first and second drafts, but it’s a tough little son of a gun.

  33. David Corbett

    Sarah: Oh God, the first draft can never be perfect. Dare to be terrible. You can't revise what you haven't written, so get something down. Better dreck than a blank page. And Andrew's a great guy and a terrific writer.

  34. Lisa Alber

    P.S. I appreciate this blog so much. Because of the great posts by Team Murderati, of course, but also because of the open atmosphere you've created for us commenters: we can be ourselves, cranky and whiny as that may be at times (talking about myself here).

  35. David Corbett

    Lisa: I'm glad you feel that way. We really do try to build a community, one that welcomes all opinions and makes people feel safe to step up and say what they really want or need to say.

    Sarah: I mentioned that Andrew's a great guy. So great he'll probably forgive me for getting his name wrong. It's Andrew Gross. Sheesh…

  36. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Lisa, I am making myself tired just listening to myself, but okay, one more thing. You don't need to hire a copyeditor if you just enlist some of the brilliant backbloggers here on Murderati. Seriously. You think you're going to get better editing than you could get from some of the people you interact with here every week? You all should be trading manuscripts RIGHT NOW.

    And cover design, well, NOT AN EXPERT – but I'm not so very sure that spending 600 will do any more for you than spending 150 or even less. Consider the thumbnail size we are dealing with…. as long as the cover conveys genre at 1/4 inch… and the thing is, you can CHANGE the cover tomorrow. We all must give up the idea that ANYTHING is permanent and fixed.

  37. David Corbett

    Another gleaning from Facebook, this one again from Mette Hansen-Karademir:

    It might be a terrible comparison, but I had an amazing burger recently. It was something the kitchen took time to make, choosing the best quality ingredients, making sure they paired together beautifully. That attention to detail, the thought behind it, it's something I'm still thinking about. In a way, that is like a great book. It was memorable.

    I don't know if the ebook world is responsible for the more McDonalds standard of books, forcing authors to churn out the equivalent of mass produced pink slime type, because it's quicker, cheaper and therefore better for the bottom line, but I can't remember a single McDonalds meal worth talking about, let alone remembering and that is not what I want for the future of books that I read.

  38. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    It's just the middle of the day and you've got 40 comments already? How is that possible?
    Maybe it's gone viral.

    Just wanted to pipe in here, David. I'm with you on this blog. Some of my favorite authors only produced a few books – Walter Tevis, James Joyce, a handful of others. I'm a fuckin' stone polisher as well, for better or worse. I just do it the only way I know how. To me, one book a year is ambitious.

  39. Karen, NZ

    I'm sitting here in awe of the breadth and depth of these comments – I LOVE Murderati for its caring, its variety, and how I get to learn, and reflect every time I read a post.

    Thanks SO much 🙂

    and Kia Kaha, Lisa (stay strong)

  40. David Corbett

    Karen: Thanks so much for letting us know that. Seriously, sometimes we're not sure if we're reaching folks as much as we want. It's wonderful hearing from you that we are.

    Stephen: It's easy to rack up 40 comments when you respond obsessively as I do, Alex has a lot to say, and I'm infilling comments from my Facebook post. And yeah, we all do what we can the best we can. There will always be others who do it faster, smarter, better. I can handle it. Sounds like you can too.

  41. PD Martin

    I know, Stephen…it was 43 comments by the time I arrived at the blog AM in Oz 🙂

    I have to confess, my definition of "successful" these days is pretty superficial…success = making a living (let's say $40,000+) out of writing alone.

    When I get down about my lack of success (as I define it), friends remind me how difficult it is to get published in the first place. So success = a publishing deal. And of course, in today's world of ebooks, even that's changing!

    Lisa, I know exactly what you mean. And while I know it's counter-productive, I often look at my friends in the corporate world who DO own their houses, cars, have health insurance, etc. Then again, I LOVE my job, and I bet you do too 🙂 Even though it can be damn frustrating at times!

    By the way, my cover designer charges $50-$75 for a cover and I've found a good editor on Elance, although she's more of a copy editor than a developmental editor.

    Thanks, David, for a wonderful post. By the way, I know I'll never write a classic, but that's fine with me. I just want to entertain people and give them a 'world' that they like to visit. But that also tracks with my preferred reading material 🙂


  42. Mark Liebenow

    Two of the elements that I love about your writing, David, is your eloquent language and the descriptions of your settings. I can feel myself in those places.

    I think there has always been a market for escapist writing, movies, and music where people can step away from lives that are too hard and, for a moment, breathe again. Good writing isn't a concern of theirs. They want the adrenaline rush of adventure or the breathlessness of romance or both. They want distractions. They want to be some place else for a few hours; any place but here. Dime novels have become e-publishing. This isn't going away. But will it relegate well-written literature to speciality stores? I hope not.

    And I agree that each author needs to figure out the pace that he or she writes best, and live with the consequences that such a pace brings. Too often a writer labors over the first book and revises it into a good book. Then publishers and readers want more and the author rushes the next books, and too often they are not worth the effort. When this happens, I do not read that author again.

    My reading also includes creative nonfiction and poetry. It seems that these writers bring out books every 3-5 years. Their readers get tastes of what's coming by essays and poems that are published in journals in the meantime.

  43. Carey Baldwin

    I do appreciate this post. I have no idea how many books I'd write in one year, if I didn't have another full-time job and a wonderful family who needs my attention. I love the acknowledgement that we are all different and entitled to our own journey at our own pace. Rate of production does not determine whether or not we are worthy of the term "writer". Judging by the number and depth of comments, I believe you hit a nerve. Thanks so much for this post.

  44. David Corbett

    Phillipa: I think Alex was right, we don't write classics. Readers and critics and such decide that issue. But Pelecanos threw the gauntlet down and I've been fumbling to pick it up ever since. Not by trying to write 'a classic" but by trying to write a novel I consider the best I can possibly write. One that I think, yes, might stand up well over time.

    My entire point was to get beyond the whole notion of judgment from outside and accept whatever inner forces drive you to write: Accept them. Embrace them. Deal with the consequences.

    Mark: I was thinking the exact same thing earlier, that many ebooks are filling the role of what once was the sole domain of mass paperbacks. And there's a great market for such books. But saying unless one feeds that maw, one isn't a success, runs counter to my experience.

  45. David Corbett

    Carey: Hit a nerve — me?

    (It's my reason for being.)

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting. And best of luck with the writing, the work, and the wonderful family. That sounds like not so shabby a life.

  46. J.F. Constantine

    I love what you said here. In Alexandra's post when she first said the word "success". I said out loud "that isn't success".

    The demands of quality writing haven't changed simply because a lot of publishers are now pushing certain writers to write two or more books per year, and some of those writers are capitulating to that. The demands of quality writing are the same as they ever have been.

    To me, writing is an art form and it shouldn't be rushed for a buck.

    I hope to God what I'm writing is quality – certainly that is what I'm striving to do. I have a day job to pay the bills. I don't like my day job too much, but it allows me the time to do my work in what I consider to be the right way.

    Even if I'm planning several books over years of time (and I definitely do that), if two or more of them are being finished in a year, I could not do that and maintain quality. There comes a point in the finalization of a book where it has to be your whole focus. That's when you put aside the other books you're "juggling". Personally, I couldn't do it.

    Writers who are really great who I read, and who are are now doing two books a year – well, I see their work falling off. Honestly, I don't want to read them twice a year if what I read is inferior to what they used to write. I can wait a whole year to read something fabulous.

    My favorite writer is still writing one book a year and he says he won't bend to write two. His work is still that quality of work I fell in love with when he became my fave. He's a "genre" writer. Genre or not, quality can be there; but, in this writer's opinion it isn't there in two or more books per year.

    Thanks for your post and Bravo!

  47. David Corbett

    J.F.: I'm glad the post struck a chord. I'm astonished at those who can write a book a year and still deliver quality. There's a great many, and they have my deepest admiration.

    Perhaps, as writers adjust to the increased pace, thiings will turn out ok. I have my doubts. I worry that this new standard, meant to feed a supposedly insatiable market, will in fact undermine the market by providing readers with inferior books that will ultimately turn them off.

    I'm reminded of the old saw: Be careful what you wish for. Asking for more from an author than he can provide at the level of quality you've come to expect may provide you with the realization that more is less.

    And if we begin losing readers, what will it take to get them back?

    Thanks for writing. Best of luck with the juggling and writing.

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