In the past few days, I’ve been forced to wait longer, much longer than I would like to get my copy of Jim Butcher’s Ghost Story, a Dresden Files novel I pre-ordered and paid for at the beginning of June. Usually, the book would have come out at the beginning of April, as most Dresden Files books do. This one didn’t because Butcher wanted to take some time to make the book good and really worthwhile.
Of course, in the business of selling books, that just makes a lot of readers wonder what’s taking so long. So I ask, why can’t writers write fast enough?
Let me begin by saying that, as a writer myself, I don’t think I write fast enough. I would love to put in a solid eight hours each day–or more–writing. I think that would be great, but I’m a realist and I know that’s not going to happen, at least, not yet. I wish I could edit and write at the same time and get through two or three books a year, not just as drafts, but as finished products. I know that takes a regular, daily regimen of writing to get done, something that isn’t identical between any two writers.
Why don’t we start at the top? Stephen King is a workhorse. The man has, to date, published 49 novels, five non-fiction books, and nine-collections of short stories. According to his autobiography/writing reference book, On Writing, King gets up in the morning and types until he gets to ten thousand words. Early in his career, that was easy. After the van incident, he might have to take lunch in front of the computer. Later, he goes on one of his walks, something I think he’s taken to doing again. He’s been writing all by himself (with a few collaborations) for decades, capturing imaginations, and selling about 350 million books. King has to be doing something right.
Someone like Patrick Rothfuss is much more meticulous. King uses a simpler tone of voice in his writing, but Rothfuss refines his prose because it has to be perfect. King will listen to heavy metal music to get himself worked up, but Rothfuss refuses to listen to music because writing is something he thinks “requires the whole brain.” In terms of their writing, these two are both doing things right, but Rothfuss is part of a new class of writers, guys who “can’t write fast enough.”
Why does that question come up at all? Is it because there’s such a delay between novels? Perhaps it could be that people are so enthused with the series they are reading?
Could it be that a lot of writers, such as Jim Butcher, will put out two books a year for several years? There have been a few occasions, prior to the release of the Codex Alera, when there were two Dresden Files books a year. I know that in 2010, another big fantasy writer, Brandon Sanderson, released two novels, both of which were over a thousand pages; I’m wanting to say he released a kid’s book too.
So why can’t these writers write faster? There are a few reasons.
One, they’re just trying to make a good book better. Ghost Story is a case of this. After Changes, Butcher had to convince his publisher that he was doing the right thing with the overall story. He had to not only match the quality of Changes, but, in my opinion, he has to top it. This is partially because of the surprise ending of the previous book, but it’s also because Butcher said he needed more time to make the book better. Honestly, this is a problem I wish I had.
The second factor is that a lot of people expect books to be churned out by writers like cars are pumped out of factories. It’s not necessarily a desire for instant gratification, but it’s close. You wouldn’t think this is possible, but one man has conditioned the bulk of modern novel readers that books can be churned out on a quarterly basis. His name, James Patterson.
Well, that’s not quite right. Patterson writes about one book a year, almost always starring Alex Cross. He does manage to release books on a quarterly basis, if not more frequently, because he keeps a staff of co-writers on retainer. Coming from a background in advertising, Patterson doesn’t scream this fact from the highest mountain, though he does have to share that by-line. That doesn’t mean he has to share the cover picture and his name is always much, much larger than the co-writer’s, creating the illusion that he is writing between four and six novels a year. So, on most of his books, Patterson’s proper by-line might be “James Patterson And.”
Between the prevailing notion of series writing and one of the top novelists pumping out multiple titles each year, fans are going to keep asking “Why can’t ______ write faster?” The truth is, no matter who the writer is, they’re trying the best they can to not only make a good book, but also a book that sells.