Picture me in a room full of writers. Not too hard to imagine, right? I'm standing up and talking to a couple of women I've met before. Nothing too dramatic, just chitchat.
Behind me, three women are seated at a table and making plans. This conversation is fascinating, and I can't stop myself from eavesdropping a little. A writer, somewhat sad and apologetic, is explaining why she has been out of touch lately. She had a deadline and put herself on internet rationing until the book was finished. (That was the part that interested me. I keep threatening to do this to myself.)
Her friend tried to offer her some advice. "If you write a thousand words a day, that's 365,000 words a year. That's three and a half novels, every year."
"No, I can't write that fast," says the deadline author.
"It's only a thousand words. And that's just where you start." She's clearly warming up to her subject. "Bump it up to twelve hundred words a day, and you get a whole extra novel every year."
The deadline writer is demurring when a third writer chimes in. "Oh, but you write much faster than that. You told me you write 15 or 20 pages a day."
She sounds skeptical. "When I'm drafting. You're not leaving time for pre-writing or revisions."
"Don't need them," the first friend insists. "If you write this fast, straight through, the story will hold together by itself."
"And even if it doesn't, so what?" This is the second friend. "Your editor will tell you how to fix it. She's going to make you change things, anyway."
"Yeah, and by the time she reads it, you'll have something else ready to sell her, too," says the first one.
"Well, that might work for some people," the skeptic said. "But not for me. I need eight months to finish a book. At least. I don't want to send it to my editor until I've had a chance to really think it through and make it as good as I can."
I made a silent bet with myself that only the third skeptical writer was actually published. I didn't think the other two had ever had an real exposure to the publishing and editing process. Over the course of the event, I had the opportunity to meet all three of these women.
The deadline author had a string of credentials including magazine articles and more than ten novel releases. A solid midlist author with the potential to breakout. Authors like this are in danger of not getting enough editorial attention, and this woman was smart enough to know it.
The third writer, the one who was merely chiming in, has never sold a story. No surprise there.
The one advocating for a thousand words a day? Sold a pair of stories to one of those places that gives e-publishing a bad reputation. You know the kind of place I mean. They push their authors to sell them lots of stories because they make up for the low returns with high volume. Every book under the writer's bed gets a slot on the editorial calendar. These places convince their authors that they're building readership with each new release. (You sold six copies of your first book and nine of the second? Fifty percent increase! Woo hoo!) And these authors are rarely exposed to anything like a real, nitty-gritty, crawling-up-the-book's-butt-with-a-magnifying-glass kind of editing which they certainly need. Some of them don't even get basic copy editing.
Want to know why? Because many e-houses pay their editors in percentages. That's fine if the book sells in good numbers. Not so fine if it doesn't. Then the editors, too, have to make it up in volume, so they buy up lots of projects and push them through to publication as quickly as possible. (My house doesn't do this. Obviously. My turnaround time lately ought to prove that.)
In any event, if that's the kind of career you want, then by all means, write your words every day and submit them without scrutiny. I mean, each thousand-word segment will be fine, right? Because you're jumping into it with one deep breath. And when you kick for the surface as hard as you can, every day, day after day, you build up your muscles, right?
Right. It's absolutely true that many writers find this helps with their process. Most of the working writers I know have daily or weekly page goals, and they make those goals consistently. This is how they get to be working writers in the first place.
But they also know the difference between generating pages and generating good pages. And they know that when a writer is so close to her work, dealing with little bits each day, that she might not see the total picture. It's the forest and the trees. Each individual tree might look perfect. Step back to look at the forest, though, and a different landscape might emerge.
The moral of the story: Take the time to step back from your work and see it from another perspective, or obvious design flaws might make people think you're just dicking around.
(This picture comes via Smart Bitches from a blog called Garden Rant, which is one of my new faves. The comments are brilliant. Thanks to both blogs for giving me the perfect visual excuse to blog on the importance of stepping back from your masterpiece to give it a big picture review for global revisions, important even without penis plants, but so much better with them.)