Finding the Formula Machine

Sunrise 10_16_2014 Santa FeI had a Twitter conversation yesterday that went like this. Because these gals crack me up, I’m sharing a bunch of it. It, of course, started because I was being a smart ass. Though you can see that Maisey Yates was snarky first.

Then Lexi Ryan chimed in.

 

We riffed for a while, with various gripes on this theme, then dwindled off. Lexi came back a few hours later.

The thing is, if you know these authors – or follow the links I thoughtfully provided 🙂 – you’ll recognize them as highly regarded, very prolific and bestselling authors. I know these gals and they work amazingly hard and produce wonderful books that, not incidentally, sell very well. And that saw about Harlequin providing its authors with the Magic Formula that Maisey references has been making the rounds for-fucking-ever. I remember my mom saying something to me along those lines when I was much younger and she thought romance were trashy literature that I shouldn’t be reading. No, Harlequin does not tell us the characters should kiss on X page and have sex on Y page. Yes, editors do give direction on story structure. However, the guideline that the first act climax should occur somewhere around the first 25% of the story and all the stakes should be set at that point applies to pretty much every entertainment genre. Maybe books in the Literary Genre don’t do that, but they’re arguably going for something other than storytelling and entertainment.

There’s a pervasive idea that writing a book takes a REALLY long time. And, in truth, writing a first novel CAN take years. Because of the learning curve. I wrote a post the other day about trying to be creative on deadline and a big piece of that is building the craft and skills to do it. However, the belief persists that quality writing should be a long, slow process. With the reverse assumption being that quickly produced work is shallow, low-quality and – yes – written to a formula. I saw a blog post by a writer the other day who championed the many virtues of writing his novels by hand, with pen and paper. He proudly stated that he could draft an entire novel this way in “only” 14 months. I also saw a tweet yesterday from a writer advising that everyone has their own process and you don’t HAVE to “churn out” 2 books a year.

While I respect both of their perspectives, I’m bothered by the implicit lack of respect for my process. It took me 84 days to write the 91,000 word first draft of The Tears of the Rose, which just received a Top Pick GOLD review from RT Magazine. I take that to mean it’s a pretty decently written book. I worked really hard on it. Yes, I structured the story about major plot points, with major events occurring at the act climaxes. Nobody gave me a formula.

It surprises me still when people call me a prolific or fast writer. It doesn’t feel that way. At the same time, taking 14 months to write out a novel long hand sounds excruciatingly slow to me. I had (or will have) five books come out in 2014 and I don’t feel like I’ve “churned out” anything. Every one has taken long hours of concentrated work, extensive crafting and pieces of my soul. I realize this is an enviable place to be and I count my blessings that I’m able to write fast.

That said, I’ve also put in a lot of effort to make sure I can. I keep my brain as uncluttered as possible. I remove all distractions, rather ruthlessly. I put in long hours. So do these other gals. They also manage to take care of small children at the same time, which I can’t even fathom.

This turned into more of a rant than I intended. I think my point is that I’d really love to see the end of this concept of the anguished author who spends years writing his magnum opus. It feels fueled to me by the sort of person who wants to be seen as someone artsy and glamorous – the Writer – rather than putting in the time to get the work done. I don’t see anything admirable about not getting the book written. We like to fetishize artists, but other kinds of work don’t get this shiny gloss on what is, ultimately, not doing the job. The grocery store checker who never quite manages to get all the groceries in the bag loses his job. The stockbrocker who just can’t overcome her personal agony to sell those stocks won’t be a stockbroker for long.

I blame the artist for this, really. We’re incredibly good at spinning convincing stories from our pain. That symphony we never delivered? IT WAS THE VOICES OF DEMONS! That studio full of blank canvases? THE BLEAK DESERT OF MY SOUL! That novel I spent ten years writing while I hung out in coffee shops and debated the shivering joy of the sound of a fountain pen on good paper? STILL NOT WRITTEN BUT LOOK HOW PROFOUND I AM.

Eh. Okay. I guess what I’m getting at is, don’t buy the song and dance, people. A creator creates. Buckle down and do the work. Don’t throw stones at people who do it faster. Don’t succumb to the temptation to glamorize what’s bogging you down. Solve the problem, take the stone out of your shoe, get to work.

Which I’m going to do now.

Happy weekend, everyone!

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