During the past week Time Magazine gave everyone a new catchphrase to bash mothers with (since everyone was tired of the old ones) and a provocative cover for to make cultural hand-wringers wring away. Now that it’s the weekend, the NYTimes has given us an excuse to bash writers. For the click-phobic, the article suggests that, in this New Publishing Environment(tm), writers are being pressured to put out more, more, MORE books, where it used to be common to publish a book a year.
Predictably, this brought on hoots of derision from people already doing that.
Look, let’s just skip over the fact that it’s the writer of the article, not the best-selling author featured in it, who uses the word “brutal” to describe a two-thousand-word-a-day pace. Still, I have genuine sympathy for anyone trying to increase their productivity, whatever the reason. I’ve been trying to write more and finish more, by any measurement, for my whole life.
Here’s the uncomfortable truth of things: some writers are prolific, some are plodding, some could write faster with a little more focus, some would benefit greatly by taking more time with their books.
But in response to an article like this we get an interplay of a lot of unpleasant things: the pervasive lack of sympathy for the creative class, the faux-populist, faux-blue collar attitude many writers use to mark themselves as anti-elitists, the idea many people have that the ereaders they got for Christmas have Changed Everything, and the nasty effects of living in the “age of the social artist.”
And sadly, most of the nasty comments were coming from other writers.
Here’s the thing: I’m one of those slow writers. Circle of Enemies took me a year to write. Sure, some people think it’s formula popcorn crapola; if they knew how much I pulled my hair out over it, they would pity me. Still, it was a complicated book and getting it right required time.
So when people talk about writers as though they’re begging sympathy, I get honestly pissed off. You shouldn’t measure a writer’s work by the number of pages they do a day. It’s not an assembly line. It’s not piece work. If you think it is, you’re doing it wrong.
Yeah, there are authors out there putting out interesting original books every few months. There are others who need years. Who’s going to tell Pat Rothfuss he ought to write two books a year?
(Yeah, I know: A lot of people would say that. They’re wrong.)
Even worse are the people who claim that authors should never complain, ever, because they’re writers, aren’t they? Isn’t that privilege enough?
Hey, we live in the age of the social artist, where people are supposed to share their authentic lives, but the one thing they can never do is complain, or feel dissatisfied, or show their unhappiness, because they get to be writers. They’re not scraping up roadkill, or caring for dementia patients, or busting their asses on a construction site in the heat of summer. They get to make up stories for a living.
Never mind that construction work was the best-paying, easiest work I’ve ever done. Not physically easy, but not too physically challenging, either. It’s not nearly as draining as writing. Maybe other people see writing as a care-free playtime, but it’s never been that way for me.
I’m not a writer because it’s easy; screw those who think it is. I’m not a writer because I want to live some sort of privileged life, or because I want to be rich, or even because it’s the only thing I can do.
I’m a writer because it’s challenging and I’m good at it. I’m a writer because I want to make things, as Doris Egan has said.
So let’s stop the faux blue collar anti-elitism, and let’s stop talking about the number of words a writer creates a day as some sort of measure of how hard they work.