Monday, September 19, 2011

Faster, Author! Faster! Write like the wind!

This morning, I read this fascinating piece in the New York Times suggesting that authors write faster. Well, it actually suggested that authors who take the, say, "decade or more in between great novels" approach to writing (ahem, Jeffrey Eugenides) have less cultural capital as it were than a great, if somewhat more prolific novelist (say, Saul Bellow).  We as a culture go to and count on those whose novels reach our shelves more frequently, according to this article.

Of course, we can argue that certain writers, like certain novels, simply take more time. But this essay doesn't suggest that War and Peace should have been jotted off as a blog entry. What it does suggest that there is some amount of time that is a potential falling off point - a point where readers might look up and say "oh, I wondered what happened to him/her!" And perhaps not care. (Although I can't image that happening to Eugenides, whose Virgin Suicides and Middlesex were so breathtaking?)

But what does this all mean for the writer, or the writing student? Should we write faster?

My answer is, in short, yes.

"Writing faster" is something that actually works for me, and it's something I tell my fiction students to do as well. To clarify, what I mean by "writing faster" has less to do with the rapidity of releasing Nobel-Prize winning novels (neither I nor my students are claiming to be Bellow or Eugenides here), but rather, the time in which we produce our craft. 

Examples of "writing faster" I give to my students include: (1) freewriting with a kitchen clock/iphone timer set to 2-5 minutes (2) entering a contest aimed at producing word counts and volume like nanowrimo (3) giving yourself deadlines organized around writing groups, contests, calls for submission, and conferences.
"Writing faster," in these ways, is a means to shut down that pesky, evil internal editor who stymies our creativity and imagination before they even take root on the page. It is a way to circumvent those voices of doubt ("can I do it?"), the demands of day to day life ("but the laundry waits!"), and those annoying problems of plot and logic that have arrested many a first draft. 

"Writing faster" doesn't, however, mean editing faster. Or taking short cuts in our final product. What it does mean is permission to give form to all those fabulous, whimsical middle-of-the-night ideas on the page, to take risks, to push yourself and your writing to unknown places. To be afraid. To fall down. To grow.

So write like the wind, fellow novelists. Editing, like laundry, (and like Nobel Prizes), can come later.