After all, on our best days, both of us write fast. This year we've both pumped out at least a book a month. And we both have some very short books. And we both have series characters out there. It looks like we're the biggest damn hypocrites on the planet!
But it was a short essay on Bruce Springsteen, written almost a decade ago, that finally defined for me what's wrong with the write-short-serials-fast-for-maximum-bucks attitude.
You have to be something of a businessperson to be an indie writer. The nature of selfpub simply requires it. But there's an inherent trap. The problem is the focus on writing as commodity, as product. And the problem, for me at least, lies in how so many authors view their audience.
Back when all the WRITE 10,000 WORDS PER HOUR!!! ebooks first started coming out, my initial thought was "Why the hell would you want to?" I've had a few great writing-marathon days, sure - days when no one else is at home and the story just pours out. But, God, I wouldn't want that regularly. As Truman Capote said (I think wrongly) of Kerouac, "That's not writing, that's typing."
To me, writing fast is like screwing fast. The end result is reached, the desired goal is achieved - more or less - but will you feel it an hour later? Will you ever really look back on it? Oh, sure, you can go back and edit your words; you can cuddle in the sweaty rush of post-exertion, but the afterglow of that fully-realized, fully attentive, three-hour, all-morning session can freaking change who you are - both as an individual and as a bonded unit.
My problem is that, for me, speed-writing and plotting-for-the-public fundamentally change how I see the work. I'm not even sure it affects the quality - but it affects my relationship to the work, to the audience, and it doesn't seem that's what I want out of art in the long run.
Here's the quote fromlegendary music critic Geoffrey Himes, writing about Bruce Springsteen, which I immediately forwarded to Dennis upon reading: "Popular music treats the listener as an object, as an ATM machine that will spit out money if you punch the right buttons. Populist music treats the listener as a subject, as a protagonist whose struggles deserve the catharsis of a musical mini-drama. Springsteen has lived up to the ideal of populist music better than anyone of his generation."
Himes put it in perspective for me. I write in a pulp tradition - psychic detectives, time-traveling cowboys, technology-wielding wizards. I don't live in some ivory tower fantasy. I like money. I like selling books. And I love hitting two or three thousand words on a good day. But when I write too fast, when I plot too commercially, I feel like it's pop music. I feel like I'm treating my audience like an ATM. What's worse, I feel like I'm Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, toggling some secret camera hidden just above the ATM, seeing how many of the pleb's pennies he can grift.
But you know what? In the end, there's nothing wrong with pop music. I know people who will, but I won't turn off a catchy tune just because it might have been written by committee in a corporate building rather than by an acoustic guitar-wielding Strummer for Righteousness.
And in the end, my books and stories might not even be any better than the hyperspeed scribes and give-em-what-they-want plotters. After all, who am I to say?
But I will say this - hang out too long on the wrong side of the pop/populist or art/product equation and you start phoning it in. You start looking for the easy fix. Your soul thins.
Look at it this way - Springteen's Born in the U.S.A. was, in so many ways, a calculated conglomeration of button-pushing songs designed to transform him from cult wonder to superstar. From the cover art to the song order, that particular album, classic as it is, had "corporate product" stamped all over it. And it worked.
But I'll conclude with another line from Himes' essay: "Whether it was the tragedy of “The River,” “Born in the U.S.A.” and “Atlantic City,” the comedy of “You Can Look,” “Glory Days” and “Fire,” or the dozens of brilliant songs in between, Springsteen has never kept his fans outside the song, gazing in at a fantasy life as if their noses were pressed up against a store window; he puts his listeners inside the song where their losses and triumphs, blunders and hopes become the subject matter. There’s no greater songwriting accomplishment than that."