Today my friend Zoe Winters called me lazy. Well, not me personally, but writers as a group and, in particular, writers who take their sweet time writing their books. And since The Wendy House has taken me a very, very long time to write,
it made me a little defensive I feel compelled to defend myself.
Zoe’s original assertion (also made here) is that it isn’t “impossible to ‘write fast’ without [the resulting book] being crap.” I agree. Prolific writers frequently get a lot of shit, with many people assuming that their work lacks quality or depth, and that’s wrong. I’ve read amazing books that were written in a short period of time. Some writers just work faster than others, and that’s fine. Here’s where I take issue with her:
“When a book takes YEARS to write, I’m really skeptical. What was the writer doing all of that time? … Most of what writers do isn’t writing. It’s angsting, drinking coffee, fainting on their emo couch about how hard it all is, “suffering”, staring out the window, staring at the screen, rearranging the pens on their desk, checking email, tweeting, getting up and walking around, researching, outlining.”
First of all, I literally don’t know one writer who complains about “how hard it all is”, or who spends a good amount of time “suffering.” And I know a lot of writers. Every writer I know loves what they do, and those who are published (whether self-published or traditionally) are frankly awed that they’re able to make money doing the thing that they love, whether that money is the spare change variety or the pays-the-bills kind. And they’re genuinely appreciative of the people who make that possible: readers who buy their books.
Secondly, yes. Writers do spend more than a little time rearranging their pens, staring blankly at their computer screens (or staring at a blank computer screen), playing on Facebook and Twitter, watching Jon Stewart on Bill O’Reilly’s show on YouTube because they forgot to set their DVR last night…in other words procrastinating. It comes with the territory. But most writers also have other responsibilities – day jobs (or night jobs), children and spouses, doctor and car repair appointments, etc – that they’re juggling along with The Writing. And it’s not always easy to slip back into the writing zone after the stress of spending an hour or two verbally wrestling with your teenager or listening to a mechanic explain what a sway bar is and trying to figure out just how the hell you’re going to be able to afford replacing the one that’s busted on your car. Sometimes you can use those feelings of powerlessness and frustration in your writing. But sometimes you can’t.
Thirdly, when you’re a writer, “getting up and walking around, researching, outlining” is work. It might not be the act of physically writing, but it’s work just the same. If you, for example, want to accurately describe the conditions of a gravel pit in the middle of March, it’s helpful to get your ass into a gravel pit in the middle of March. Preferably without the owners of said gravel pit becoming aware of your presence. Oops. Writers also spend a good deal of time marketing. Which means sometimes – sorry, but it’s true – going on Twitter and Facebook is work, too. Not always. But sometimes it is.
Now, I realize Zoe (whom I seriously love dearly)’s post wasn’t directed at me personally, but since I’ve been asked – a lot – when I’ll be done with The Wendy House, I want to address that here. It’s taken me a long, long time to write this book, much longer than it took me to write Waiting For Spring, and those of you who read WFS back when the self-published version came out are probably wondering what the hell I’ve been doing since then. The truth is that I’ve spent a lot of that time working on it: writing it, chucking what I’ve written, starting over, and rewriting that. I changed narrators from Wendy to Rick after the first couple of drafts were done. Then I changed it from first person narration to third. Recently, I decided to tell some of the story from the point of view of characters other than Rick and Wendy.
Some parts have been difficult to write, because a lot of this stuff hits home. So, yes, I’ve spent more than a little time on my emo couch figuring out how to use or to get past those feelings, to figure out a balance between honest emotion and maudlinism.
I’ve also had to spend a lot of time marketing Waiting For Spring. It truly wasn’t easy drawing attention to a self-published, 500 page, non-genre book. I worked my ass off to get it where it is today. I don’t regret it, because the work paid off, but still…it took up time I could have spent writing.
I’ve also been hanging out in gravel pits, reading up on guns and gruesome wounds, working nights, producing episodes of Inside The Writers’ Studio, raising two (now three) teenagers, spending time with my husband, acting locally, and, yes…I drink a lot of coffee and frequently play on Facebook.
So although I haven’t spent every waking minute working on this book, I haven’t been slacking off. I’m not lazy.