Thursday, September 04, 2008

Write your book in five (days, weeks, months) or less, guaranteed!

I confess to being occasionally charmed and even lured in by those "write quickly" schemes. They're all over the internet, but they've been with us forever -- smiling gurus promising that you can produce a draft of your nonfiction book or novel in a specified and seemingly short period of time.

To a certain extent I believe them. We make a much bigger fuss about writing than it actually deserves. Writing is really just a sibling to speaking, and many of us speak all the time -- eloquently -- about things we believe and care about. What you can say to a friend in a few hours of chat on a beautiful drive out into the country you can surely share on the page. Usually, however, something is lost in the communication between brain and page, and that's where I end up having a job to do. If writing were as easy as speaking we'd have a completely different set of books in the bookstore because there would be so much more available and (I suspect) the bar for publishing would become much higher. The more people who actually write their work, the better for letters generally, because the more there will be to choose from which would give editors the luxury of being even more selective. (which I love and to which I gladly pay subscription fees) is the best of these, to my eye. Mediabistro courses are taught by working professionals with exceptional credentials -- kudos to them for getting people who are fruitful in their chosen fields to teach -- and I've written here before about how much I enjoy them. Here are just some of the "write quickly" titles they offer: "Start (and Finish!) Your Screenplay in Three Months"; "Weekend Warrior: 2-Day Film School"; "Write Your Young Adult Novel in Three Months." (As a note, I only recommend their in-person courses. I took one online and it was dreadful, but the in-person ones have been amazing.)

What charms me about all of these "write quickly" schemes -- whether or not they completely work all of the time -- is that they kickstart amateurs into the world of working, professional writers. People who earn a living from their pens don't have the luxury of writers block or delayed projects that stretch on for years. Writers in history from Henry Fielding to Helen Fielding have understood the art of writing quickly and well. A poet friend of mine is currently writing a poem a day for a month, just to see if she can. Are they by definition either bad poems or good ones? Of course not -- they're just words, and as such some will "work" and some won't, but they're as valid as any other poems she writes. It's a marvelous scheme.

But of course this leads to a touchy question -- can you write and publish serious academic work quickly as well? I believe you can, and that many of the best-published scholars do. The trick, however, is to have a rich fund of ongoing research upon which to draw so that you are regularly plucking the fruit of it and offering it up as conference papers, articles, and books. There is a certain bravery to simply getting the idea out there and sharing it with colleagues without slaving over it for years. In future posts I'll ponder scholarly books that were written (relatively) quickly and also managed to be very good or even excellent.

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