How Much You Should Write Each Day

There’s some discussion going on in SF blog circles about what it means to write quickly or to write slowly, and whether books that are written quickly can be written well, and so on.

This is actually pretty simple. For someone who wants to be a professional writer (i.e., wants to make a living at this crazy business):

a) It’s better to be fast than slow;
b) It’s better to be good than fast.

As to whether a book that is written quickly can be written well, I find this a deeply uninteresting question. There’s absolutely no way to tell from the text whether a good book was written in three months or three years; likewise there’s no way to tell whether a book that sucks raw eggs was banged out in six weeks or slaved over for a decade. From the reader point of view process simply doesn’t matter; product does.

I mean, look: George R.R. Martin took five years to write A Feast For Crows; I took three months to write Old Man’s War. Both books got nominated for the Hugo, and both books got beat by Spin, which I rather strongly suspect was written by Bob Wilson in a space of time that was longer than three months but shorter than five years. To the extent that the Hugos are an arbiter of quality writing at all, what does this tell us about how long it takes to make good writing? If you are thinking to yourself “why, not a goddamned thing! Not a goddamned thing at all!” then congratulations, you’ve landed on truth.

Likewise, it’s not evident that Feast, Spin or OMW would be better or worse if their respective writers took more time or less time to write them. I suspect in each case the writers took as much time as was required to write the novels as well as they could. Before that time the work wasn’t ready; after that, spending any more time fiddling with the text would be like putting lipstick on a pig.

I have a good general idea of how much I can write in an average day, but I don’t find much point in being obsessive about it. Some days I write more, some days I write less, and as long as I don’t have a deadline in a week, that’s fine. I find the most important metric for writing is whether I’m happy with what I’ve written that day. If I am, I’ve written the correct amount, regardless of how many words that amount ends up being. I think this is a good guideline for writers.


Received, 1/18/07

I mentioned earlier that I’m going to start noting the books that come to the Scalzi Compound for me to review/pimp/validate by mere acknowledgment of their existence. Here’s the first batch, compiling up the books that have been sent to me in the last month or so that I have not otherwise noted to this point. If you didn’t know these books were out (or are coming out soon, in some cases), now you know. I’m including Amazon links when possible, so you can go spend money on them like a good consumer. From the top down:

1. The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Edited by George Mann. Solaris is a brand-spankin’ new science fiction imprint that’s sending out books both over in its native UK and here in the US. This book is its calling card, a collection of original short stories from folks like Neal Asher, Stephen Baxter, Peter Hamilton, Jay Lake & Greg Van Eekhout, Mary Turzillo and others. Looks like a pretty nice way to say hello.

2. The Man Who Melted, Jack Dann. Dann’s classic dystopic novel from 1984, reissued by Pyr in a nice-look trade paperback edition. I understand this book is the genesis of the literary game “The Man Who Melted Jack Dann,” in which the name of the author is added to the back of the title of one of their books to craft an amusing sentence; other amusing sentences in this game include “Contact Carl Sagan” and “Twin Sisters Gore Vidal.” As it happens, I can play this game with the title of one of my books: “The Androids Dream John Scalzi.” So that’s how I got here!

3. The Liberty Gun, Martin Sketchley. The final book in Sketchley’s “Structure” series. The book comes with an audiography, so if you want to know what the soundtrack is when today’s hot SF writers bang out their stories of aliens and explosions, now you’ll be able to find out.

3a. Deep Storm, Lincoln Child. Whoops, when I originally posted this I forgot to mention this book, which is why the “3a” designation. Sorry about that, Lincoln Child. This book is sort your basic modern-day science fiction, in which our heroes find some really interesting and possibly dangerous things on the ocean floor. If you’re thinking “Hmmm, this sounds sort of Atlantis-y,” you may be right. This is just the sort of book they make very expensive movies out of.

4. Secret Life: The Select Fire Remix, Jeff VanderMeer. I meant to do a fuller write-up of this collection but then I was attacked by rodents, or something like that. Anyway, the more I read of Jeff VanderMeer, the more I realize the guy is just plain nuts, but he’s just plain nuts in a way that makes for damn fine reading, and really, that’s what matters (to me, anyway). Also, frankly, the idea of re-mixing a story collection is oddly esthetically appealing to me (this version includes two additional stories and a lot of funky bits). I liked this a lot.

5. Worldweavers, Alma Alexander. This is the upcoming first book in Alma’s new YA series. I’m going to be interviewing Alma closer to when the book comes out (it’s slated for March 1st), so you can look forward to that. I was actually sent two copies of this. I appreciate the enthusiasm.

6. The Wrath of Angels, Theodore Beale. It’s not pictured in the stack because it was sent along as a pdf file (which, now that I have my shiny, shiny big monitor with portrait mode, I don’t mind in the least). This is the third book in Beale’s series of Christian-themed fantasies (the other two being The War in Heaven and The World in Shadow), although you don’t need to read the other two to follow what’s going on; I didn’t have a problem catching up, in any event. If you’re interested in checking out this series, Beale has all of them up in their entirety: Heaven, Shadow, Wrath.

7. Rude Mechanicals, Kage Baker. For fans of Baker’s “Company” novels, this is a limited-edition short novel coming up in April set in that same universe. It has cyborgs in the year 1934. Finally, FDR’s election makes perfect sense!

8. White Bicycles, Joe Boyd. This isn’t fiction, it’s a memoir from music producer Joe Boyd, who happened to be around for various seminal events in the sixties, from Dylan going electric at Newport to producing the first single of a little band called Pink Floyd. A tagline on the back cover of the book says it all: “He lived — and helped shape — the Sixties… and he remembers it all.” Well, someone has to.

8. Methuselah’s Daughter, J.A. Eddy and Dean Esmay. Dean Esmay’s name is certainly familiar to denizens of the blogosphere, as Dean’s World is one of the more popular blogs out there. This book is also about a blogger, of sorts: Zsallia Marieko, whose blog bio starts off with the interesting fact that she’s 3500 years old. It probably goes faster than you might imagine after the first thousand years or so, I’d bet. In any event, this is an onion-peel of a book, in that there’s a whole lot of layers going on here, in the text and in the blog world.

9. Compass Reach, Metal of Night and Peace & Memory, Mark W. Tiedemann: Mark sent along his entire Secantis Sequence of books without me even having to drop a hint, which means either he is totally psychic, or he’s just a really lovely fellow. Maybe both! Who can say. It does remind me to note that Mark’s current book Remains, which I enjoyed the hell out of, is currently on the Nebula long list; this after making the short list for last year’s Tiptree Award. It deserves both accolades, and naturally I think you should check it out (especially if you can vote on the Nebulas).

10. Getting to Know You, David Marusek and The Shadows, Kith and Kin, Joe R. Lansdale. These are short story collections, due in April from Subterranean Press. I just got these and haven’t cracked their spines yet, but am looking forward to doing so, particularly the Marusek; I met David at Worldcon and he is a wonderful and fascinating guy in addition to being an excellent writer.

There; that’s one pile down. I’ll do this again when I have another pile.

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