Is Rushing Creativity Ever the Right Choice?

old clock

Old Clock by George Hodan

Wednesday was one of those days. I had a comprehensive copyedit of a 120,000-plus-word novel due by 8:00 p.m. With evening prayer meeting scheduled, I knew I had even less time than usual.

By 3:00 p.m., I was doing a reread of the last fifty pages on my Kindle, just double-checking my work. By suppertime at 5:15, I was still at it—and feeling pressured and getting hot and bothered.

Ask my family. I literally devoured my wife’s wonderful salmon pie, flew upstairs to get dressed for church, and dashed back to my basement office to wrap up the last few details and e-mail the file . . .  just ten minutes before we had to leave for church. And on top of that, I was in charge of leading worship.

Gasp!

Quality Suffers

Yes, I met my deadline. Barely. But by cutting it so close, I wasn’t a happy camper.

Why? Because I hate to rush. I’m a planner and a routine kind of guy, and because I rushed, I have to wonder if I missed something critical in my edit (hopefully not). Quality usually suffers when I’m under pressure and trying to get something done quickly.

I sometimes wonder if the same is true of publishing. I have no intent of knocking those prolific authors, especially the guys, who are able to crank out at least one novel  per year. As a guy who edits full-time and tries to write the next novel after doing my editing, taking care of my yard, doing stuff with my family, and helping out at church in several capacities, I’m well aware of the time constraints involved.

And truly, I take my hat off to those who are blessed to sign multibook contracts and pull off the whole annual book-release-like-clockwork thing with such verve  Truly, these folks are amazing.

Taking Their Time

But is it my imagination, or is it only Christian publishing that seems to put some authors under the pressure of getting novels out as quickly and feverishly as possible? When I look at the secular market and the publishing habits of some of the heavyweights, I don’t see the same pattern.

  • For example: Dan Brown took three years to write his latest Inferno. (And this is no endorsement—I haven’t read it.)
  • For example: Leif Enger released his terrific Peace Like a River in 2001. His second novel didn’t come out until 2007, six years later.
  • For example: Erik Larson released his smash hit The Devil in the White City in 2003 and  didn’t publish his next one, Thunderstruck, until 2006. And his latest superb In the Garden of Beasts didn’t come out until 2011, five years later.

What’s the point? Some authors take their time. And does anyone complain? I mean, seriously.

As a reader, I don’t personally mind waiting for quality. If Larson can put out another book as good as The Devil in the White City, I’d happily wait several years. In fact, I’d prefer to wait for a real gem than see something new out in nine months and wonder about its quality. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s hard to imagine anyone cranking out something as good as Peace Like a River in nine months or even a year.

So Why the Rush?

Now, I recognize that some authors are able to publish a novel or more every year and deliver some great quality reads. Good for them! But are they the norm or the exception? I’ve noticed other books that almost scream “rushed out the door, ten four.” Plots seem contrived or too familiar, characters are more like placeholders than real people, and the stories lack mental and/or emotional depth.

So why is everyone in such a hurry? Doesn’t haste make waste? Are we as authors getting too caught up in this gotta-have-it-now culture? I realize that in a lot of cases authors are confined by multibook contracts and don’t really have a choice. They have to produce—and pretty quickly too. (Some authors tell me they even work better under pressure—different strokes for different folks, I guess.)

But why do publishers have such demands to begin with? I suppose the more books an author cranks out, the greater the odds of good sales. I guess that makes sense. Maybe. So is the strategy just about money? Or about the psychology of publishing something “new” with great regularity? Does that communicate urgency to get out the next book?

I suppose marketing folks must know more than I do. But in the long run I wonder, is quantity more important than quality?

Bottom Line

I for one am glad I’m not wearing the straight jacket. Yes, I’d love to get a multibook contract (don’t get me wrong), and I’d definitely like to get my novels out more quickly (I haven’t found the formula yet). But quality of life is also something I value, and I cringe at the thought of the all-nighters some authors must pull to get their novels in on time.

And in the long run I doubt anyone has written anything truly outstanding—I’m talking Gone with the Wind outstanding—by rushing creativity. By the way, Margaret Mitchell took nine years.

What about you? If you’re a reader, do you mind waiting a few years or more for your favorite author’s next book? Do you think it’s ever possible for a novel to come out too quickly? If you’re an author, do you work better under the pressure of writing quickly? Or do you produce better stuff when you go at your own pace (with self-imposed deadlines) without feeling rushed?

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4 thoughts on “Is Rushing Creativity Ever the Right Choice?

  1. Martha Orlando

    So glad I caught Glynn Young’s “tweet” of your post just a few minutes ago! You raise some very important issues when it comes to writing.
    I wrote my novel, The Glade, in an estimated time-frame of six months. My publisher, when finally I was picked up, suggested it be turned into a trilogy, to which I agreed. The third book in the series will probably be out by the end of May.
    Do I have plans for sequels? Yes! But, I don’t want to be rushed. If I hadn’t already gotten a sequential story board going, I’d be feeling the pressure because my contract with this particular publisher lasts for only three years. If, after that, my sales aren’t what they desire, they can drop me like yesterday’s news. Hope that won’t happen!
    If you would like to check out my books on Amazon, just type in Martha Orlando and it will lead you right there.
    All the best with your novel, and don’t be afraid to slow down. Let the Lord inspire each word you write.
    Blessings, Adam!

  2. Zoe

    I definitely don’t mind waiting years for an author’s next book to come out. Some of my favourite authors take years between books, yet it’s always worth the wait, because the craftmanship is stellar when they do come out. With other authors, I’ve found that the quality of their work was much better when they took their time, as opposed to what they are producing now that they publish two books a year. There is the rare author that I like that manages to publish every year, or sometimes multiple times a year, without losing quality, but I definitely think that is the exception.

    As a writer, having more time increases the quality of what I write. It gives my mind time to play with the plot and deepen and strengthen it and the characters.

  3. Adam Blumer Post author

    Thanks, Zoe, for chiming in! I’m guess I’m not alone then. Thanks for your thoughts.

    What I’m trying to understand is why publishers get newbie authors on these three-book contracts and make them pump a book out every year for three years (and just about kill themselves in the process)? Is there something magical about one book per year? I suppose this must be some magical marketing formula. Thanks for your thoughts.

  4. Adam Blumer Post author

    Nice to meet you, Martha! I’ll definitely check out your books. My first novel came out with Kregel, but alas, when I got the second book done, sales weren’t good enough on book 1 to move forward with it. I found an e-book publisher (Kirkdale or Logos) to get out that second book this past January. I’m working on novel #3 now, but I’m having difficulty swinging it with my day job. Hopefully I’ll get it done yet this year. I get a bit discouraged when I see how quickly everyone else seems to be cranking out books, but we’re not all in the same boat. I’m fortunate just to be able to support my family from home, so the writing is like icing in the cake. Thank you for your thoughts.

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