How do they do it?

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As a writer currently slogging through her second round of editing, the light at the end of the tunnel looks farther away than ever before.  I guess everyone starts to flag at the end of the race, but I can’t help but wonder: am I taking too long?  How to other authors do it?

Go to Fantastic Fiction, search for a popular modern author, and take a look at their publication dates.  Nora Roberts, Janet Evanovich, Debbie Macomber, Fern Michaels, John Sandford, David Baldacci, James Patterson + Another Random Author… all of them release at least one book a year.  Some release two or more!  And I end up sitting there, jaw on the floor, asking, “HOW?!”

I’ve heard the argument that these books aren’t of very high quality and probably can’t be with such a fast turnaround, and that’s probably true.  But the books are still fulfilling their primary purpose: to be read.  Yes, it’s great to write for yourself, but most writers want to share their work.  We want readers.

So many stories are knocking around in my head, and I’ve had to grapple with the fact that I probably won’t get all of them written down before I die.  So I’m trying to focus on the best ones, the ones with the most meaning or interest for me.  And yet I’ve been working on Ravens and Roses for almost five years.  (Longer if you start with when the idea was first conceived.)  The first draft alone took two years to be more or less finished.

The fastest that I’ve ever completed a first draft was when I participated in the Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal Author Quest.  My entry, Search of the Sun-Child, took three months.  “Bravo!” you might say, but please understand that for three months I did nothing else.  Every scrap of free time before, after, and sometimes even during, my day job was spent writing.  The pace was brutal, and I’m honestly not sure if I could do it again, even if I wanted to.  (The draft is still sitting in a folder, waiting to be edited so I can post it on

My dad and brothers have urged me to “just crap something out and publish it under a pseudonym.”  And yes, that is something I could probably do.  But there are a few problems with that idea:

  1. Time spent writing this hypothetical crap-novel is time stolen from my “real” projects.
  2. The finished product would be of inferior quality.
  3. Pride.

Number 3 is my biggest stumbling block.  I am unwilling to compromise my standards just to become published.  I don’t want to write crappy stories; I want to write good ones!  I want to release work that I’m proud of, that I can look at without (much) shame and say, “Yeah.  I made this.”

What are your thoughts on this topic?  Is it better to write well or write quickly?  Is it possible to do both?  What seems like a reasonable amount of time to spend on a project?  What is the shortest project you’ve worked on so far?  The longest?  How do you feel about this pseudonym idea?

P.S.  The song in this music video kind of sums up my ambivalence about taking so long to finish anything:

One thought on “How do they do it?

  1. Most of the authors you mentioned churning out books are ones with on going series. Which I’m sure have had groundwork laid out for a long time. Unless you are James Patterson. Whom lately likes to just add his name to any “up and coming” author. I tend to not like these books, but I love his individual stuff.

    Though to answer your question, I rather wait for quality, then to have rushed crap. Example. Most TV shows vs Sherlock. The average show is for the most part, sub par and you can take it or leave it. Sherlock takes 2 years to get a season of 3 measly episodes done, and is amazing every episode.

    I also think that most modern authors write multiple things at once, or are just used to it and it is just a familiar thing to do. They could also plan these things out years in advance. I am curious to know how long their first book took them to write… It seems exausting. But like anything with practice, it becomes easier and quicker.

    Hang in there. The light is closer then you think. 🙂

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