AD: Haste Makes Waste
I recently got into hot water with some writer friends by crying out for a slower, more thoughtful pace. Although I hate it when people are unhappy with me, I’m not backing down. Many popular Christian authors are in the habit of putting out three, four or even five or more novels every year. Such haste strikes me as a risky proposition. It increases the possibility of violating a fundamental principle of the Christian life: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” (Colossians 3:23) Since the heart was considered the seat of the intellect in ancient times this verse can be interpreted to mean, “Whatever you do, give it plenty of thought…,” and it seems self-evident that the faster we produce a novel, the less thought it is given.
There are exceptions. Some novelists experience occasional bursts of inspiration, which can produce two or three times the usual volume of work. This does not necessarily mean there is a compromise in quality. On the contrary, some of our best work can come during these rare confluences of free flowing wisdom and creativity. But I am not concerned with an occasional burst; I am worried about a steady, massive stream of words, year in, year out, leaving little time for reflection about the nature and meaning of those words. In the romance genre I am told the readers expect such a pace, and if that is so, then it must be done. One must write within the rules set by the readers, for the readers do rule. There may also be some among us brilliant enough to maintain such a pace while performing at their very best, but such geniuses are precious few and far between.
Other than those three exceptions—bursts of inspiration, requirements of the genre, and true genius—I suspect this publishing pace is driven by naïve over-optimism, economics, and/or a fear of failure. Naïve over-optimism, because some remain perennially convinced of their ability to cram 240 minutes of work into an hour, especially while negotiating deadlines. (Agents and acquisitions editors share the responsibility here.) Economics, because more books usually means more money. And fear of failure because we (wrongly) believe the readers will forget us without a constant supply of fresh reminders on the shelf. Whatever the reason, and with the exceptions above duly noted, such a pace means insufficient thought is given to the work, and let me be clear: insufficient thought given to the work is the concern, not how fast one writes the first draft.
The math can be deceptive. Three to five typical novels means 240,000 to 400,000 words. What most would consider a brutal schedule of 10 hours per day, six days per week and 52 weeks per year yields 3,120 hours. So divide the hours into the words and we have 77 to 128 original words per hour. Sounds easy, right? Some type that many words per minute. But hold on—that’s not counting time for the occasional off day due to illness or weddings or funerals or vacations, and it doesn’t include time for emails, or writer’s conferences, lost files, power outages, answering reader’s mail, going to the bath room, answering the telephone, blogging, negotiating contracts, learning new software, getting up to stretch, being blocked, working bugs out of computers, visits to publishing houses, getting something to drink, correspondence with editors, or rising to adjust the thermostat…not to mention working out creative and original plots, inventing authentic and interesting characters, basic editing and rewrites of your rewrites until you’re morally certain you’ve given the work “all your heart” as the Bible commands.
Still not convinced this is a problem? Still think you can get all that done with enough time left over for a family who needs you, and church, and Bible study, exercise, charity work, yard work, housekeeping, and all the other necessities of life? What about taking a few weeks every year (or at least a few days, for crying out loud) just to think a little, to ponder your experiences, to figure out something worth saying? Still no problem? Then by all means carry on; you’re a genius.
But hold it. You may have noticed I italicized “morally certain” above. That’s because those words explain why this matters. At the risk of moralizing, this is indeed a moral issue. It’s no use saying, “I’ve received awards; I’ve got happy readers; my books sell very well.” Similar things can be said of many popular television shows, and with that I hope the point is made. The question is—with Jesus as your witness—have you done your very best? We Christians of all people have no excuse for doing anything less than that, even if it wins awards and sells. Especially if it sells because that means more unbelievers will see a part of the body of Christ not at its best, but something less, something hopelessly naïve, or willing to trade excellence for money, or operating from fear instead of writing “as if for the Lord.” This is not about sales or awards; it is about the souls of men, the Great Commission. So please, please, please, don’t run the risk of giving anyone a reason to turn Jesus down. You work is an offering to God. Take all the time you need to present it whole and unblemished. Obey Colossians 3:23!
Athol Dickson is the author of:
The Gospel According to Moses