Do you ever sit there with flashing cursor, wondering about the next word – waiting for the phrase to ooze, tortuously, from your mind? But when it emerges, it’s fully formed, like Athena. Or do you joyously pour words forth in a cascade of creativity – rough, but ready to be honed, sanded and polished to a fine sheen.
This doesn’t suit everybody. In fact, it didn’t suit writers a generation ago, particularly, because drafting was done on typewriters. Re-drafting involved re-typing, and that was time-consuming. Only Asimov, I believe, didn’t re-draft much – he had the knack of being able to cascade words out in virtually finished form.
But today it’s easy; word processing has made some of us word-profligates. The question, as always, is whether these are good words. Has the word processor stopped us sitting and pondering
And does the race-for-word – the focus that some contests and even software has on word count, on reaching particular words in particular time-spans – made that worse
My take? The word ‘prolific’ is often used as a put-down among academics, but that’s more to do with jealousy than genuine critique. Commercial writing is all about production of quantity-to-time. All, of course, without degrading quality. That’s becoming true of fiction in a world where e-books are becoming the norm. The audience want more, and authors have to produce it – without compromising quality. Knowing how to do that is a skill, and the onus is on authors to learn it. (I’m here to help – check out some of the posts on this blog).
It used to be done in the age of typewriters. One of my favourite books – which I keep trunking on about – is Kerouac’s On The Road, which he blasted out in three supercharged weeks. And yet we also have the example of Tolkien, who never finished anything unless he was severely prodded. Who kept tinkering, revising, re-revising, and re-casting. When we look back at the ‘first’, ‘second’ and ‘tenth’ drafts of The Lord Of The Rings, the benefit of that time to ponder, to re-think – is obvious
There is no right answer, of course; it varies from author to author. Personally, though, I think the word processor has made it possible for writers to produce work much more quickly – and , if they’ve got the chops to back it, to write as well as anybody from the old days of typewriters.
What do you figure?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012