Meanwhile, I've decided to break out "The Chief," with the Hermes 3000 serving as backup.
All of this got me thinking: does volume really count? Does it matter how much I can type quickly, or is rapid typing more a product of the office world and not the creative mind? Compared to a word processor, I'm already going slow, but there are times when my hands are desperately trying to keep up with the brain and I'd like it if my machine could do so.
But then, the other side of me says, "Quality is all you should be worried about! Don't get into the fast lane. This is an art!"
I've decided to lay out some notable examples of each, and I'll be anxious to see what you guys think.
We'll begin with some speed typers who abilities are just...scary.
Exhibit A: John D. MacDonald
The Selectric, the speed typer's ultimate weapon. John MacDonald was a Florida crime writer, best known for creating Travis McGee. While serving in the Navy during WWII, he wrote a short story and sent it to his wife, who sold it to Story magazine for $25.
Here's the scary bit.
"After his discharge, MacDonald spent four months writing short stories, generating some 800,000 words and losing 20 pounds (9.1 kg) while typing 14 hours a day, seven days a week. He received hundreds of rejection slips, but finally a $40 sale to the pulp magazine Dime Detective set his career in motion. He would eventually sell nearly 500 short stories to the detective, mystery, adventure, sports, Western, and science fiction magazines. Several times, MacDonald's stories were the only ones in an issue of a magazine, but this was hidden by using pseudonyms." –– Wikipedia
Granted, he was doing this full-time, but sheesh. Fourteen hours a day? I don't have enough ideas in my head to fill that kind of time! I'm assuming this early work was done on a manual machine, since electric typewriters were still on the fringe and very expensive.
I can't comprehend how a mind like that works. Did he just type without thinking about spelling or word usage and edit it later? Were these stories the result of idea that gathered during his time at sea and just came gushing out?
It's important to keep in mind that this section of the biography is labeled "pulp career." Pulp fiction was printed on the cheapest paper available at the time, and the stories were often cheap quality too. In this case, MacDonald's output is impressive, but one has to wonder if any of his early stories would hold up today.
Exhibit B: John Creasy
A British mystery writer. Over five hundred novels. Over twenty pseudonyms. According to one story, he could finish some novels in a single day.
But if it hadn't been for Stephen King's mention of him in On Writing, I may never have heard of him.
Exhibit C: Jack Kerouac
Here's a better-known example. Kerouac's claim to fame is still his Beat Generation magnum opus On the Road. We all known it was written in three weeks (which is astounding in and of itself), but it's even more amazing once you consider the length of the novel. According to the website I found, On the Road clocks in at 116,000 words. One of my manuscripts is about 98,000 (first draft) and it took me fifty days to finish, and that was when I sat down to write at least 1000 words every day without fail (except sick days or Sunday). There's an urban legend that Kerouac was high on amphetamines and the drugs gave him the super-human endurance to keep going. Then again, one of his friends said in a documentary that he was an excellent typist. Either way, it's amazing.
Now let's look at the other side of the coin...slow and steady.
Exhibit A: George RR Martin
Yes, the above really did happen. During the 2014 Emmy awards, Weird Al Yankovitch parodied Martin's work with a musical performance. Afterwards, one of the actors gave him a manual typewriter and urged "write them faster!"
Martin is best known for A Song of Ice and Fire. The series began in 1996, but didn't received wide-spread attention until the third or fourth volume became a best-seller. With the monumental success that's come with it, Martin's writing techniques and habits have become the topic of scrutiny.
It only took two years for Book 2 and Book 3 to be published, but then there was a five year gap for Book 4 and a six year gap for Book 5. Book 6 has been delayed and some fans are dreading the possibility of HBO's TV adaptation of outrunning the books and spoiling the whole thing.
Be that as it may, Martin is considered one of the premier writers in the industry. A self-described "gardner," his method doesn't involve a lot of detailed planning or outlines.
Exhibit B: Harper Lee
|(Photo credit: Oz Typewriter)|
This lovely lady had just one story to tell (one novel, that is), and she told it well. Mockingbird is a rare example of a book that most readers feel is "perfect" the way it is. At 100,000 words, it took Lee two years to finish it, and that was after her editor secured enough funding to let her quit her day job.
It was only one story, but it lives on like no other.
Don't tell me otherwise!
I work a full-time job. Sometimes it exhausts me. Sometimes I get sick. There are days when I get little writing done. I'm usually in bed by 9-930 each night, so that gives me just about five hours. Managing five hours between reading, writing, paying bills, and making sure my lovely wife gets the attention she absolutely deserves (because no work is worth the price of human decency), can be difficult.
There are times when I think, "If only I could write faster, then I could edit sooner, pitch quicker, sell more."
But, more and more, I'm starting to wonder if I'm missing the point. Sure, if a writer wants to succeed financially, he has to produce. But I sold Nimrod Lexicon after agonizing over it for a month. I had another story short-listed in a competition, and that one took me just three days. I've spent over two years getting Lightwitch ready. Will it be good enough with the time I've invested? We'll see.
Does speed matter? Should I care when I'm not working under anyone's deadlines but my own? Perhaps it's a symptom of our modern culture, where everything is sent at 186,000 mps over the airwaves. Maybe the speed typers above astounded their peers because it wasn't the norm, and there wasn't the same expectation.
The las two days weren't great for my work. My head cold made me lose focus. I was so upset because I didn't get clear enough impressions on the page, or I misspelled a word, that I forgot to care about what those words represented. I wrote a 3700 word short on my Hermes Baby and my outlook changed. It took several hours, but I spent time pondering the words and what I was writing about.
This is why the key to writing is to write, because it's the only way to learn.
So, what do you guys think?