Craft’s slow burn

The nightly nine o’clock news here, as most national news in most places, always has a bit of fluff in its middle, and depending on the news day that fluff can be quite extended. In a recent program a local mystery writer was discussed for a good fifteen to twenty minutes. I half-listened as I read a paper but one aspect of what was covered really stuck with me. The man in question, and I’ve already forgotten his name, was claimed to have written some six hundred books in his fifty-year career. That is an astonishing amount of output, absolutely breathtaking. It also very quickly raises the question of quality.

I realize of course that everyone writes at a different pace, and I recognize too that when one’s career is actually writing a project is able to be finished much more efficiently than when it has to be balanced and measured out against the demands of other work. Do the math though, six hundred books, even in fifty years’ time, means cranking titles out at a faster rate than some magazines. As a mystery writer formulae are no doubt a big part of the man’s practice (and he continues to write, the main part of the news segment was on his recently released autobiography), and again that eases the load somewhat, but I have to wonder just how good – on average – the works in question are.

But then what is good and who am I to even raise the question? A light read for the train is considered by many to be a much better book than a ponderous tome by a Nobel winner. And fair enough, really, as all readers approach their chosen fare in their own way and the interaction that thus ensues can be quite beautiful whatever the content. Still, as a writer who has very painfully learned the drill, a part of me does wonder how much heart can go into something that took maybe a couple, maybe a few, weeks to complete.

Now, I do not consider myself to be a great writer. I do not think that I will ever win any literary prizes, nor do I even dream of such. Life – fate – unfolds and we find ourselves where we are and make do with what we are and what we have. No one could ask for more from frail creatures like us. We do ourselves a disservice when we fail to try to be more though, when we take easy roads and let challenges be subdued by contravening circumstances, uncooperative feelings, or a lack of motivation. I want to be clear that I am not accusing the writer in question of sloth, for he very clearly is not lazy, nor am I implying that the man does not know his craft, but from my own point of view a really effortful piece takes time. Slow-brewed art, if you will.

Attempting to master a skill is a difficult and demanding endeavor, and the blood and the tears shed in the doing of something worth doing makes the titular “burn” description very apt, I think. My forthcoming Freedom’s Mask took me two years to actively produce and probably took about five to ten years off of my life. I put myself on the rack for that book; a rack of my own making given the goals I set, but a rack nonetheless. Was it worth it? For myself I would say yes because it is certainly my best work to date, the culmination of years and years of practice and thought, and whatever becomes of the book in the world it will be something I look on as an expression of myself purely as my self, a book that marks the sum of my years on this good Earth from my birth till today. In its creation I noticed time and again just how I have wound back onto certain ideas, certain convictions, and how this journey I’ve been on has hardly been a straight line – but then neither a circle either. It has been a spiral, a loop, where I’ve started at point A, swung out in an arc, and then ended back at A but as A*, point A again with a new perspective that makes it ever so slightly different than the original. Maybe we’re all on such loops, or maybe I just don’t know what I’m doing. Whatever the case, I’m going to keep giving everything I have to my writing, total book count, money, recognition, success – all of that – be damned.

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