Thursday, July 14, 2011

How to Write Mid List Fiction # 1

I have been reading Kristine Katherine Rusch on the business of writing, because it's been a long time since I thought about writing as a business, and publishing is changing, due to Kindle and Nook. She sounds authoritative, and the topic is interesting to me at the moment.

Then I got to her advice on how to write, if you're going to survive as a writer. I'm less sure about this.

Rusch says writers should think of themselves as storytellers, rather than authors. I think she's telling people to not take themselves too seriously. Don't think of yourself as a fine art or literary writer.

She says writers should write fast, not worry about revising and not worry about style. Practice will make one a better writer and practice will enable one to find one's "voice."

According to Rusch, the famous writers -- the ones we still read, like Dickens and Shakespeare -- wrote fast. It is certainly my impression that Dickens was a fast writer. He wrote 14.5 novels in 34 years. That's half a large novel a year, which is impressive, but not as impressive as Rusch, who can write four to six novels a year.

Shakespeare wrote 1.6 plays a year during his working life, which is lot more than most modern playwrights, though Shaw must have him beat. Again, this is impressive, but not as impressive as the number of words Rusch has put out. Remember that a play script is a lot shorter than a novel.

Then there are the novelists who were far less prolific: Emily Bronte (1 novel), Charlotte Bronte (4), Herman Melville (4), Jane Austen (6), Lady Murasaki (1), Wu Cheng'en (2). This is off the top of my head. All these people are still read. I am not an Emily Bronte fan, but I love Jane Eyre, Moby Dick, The Tale of Genji, The Journey to the West and all of Jane Austen's novels.

I suspect all of these writers revised and thought about style. Shakespeare had an amazing vocabulary and was a master of the mot juste. I don't think that this came out of nowhere or even from writing a lot. It came from study and thought and craft. Here is Macbeth, after murdering King Duncan:
Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.

And from a dictionary:
1591 (adj.) "flesh-colored," from Fr. incarnadine, from It. incarnadino "flesh-color," from L.L. incarnatio (see incarnation). The verb properly would mean "to make flesh colored," but the modern meaning "make red," and the entire survival of the verb, is traceable to "Macbeth" II ii. (1605).

I add the dictionary quote because it's interesting, and "incarnadine" is a neat word. It rolls off the tongue. Redness spills from it.


Eleanor said...

I want to write a story titled "Incarnadine."

Douglas Hulick said...


I think you've touched on one of the key issues I have with Rusch (and even more with DW Smith): the assumption that to be a good/professional writer, you must be a fast writer. More specifically, I take issue with the idea that you should strive for speed, no matter what.

I have no issue with people who write fast (or slow). You write as you write. And yes, it would be nice if word output increased over time as you got used to this writing thing. It could even be preferable in some ways, I admit. But the implied message of "if you want to succeed, you must write like I write!" rubs me the wrong way. No one has a monopoly on the correct way of writing, but there are times reading their posts that I get the impression that they have forgotten this.

Perhaps, being a slower writer, I am being somewhat defensive here; but the tone I keep getting from their posts strike me as too absolute for my comfort, especially in terms of what it tells newer writers. Some people may not be able to reach the writing speeds they espouse. There are enough hurdles for aspiring writers without having to worry about measuring up to a made up metric like that.

tate hallaway said...

Incarnadine would totally rock as the name of a planet in a Lydia Duluth story, Eleanor!

Kelly McCullough said...

I tend to agree with Kris and Dean for certain values of agree. They're both friends and have been mentoring me since my second short story publication.

The level on which I agree is that if your goal is to make 60k or more a year as an author without breaking out of the midlist or finding alternate revenue streams, you're going to have to write 3 or more books a year and that means certain things in terms of production. Kris and Dean's advice is very useful under those circumstances.

OTOH, I think there are a lot of other ways to patch together a living in which you get to write at a slower pace, though it means you may not make as much or you may have to rely on other jobs or a partner to make ends meet. If that works for you, you're probably not the target audience for that set of the Kris and Dean show.

Eleanor said...

Yes, I was thinking about a Lydia Duluth story. I occurred to me recently that -- after I finish my writing to-do list -- I would like to write a Lydia Duluth novel. Longer than Tomb of the Fathers, but not hugely long. Full of Goxhat.

Eleanor said...


Shawn Enderlin said...

Interesting discussion!

I'm certainly on the slower side. I think there a several factors at work: experience and talent are two big ones, but complexity of story also is a big factor, as is Eleanor's example of tinkering with style and turn of phrase.

One thing to add to the discussion: (yes, I'm going to wave my E-pub flag again) E-publishing has the potential to change the dynamics a bit here. In the traditional landscape, there's a window of uncertain duration in which things stay in print and you can earn. There is no such window if you E-publish.

I think this can work to the benefit of slower writers. It might take a long time to build up a catalog of work, but it will happen, and if your work never disappears off the shelves you'll eventually wind up having the same advantages more prolific writers have.