Write your book in just a week!

One trend in what I suppose you could call the ‘creative writing industry’ at the moment is encouraging people to write books really quickly.

473px-Usain_Bolt_Olympics_CelebrationI’ve come across writing ‘experts’ who run courses and so on claiming they can teach you to crash out a whole novel in a month or even less. It’s the Usain Bolt approach to novel writing.

For the record – Song of the Sea God took me two years to write, from which I’m sure you can glean that I’m in no great rush to type ‘The End.’ To me that doesn’t seem an extraordinary amount of time. The other two books I have completed have taken a similar period. It takes roughly a year to complete a first draft then another to rewrite and polish it until I believe I have something I wish to inflict on an indifferent world. After I have finished, I submit it to agents and publishers who will often reject it with barely a second glance. My story is not unusual, I suspect it is the story of pretty much any published author.

One ‘writing expert’ I came across on Facebook recently suggested that anyone following her sage advice would be in a position to churn out their magnum opus and stick it up on Kindle to tempt punters in just four short weeks. She strongly suggested I come along to one of her courses where she would teach me how to write more quickly. I suggested that perhaps I could teach her how to write more slowly. She didn’t seem any more impressed by my offer than I had been by hers. We were coming at it from two entirely different perspectives – she simply couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t want to hammer something out as swiftly as possible and get it on Amazon.

600px-UK_traffic_sign_670V30_svgHere’s where I stand. What’s the point of encouraging people to rush their writing? What’s the value of turning out a novel in a month when you could spend more time on it and make it better? Why not treat yourself to a whole two months of writing – and make it a masterpiece!

I don’t wish to sound too grumpy about this. I’m on the side of the writer. But I’m also on the side of the reader and I don’t know that encouraging people to slam out words onto their laptop as quick as they humanly can, then rush to self-publish them as a download in the hope people will hand over money for them is really serving the reader at all well. In fact I think there is a serious likelihood that the reader will pay for something rushed, shoddily put together, ill-considered and just plain rubbish.

The most famous ‘write a novel quickly’ movement is the very popular NaNoWriMo – the National Novel Writing Month, which encourages entrants to complete the first draft of a novel in a month.  Its website says that so far 226,756 writers have signed up to write a novel in just one month.

The strapline this group uses is ‘The world needs your novel’ which makes me think: does it? Does it really? The world has lots of novels already, many of them took a long time and a lot of hard work to write. Does it need hundreds of thousands more written in just one month?

Look, I don’t want to seem down on the organisation – they are very popular, they are encouraging people to write, which is great. They are also not necessarily encouraging people to rush what they have written to publication – for many writers what they produce during NaNoWriMo can be the start of a book, not the finished product.

My problem is with the notion that quicker is better. What is the value of rushing your work? My fear is that the ‘experts’ who tell you they can help you get your book in front of buyers in just a few weeks are appealing to some of the less savoury aspects of human nature.

The subtext of the ‘write a novel in a month’ message is – it doesn’t have to be difficult. You don’t have to work very hard for a very long time, pore over your manuscript, carry out rewrite after painstaking rewrite. You can get everything you want without putting yourself to very much trouble at all – just like winning the lottery. Four weeks of writing, upload your work to Amazon and you will be a published author – just like Charles Dickens, just like Jane Austen!

For me writing a novel and getting it published was a long hard road and, you know what, I’m glad it was, because it makes the achievement worthwhile.

Novel in a month? Not for me thanks!

What do you think? Tell me in the comments.

Song of the Sea God visualDon’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

To download or not to download

Recently my book – which has been out in paperback for a few weeks now, was turned into a download. You can now get it on Kindle here.

As well as the old-fashioned dead tree way here.

I’m not sure how I feel about it – pleased still of course, that the book is out at all, that I have a publisher in Skylight Press out there doing their best for it and caring about it as much as I do. But in terms of the fancy new Kindle version – how do I feel about that? It’s the future I know, no doubt at all about that. It would take someone who was a bit of a Luddite these days to be a download denier – and that’s certainly not me.

So I’m glad to have the book out in this format – and I certainly see the advantages of it. The portability of the devices, the almost instant access to a whole library of books.

I also think that anything which not only preserves, but reinvigorates reading and the novel has to be a good thing. It has to be a living, breathing art form, the moment it lapses into becoming a museum piece then it’s doomed.

Finally, I like the way that downloads, and that means Kindle right at the moment, have already led to a publishing revolution allowing authors who do not have a publisher to take their destiny in their own hands and do it themselves. This reminds me of the early days of punk rock – or of indie bands. The self-sufficiency they had, the DIY ethic, led to some brilliant music and a voice for people who would not otherwise have been heard.

The same thing is happening in fiction now I think – different voices, ones which might not have made it into print, have managed to side-step the publishing system and find a platform for their work.

So two cheers for downloads then. But let’s not (ahem) write-off books.

Let me say firstly, that the dream for me, the one I’d had since childhood, was to have a book published – one I could hold in my hand, put on my bookshelf – one that had the feel and smell and yes, romance, of a book. I didn’t dream of a download.

But that might be more to do with the fact I have grown up with books. A new generation may well be following hard on my heals who dream of switching on their Kindle, swiping their fingers across the screen and having their name pop up on the illuminated display.

Times change after all. But my key worry isn’t about the downloads themselves – more about what they can lead to. Once things are available on digital format it seems to me that their value starts to plummet.

Look at music – digital piracy has decimated that industry. Look at movies, going the same way. There used to be a newspaper industry – I used to work in it. Now because so much news is available free on the internet the market has set the value of news at near zero.

I don’t want the same fate to befall printed fiction.

Already I am hearing horror stories from fellow authors about their downloads being pirated and stolen. Most authors are paid little for their work even when the system is working – if it breaks down they are in real trouble.

So I’m delighted to have my book out on Kindle – thrilled by it – and I really value those readers who choose to buy Song of the Sea God in that way.

But my hope is that the download revolution doesn’t issue in an era when books are thought of as ‘freeware’ available to all without any payment to those who have worked hard to produce them.

Sign here

So – I’ve just had my first book signing. That was quite a posh moment, made me feel like a proper author.

If you weren’t able to make it you can get the book from Waterstones online here

And the Kindle version here.

The signing was at Waterstones in Gloucester, where I live. Waterstones is more or less the only show in town as far as bookshops go in most British towns these days. All the little independent ones have gone the way of the dodo and I would guess that even the mighty Waterstones is feeling the pinch what with the online revolution and the march of downloads.

Who knows, in a few years there may not be any bookshops to do signings in, or any books to sign.

But for now there is a Waterstones on every high street with its tables piled high with best sellers and its Costa coffee franchise. When you walk through the door of one you smell the unmistakable scent of new books.  So I was able to spend a Saturday afternoon sitting behind a small pile of my books with Rebsie from my publisher on hand for moral support.

It’s a curious experience this book signing business. Basically you are sat watching people do their shopping. Though I am of course keen to sell copies of my book I don’t feel it’s right to go up to people who aren’t interested and pester them – I wouldn’t want someone badgering me if I was shopping. So I waited for people to come to me – and thankfully quite a few did.

One or two mistook me for a member of staff and wanted me to tell them where the John Grishams were, but most wanted to talk about Song of the Sea God which was great. You really do need a quick way of describing your work in this situation I’ve found – it’s no use coming over all coy and saying it’s too complex to sum up in a few words – people want to know what it’s about. So I have my elevator pitch ready. I tell them it’s about a man who washes up on a small island off the coast of Britain and tries to convince the local people he is a god.

The people I talked to were very receptive and it was a fun experience – plus I sold a few copies which was great. As well as wanting to know what the book was about they asked a bit about me – where I was from, what I do for a proper job, have I written anything else, and so on. I’m quite chatty, which helps I guess, and I enjoyed the whole thing more than I expected to. With any luck I’ll get to do it again!