A Question…

From Dean Wesley Smith:

Yesterday, in the last chapter of the book I did about writing a novel in five days while traveling, I made a comment near the end that I found the exercise fun to be able to (just for a few days) feel like I belonged in the world of the pulp writers.

And I made a comment that I was born too late.

A reader wrote me privately with a good comment. Basically the reader reminded me that I should feel lucky to have the modern things we writers use such as computers, control of our own work instead of selling it to gatekeepers and so on.

The reader made a very good point. We do have it so easy, so much easier than the pulp writers did. I know that, I study the pulp writers and their lives.

Yet even with things being easier, it is unusual for a writer in 2017 to write a novel in five days. (And realize the novel I wrote would have been on the long side for the length that pulp writers wrote.)

And the idea of someone like me doing that every week for years and years is just alien in this modern world.

So I got to wondering why? And I tried to find some reasons.

— Not a shortage of markets.

Any story can be out and in reader’s hands in very short order. No gatekeepers anymore of any value. So that’s not why.

— No problem with the mechanics.

Manual typewriters were a problem in the pulp days. (Anyone remember how to change a ribbon or carbon paper?)

But now we have computers, large screens, laptops, voice writing, you name it. All are used to make writing easier. And it is a ton easier. Not even in the same difficulty universe.

From there I came up with a blank.

Mechanics and markets, the two major limiting factors other than the writer’s belief system. And both mechanics and markets are a ton easier in the modern world.

So why do writers in this modern world not just write novels every week, week-after-week?

That even “Why?” question…

I knew the answer. Writer’s belief systems. Modern writers don’t believe they can.

That belief has been trained out.

Writers of the modern world have been taught to think that writing at pulp speed is different, unusual, a fantastic feat, massive work, and on and on and on…

I then realized I had done it too. And until tonight I hadn’t caught myself on it.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith and thanks to Colleen for the tip.

Here’s a link to Dean Wesley Smith’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

90 thoughts on “A Question…”

  1. You answered it yourself, sir. 🙂
    It’s the writer’s belief system.

    Most writers today have grown in a world controlled by gatekeepers and artficial scarcity. They are like (pardon the expression) barn animals that have grown so used to being fenced in they won’t leave the pen or go very far even after the gate falls down.

    They know no other way.

    They believe they need agents and a payday loan “advance” and a publisher funded proofer to sell. They believe the market won’t buy more than two books a years, if that.

    They simply believe that as it was so shall it ever be, worlds without end.

    There is an old cruel joke about physicists and paradigms:
    “How do you teach and old physicist new tricks?”
    “You can’t. You take ’em out back, shoot’em, and go get a new physicist.”

    • “How do you teach and old physicist new tricks?”
      “You can’t. You take ’em out back, shoot’em, and go get a new physicist.”

      If you study the history of the acceptance of the theory of oxidation, you will find this is true.

      Before Priestley discovered oxygen, chemists knew that when something burned the ash weighed more than the original mass. To explain this, they posited the existence of phlogiston, a material with negative mass.

      One would think that the discovery of oxidation would have been met with a sigh of relief and the quick abandonment of phlogiston. It wasn’t. Instead phlogiston limped on until the last of its adherents died.

      And that’s how we measure progress in the sciences — by the deaths of scientists.

      • Funny, now I have a desire to write a fantasy story where phlogistron plays a major role.

        (I was familiar with the story, thanks to Isaak Asimov. It’s a fascinating view into paradigm change in science.)

        • If I remember correctly, Lionel Fanthorpe wrote novels in a weekend by dictating them into cassette recorders so his wife’s typing classes could transcribe them to send to the publisher (who basically sent him a cover and said ‘write me this book by the end of next week’).

      • +10 I’m with you there. Physically speaking, I top out at about an hour, hour and half worth of steady typing. After that well, *points at the ice wrapped around her wrist* I need a day or so to recover.

  2. So far, no one has asked why you would want to write a novel in five days if you don’t have to. It may be fun as an experiment if your hands and wrists can stand it and you can type that fast. Other than that, why bother? And why get suckered into the attitude that it’s a problem with self-sabotaging belief systems?

    • I have so many part-written novels on my laptop that I could probably finish one every five days for a year before I’d run out. It may be the only way to ever get all my novels finished.

      • Why would I want to write a novel in 5 days even though I don’t have to? At my current pace, I will never finish all the books I want to write. Won’t even get started on a lot of them. Sometimes I feel quite desperate to learn how to write faster. But so far, it’s just looking like I’m destined to die with too many books unwritten. I figure if I haven’t sped up after the number of years I’ve been writing (nearing 30 years now), it’s not looking good for me.

  3. Why more writers don’t believe it can be done:

    Writing fast is crap.

    No one can write books that fast.

    What about editing?

    And rewriting?

    And beta readers?

    And more rewriting and editing after that?

    No one wants to read more than a book a year from anyone.

    Did I mention that writing fast is crap? Musn’t forget that.

    We’ve been told a novel is 100K and over, and no one will read shorter novels. And you can’t write that much in a week, anyway (which may be true, I’ve never tried it myself — the most I’ve written in one day is 9.5K).

    There are a lot of naysayers about anything to do with writing. Some are coming from a life spent in the previous belief system, and have been taught these things aren’t possible; some can’t personally do something, therefore it’s not possible or even ideal. Some people just don’t want anyone else doing something, especially if they succeed at it.

        • He started out churning out movie novelizations and tie-ins for traditional publishers. We don’t know what portion of his income is derived solely from his self-published fiction. He and his wife are constantly giving paid writing seminars, and she (don’t know about him) has a big PayPal donate button on her (their?) website.

    • One of the best novels I’ve written, I wrote in 9 days through Thanksgiving. It was lightning in a bottle. I can write this fast, it isn’t my typing speed of my paradigm. It’s my ability to come up with ten thousand words of good material every day.

  4. I am a writer that puts out books slowly–lucky if I get one out every year, or year and a half. And there are reasons for this, writing historical mysteries requires a lot of research time, I am retired and refuse to work past 6 pm, I am retired and so don’t want to let some of the benefits of being retired go (like going out to lunch, doing volunteer service, etc), but that is my choice (and privilege because I don’t have to worry about the income from my books being my sole support.)

    But I completely understand why some writers want/need to write more and faster. Whether it is because of their personalities, or that the more quickly they write, the better they get (there is always wasted time for me when I haven’t written for a few days or weeks or months in getting back up to speed), or pure finances–because one of the most consistent pieces of advice for indies is that the best marketing tool for your existing books is the next book.

    However, I too have seen writers who are fast and put out frequent books be put down by other writers as if this must mean they are bad writers. This saddens me because it seems to turn authors against each other (and often just echoes old arguments authors made to justify why they were sticking to traditional publishers, the arguments publishers made to authors to justify only putting out one of their books a year).

    It also seems to be a way of getting sidetracked by old and often artificial distinctions between genre and literary fiction (very black and white thinking) or not recognizing that a writer who knows and perfects a genre formula, while providing unique plots, characters etc within that formula, is in fact giving many readers very good value for the money and time spent on that book.

    And when it acts as a form of limiting ourselves as writers (“this piece of writing can’t be good because it was too easy,” which seems to be Dean’s point) it also means some of us are limiting our financial options, limiting the chance to get better as writers more quickly, etc.

    But I also wanted to mention that what I had myself thought of as a relatively new phenomenon (I saw it most with romance indie authors putting out 6-10 or more books a year–and making six and seven figure incomes as a result) is not actually new (again one of Dean’s points–although he was tapping into a different tradition) but that it has a long honorable history among women writers going back to the 19th century.

    This winter I was slowly reading through two books, Give Her This Day–a compilation of diary entries by women-with short biographies and Writing Women’s Lives–a collection of women’s autobiographical sketches and what surprised me was how many of the 19th century women in these works were not just writers (since it makes sense that a woman writer would be more likely to leave behind diaries etc to be mined) but that they were very prolific writers–Often having written hundreds of novels in their life times.

    They were writing fast, (probably for many this was out of financial necessity–because they either were supporting themselves or the main support for their families–widows, single women supporting parents, and what seems a constant theme women with husbands who for a variety of reasons seemed incapable of holding down a steady job.) But it also didn’t seem to detract from the way in which they were viewed as writers by their contemporaries.

    Suddenly I saw 21 century genre writers in a whole new light–following in an honorable and old tradition of being working women writers who didn’t write as a hobby, didn’t worry about what awards they won, but wrote because it was a job they both loved and could do to support themselves and because what they wrote people (often new to reading novels) got enormous pleasure out of.

    M. Louisa Locke

  5. Yes, I can replace a ribbon, and I can do carbon paper.

    When I was an undergrad I wrote my papers on an Underwood typewriter (it was a portable, it came in a wooden box/case, I could carry it to school and type in the library). I am very happy I didn’t have to do my thesis or dissertation on a manual typewriter.

    Before we moved last year we were up the block from a place that fixed office machines; I kept the ball type head from an IBM Selectric that they were throwing out, because they were so cool… a typewriter you could change the fonts on.

    I am just super-impressed anyone can write a novel in 5 days, pulp author or modern. I don’t think that fast.

    • Walter B. Gibson (known for The Shadow, among other things) kept a typewriter in every room of his house, with a story in progress on each one.

      At his peak he was cranking out more than 1.6 million words per year.

      • Hmmm. I am officially going to stop feeling “wrong” about my moving to back burner projects when I’ve stalled on the front burner. Between this and the Asimov post I’ve clearly been looking at things the wrong way by only working serially. I thought it signaled a lack of focus on my part.

        I probably could do a novel in a week, but it would require heavy outlining and an externally forced deadline … but I don’t know if my wrists would forgive me if I made a habit of it.

        • I can’t recall that carpal tunnel was ever a problem with the old typewriters. We need better keyboards and workspaces to keep up with the old writers.

          • Carpal tunnel was a problem with typewriters too. But the only people affected were full-time stenographers (not secretaries: they did other things besides type all day), and nobody cared very much about that.

  6. This is very appropriate coming the day after the Asimov article. Isaac didn’t write 500 actual books, but he was prolific and he worked long hours and sustained the effort over many years. That led me to think about what Asimov’s life was like, and it took only moments to realize that he had only one outlet for thinking about fantastic situations, books.

    Not only did he not have TV or movies worth watching for a good part of his career, nor were there multitude of games that can scratch that itch. His selection of stories and books in speculative fiction were also nowhere near as rich. The pulp writers were writing to fill a hole that existed, and they had very little in the way of need for quality because they were feeding a hungry maw and there weren’t enough of them to properly satisfy the market.

    There are reasons to be as prolific as possible in today’s market, but the reasons are the opposite. There is an enormous mound of material out there, powered by time and better tools, and many other ways that people can get what they’re looking for. Now we need to be distinctive, have quality and quantity. It’s a more complex problem than simply shoving material out there.

    • Don’t forget that the pulp writers were working in a disposable field. When the month was over that magazine was thrown out (I’m talking about the 1920s to after World War II). Short stories were rarely reprinted.

    • Asmimov wrote for the pulps. Science fiction magazines were pulps when he started. Asimov’s first sale was to a pulp.

      Asimov was a pulp writer. As was Heinlein. As was Silverberg. As was Laumer. As was Lester Del Ray. As was every writer from the Golden Age.

  7. I’ve always been a slow writer (I’m good for a book or two a year). I have absolutely no doubt that I could crank out a book a month if I felt like it. I’ve got plenty of ideas backed up, and I’ve written novels in two weeks before. But I don’t WANT to go faster, mainly because I feel there’s already more than enough stuff out there, and writing faster would only contribute to a pool of material that’s already growing FTL, and mine will just get lost in the noise.

    Also, I don’t buy into the myth that faster and steady output is key to an ebook fortune. I believe the vast majority of writers, myself included, could put out several books a month, cranking out tens of thousands of words per day for years, and the market wouldn’t even take notice. The cream doesn’t always rise to the top, and writing the most fantastically excellent and deliciously written book is no guarantee of success. And that grows more true with each passing day. So there’s no point in pushing yourself to write faster, unless it’s just to test what effect rapidity of product output has on your sales. Or to reach that mythical million words that will magically transform you into a good writer.

    So I’ll stick with my book or two a year. It’s the speed I was writing long before the self-publishing revolution. It’s what I’m comfortable with, and it fully satisfies my writing desires. If anyone wants to write at pulp speed, more power to them. I have no problem with that; it’s just not me.

  8. The faster I can put out work that is up to MY standards, the better.

    Each writer will make that decision.

    But there is no virtue in writing slowly per se. Or writing quickly, for that matter.

    The reader doesn’t care how long it takes us (unless they’re poking George RR Martin); readers only care what they’re going to read next that they are sure they will like.

    And if they want what a particular writer writes, they have to wait. Donna Tartt’s fans wait for her books. Of course, they also read other writers while waiting. I don’t know why she writes slowly, but her business model works for my aims. Dean’s doesn’t – because of me.

    • The faster I write, the more it feels like I’m reading instead of writing (the fan-fiction psychology). I find that actually a very important distinction. It means when I’m groping for some clue to provide the reader or some plot twist, my subconscious remembers what I’ve already written (as if it had just read it) and prompts me with suggestions, just as if I were reading someone else’s book.

      It also means I have less trouble remembering any of the earlier book details, so I spend less time looking things up.

      If I can make myself sit in the chair on demand, I can make it all come pouring out, once the book gets going.

      • My husband calls that “being in the Zone.” I get mad when he interrupts that writing the same way I do when he interrupts me reading ’cause DARN IT, I WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!

  9. A lot of it is confident decision making. If you can make a plot twist in a few seconds, as opposed to biting your nails and pacing the house for an hour while thinking about whether you should make that plot twist at all, then you can write more quickly.

    • Yeah, I don’t do that, but I do come up against walls when writing. I have the overarching storyline, then I have notes for each book in the series, then I spend time writing out plot points and putting them on my corkboard Outline Boards. When that’s filled, I write. When I get bored writing linearly, I jump to scenes that interest me. When I get to the plot points on the Outline Board, I take them down and make room for more.

      So yeah, I could finish more than one book a year if I were a fulltime writer (which I am not). But if I don’t know exactly where I’m going, nope, I cannot write the volume of words needed to write a book in a short period of time. Five days? Yeah, no.

    • True. But if you can think of a plot twist in a few seconds, a lot of your readers will be able to think of the same plot twist quickly enough to see it coming. If you want to surprise people, you need to throw away the obvious ideas and dig deeper. John Cleese called the process ‘creative discomfort’, and I myself have had things to say about it here.

      For those who can’t be bothered to click: The gold is frequently in the third, fourth, or Nth idea, and you can ruin a story by simply taking it in the first direction that comes to mind.

  10. In the heyday of the pulp magazines, writers had to produce work as quickly as possible to pay the bills because the pay rate was a penny a word.

    There’s no advantage to writing at breakneck speed today and the quality of one’s work will probably suffer as a result. Since there’s no assurance that you’ll make any money from it anyway, you may as well take a little extra time with it.

    • Yes, but in 1935, 1¢ was worth 18¢ in today’s buying power.

      Can you imagine what it would be like if all the major short story markets payed 18¢ per word? Hell, I’d pump out a story a day for that kind of money! At least!

    • The top pay rate was a penny a word. The average was about half a cent per word, and there was no bottom. Some of the pulps did not pay for stories at all, and some were ghostwritten by a single writer who might be paid as little as $150 for an entire issue.

      • Half a penny per word is still nearly twice as much as today’s professional rates in 1935 dollars.

        Also, according to US Bureau of Labor Statistics data, $150 had the buying power of anywhere between $2,155 to $2,627 throughout the 1930s.

        • That’s true. I just wanted to make it clear that a penny a word, for the average pulp writer, represented wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.

          ‘Today’s professional rates’ is a misleading term, since that merely means the minimum rates that a magazine must pay to be considered a professional market. Magazine fiction has been on a slow slide to oblivion for 70 years now, and it’s very near the bottom. I don’t suppose there is a single writer out there who makes a living off it.

  11. I read a statement from Barry Eisler on Konrath’s site about his (Eisler’s) short stories being worth $30,000.

    It’s been a long time since that statement but I’m assuming Eisler was talking about “over the length of his career”.

    Still, each short story generating $30,000…
    I’m in, at Pulp Speed. 🙂


    • I think DWS gave an example some time back of a short story of his that he wrote in a few hours which had made five figures over the last few decades through initial sales, reprints, etc.

      • To go from ‘I once wrote a short story from which I have made $30,000 during my career’ to ‘Every one of my stories is worth $30,000’ is, hmm, a bit of a distance.

  12. I can write 10,000 words a few days in a row, but it usually take me a couple of weeks to finish 80-100K drafts, then a few more days to edit. I usually hit the midway point and slow down a bit. I also think it’s important to get exercise, leave the house, spend time with friends/family/pets, etc. 😉

    I do enjoy it when I write things quickly though. The story comes more easily, I remember all the details from the opening of the manuscript, and it’s just nice to finish projects and feel you’re making real progress on things!

    Some of the novels I’ve written the fastest have the best review averages and are fan favorites, so there’s been no correlation between speed and quality for me (unless speed makes things better!).

  13. That’s the problem with posting one small part of the ongoing conversation on Dean’s blog.

    To someone who has been reading Dean’s blog for years, the lack of understanding by some of the commenters here is scary. There, but for the grace of Dean’s blog, go I. HA!

          • Tom said: If allynh will show the way, I’ll be happy to oblige.

            Sure, happy to oblige as well. HA!

            Read Dean’s blog, all of Dean’s blog, and you will see the various scary “myths” and “fears” posted above routinely discussed and dismissed. He’s doing it right now in his latest posts.

            Be sure to actually read things like his Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing series before you add any comments or he may mock you. I know that I would. HA!

            BTW, Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing is a link in the gold bar at the top of his website. Just in case, here is the link if you want to start there first.


            • I’ve read his ‘Killing the Sacred Cows’ series, thank you very much. I also know that he is simply wrong about some of his assertions. As others have pointed out above, writing at the speed he advocates is not possible for everyone, nor is it suitable for certain kinds of work – such as historical novels or hard science fiction, where extensive research is required and consumes much more time than the writing.

              Isaac Asimov himself could write a mystery novel in a couple of weeks, but an SF novel took him nine months (by his own public admission). One reason he resisted returning to SF in the 1980s was that it would slow him down too much to suit him.

              Yes, I understand that DWS has written SF novels. Asimov took his time and his books became classics of the field. DWS didn’t and his SF books aren’t.

              • Says the fantasy-comedy writer. Your genre requires no research. You are such a negative donkey.

                DWS has 21 million books-in-print. Few writers have 400 M BIN like Stephen King. King writes as fast as he can. Smith has valid advice, read his latest blog posts these last few days. He’s become enlightened. Lazy is lazy.

                You are not on Asimov’s level, neither Pratchett’s, King’s, Howey’s, nor Smiths’s; because you don’t write fast enough. Practice. Stop outlining and rewriting, and worse spending time here posting disagreeable fluff.

                Most of all, quit pretending that you are a mighty pro out to help others by silencing drive-bys and championing slow writing; you are a minor semi-pro, potentially, with your four-ish fictions, and three essays.

                Spend more hours in the chair. Publish a lot more. Succeed internationally, become an heralded icon, then preach. Until then, no one cares.

                • OK, first of all, when I was saying this is a blog full of professional writers? I was not including myself in their number. Tell Hugh Howey his genre requires no research; or else shut your piehole.

                  Second, I am not a ‘fantasy-comedy writer’. And I shall inform you that if you think fantasy requires no research, you are full of shit. In my own experience, the stuff I do requires as much research as hard SF. My current work in progress is requiring me to bone up on geology, linguistics, several subfields of psychology, theology, agriculture, meteorology, and a few comparatively minor fribbles like heraldry and mythology. You haven’t read it. Don’t pretend that you are qualified to judge of it, or say what work I have or have not had to do.

                  Second, you are now calling everyone lazy who does not work at DWS’s speed. Do you want to throw around some more insults while you’re at it? Do you want to call Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt lazy because of her disabilities?

                  Third, I never pretended to be on Asimov’s level, or Pratchett’s, King’s, Howey’s, or Smith’s. You know what the first four of those had in common? Not one of them worked according to Dean Wesley Smith’s rules. They worked in their own ways and at their own speed. You don’t need to be on their level to point that out.

                  By the way, ‘writing more’ is not what made them what they became. Writing better did that. Many writers have been prolific and yet wrote nothing worth reading.

                  Finally, I am not a mighty pro, and not pretending to be one. I am merely a student of the art who has a reasonable grasp of the obvious and is willing to learn from what many people actually do, rather than what a few people say ought to be done. When one person says ‘Never do X’, and many people do X and succeed, I point out that there is a discrepancy; as did many other commenters in this thread, but you did not choose to direct your venom at them.

                  Now tell me, what have you done that makes you so superior to me, that you are entitled to call me names and sneer? You don’t even have the guts or the basic decency to sign your name to your comment. If you want to belittle me for my qualifications, then produce your own. But evidently you don’t need to produce any qualifications; in which case, neither do I. So kindly keep your insults to yourself.

                • Dear “Anon” –

                  For what it’s worth, I know Mr. Simon personally and you are perhaps not aware of a few facts. He has a couple of severe physical disabilities and writes very quickly considering those obstacles. He also recently lost all of his family to the grim reaper, and my watching you taunt him in that state is rather painful. Kindly consider that there might be circumstances you know nothing about and stop adding to his stressors.

                  I’m intimately acquainted with his work as a first reader and can honestly say that the results of his writing process may not be quantity, yet, but they are of quality. And he’s addressing the quantity/speed issue as best he can.

                  One wonders if you are the odious sort of person who has to belittle others to lift himself up. I think yes. And that’s sad.

                • First off, I cannot respond to Tom directly. Website won’t reply directly. How, convenient.

                  So Wendy:

                  Because in your tag-team, Tom and you have made it all about him in some attempt to shield him, maybe drag in some buddies with folding chairs, and end the conversation. That part has worked. Also, I don’t want to say something mean while I’m on the ropes.

                  Tom writes plenty fast in essay form. He’s funny. A tad negative when checked on a point, but that’s his shtick. I wasn’t randomly trolling him for kicks. Nowhere had I lifted myself up. I’m defending allynd and the opposing methodology of ‘Pulp’ that Tom argues against. Tom rides on the high-horse of ‘Outliners’. It irks me. So what. No one cares what I think as Anonymous. But, if you don’t actually read the DWS blog entries as I suggested, you can’t possibly know what you oppose, or that therein Smith says health is a valid excuse for writing slow.

                  Yet, Tom again is trying to shut someone down. This time it’s me, a target that will not roll over. Regardless of his health, he writes just fine, that aspect of his abilities is sharp. Quick witted. His mind is all there. I was urging him to put that obvious energy toward fiction writing. That’s all. Did I expect him to get mad, sure. However, I expected it to motivate him also. Prove little old me wrong, give it a serious look. But now, not a chance. My technique might have been too filled with ire. Truth hurts. Perhaps. At this point I don’t care if what I’ve said does more harm than good.

                  I post as Anonymous, I write under pen names, it’s me. So it suits me here, keeps me visible, honest, and vocal. And it allows everyone to disregard anything I say in here, because I don’t attach the cult of personality to it. Tom’s acting like a public figure. I called him on it, though he pretends otherwise. Still, I’m certainly not revealing myself now that you all are up in arms. But hey, can’t take it, don’t take a public stance. Me, venomous, probably. But, only in defense of an argument.

                  Of course, I care if Tom’s disabled and grieving. Yet, we aren’t friends, I’m not a fan, how could I know. I read this business blog all the time and that’s never to my knowledge been posted. Tom’s business pages do not allude to these things. You’ve accused me of not knowing, you’re right. I don’t seek out someone’s flaws to viciously exploit. I don’t pity anyone either. Because, I know anyone can be strong, that they can overcome accidents and disabilities.

                  But, none of that is the original argument. For all intents and purposes, you have completely distracted me and anyone who might have been listening from my intent, which I feel is part of your goal, and in addition, you have brought in artificial sympathy to a person who can defend himself just fine.

                  Have a nice day.

                • We have reached the point where the “reply” button has vanished, so I will post my last comment for all involved.


                  I find your final comment fascinating, you are a sleepwalker, like Vonnegut.

                  I’ve known/met/worked with many sleepwalkers. When you first posted a comment in response to my so called “drive-by”, I looked at your website and saw the humor that you use in your posts there, so I responded in kind. That set you off.

                  Vonnegut had the same problem. If anyone made the mistake of responding in kind to his apparent sense of humor, he would take offense, even though none was intended. He never understood what he was doing on a conscious level. Vonnegut was dangerous, and Reality kept him sleepwalking to prevent him from being even more dangerous. As they always say, don’t try to wake a sleepwalker.

                  I’m sure you go through life dealing with one perceived insult after another, and the new people you run into learn to avoid you, as have I. Thank you.


                  Tom is clearly capable of lashing out at others on his own. I doubt that he needs you to explain him, and it does not help.


                  I worry that ten years from now people will still be crippled by the same “myths”. That they won’t learn and grow as they publish. That they will ultimately delete their books from the system rather than build up a body of work, even if it’s just a trickle of books every year.

                  For myself, I see this beautiful structure that I’m constructing. Think of the London Underground map. Think of each line as a story line, with the stations as novels. Then take that two dimensional structure and wrap it around an egg. A growing, organic, structure wrapped around that egg, like a Faberge Egg.

                  I can see it so clearly.

                  Tube Map

                  Thanks for the insights, and to all a good night.

                • Allynh,

                  Your diagnosis of ‘sleepwalking’ is fascinating, but I find that the case will not lie. Apart from calling Kurt Vonnegut ‘dangerous’ (to whom? in what way?), your only specific accusation is that I took offence when you employed the same kind of humour that I do on my own blog.

                  Now allow me to quote what you said that I originally responded to:

                  To someone who has been reading Dean’s blog for years, the lack of understanding by some of the commenters here is scary. There, but for the grace of Dean’s blog, go I. HA!

                  If this is intended as humour, it misses its mark. First, it is not a particularly funny remark. (De gustibus and all that; but one learns, after a time in this business, what kind of things most people will laugh at and what kind of things they won’t, and I find that the passage cited falls in the second category.)

                  Second, coming at the tail end of a long, serious, and sober conversation about writing methods and techniques among many interlocutors, it appears in a context that encourages one to take it in earnest. It would take a more obvious joke than that to break the mood and establish that a humorous effect is intended.

                  Adding ‘HA!’ at the end does not help, but hinders: it comes across as an interjection of triumph and contempt, like ‘Gotcha!’ or ‘So there!’ I have never, in forty-six years’ experience as a reader, known a humorist to signal that he was joking by writing ‘HA!’ at the end.

                  If I employ a sarcastic and sometimes abrasive form of humour on my own blog, that sets a tone for discussion there; and if you had responded to me in the same vein there, I would have had no grounds for complaint. But this is not my blog, and we were not joking here. There was no reason why I should suppose your remark to be anything but a dead earnest attack on the generality of Passive Guy’s commenters.

                  I worry that ten years from now people will still be crippled by the same “myths”. That they won’t learn and grow as they publish. That they will ultimately delete their books from the system rather than build up a body of work, even if it’s just a trickle of books every year.

                  This may be so; but it is no solution to build up a contrary myth. Dean Wesley Smith does not explicitly state this myth, but so many of his followers have repeated it almost verbatim that I must lay some responsibility upon him for expressing himself in a way that is liable to be misunderstood.

                  The contrary myth is this: Writing fast is everything. If you don’t write a million words a year, you are lazy, and you are certain to fail in the marketplace, and you deserve to fail. ‘Anon’ above, you will notice, attacked me precisely because I do not write fast enough to impress him, and concluded from that (without, as far as I can tell, actually reading any of my work) that because I write slowly, I write badly. That does not follow.

                  Nobody needs to write a dozen books a year. The thing may be possible; but it is unlikely to produce memorable work. Some of the world’s best literature has been written quickly, and some slowly; but none of it has been written by self-styled pulpsters who prided themselves entirely on their speed, except for the plays of Lope de Vega. (And those are very repetitive; most are forgotten by everyone except literary historians and Lope completists.) Shakespeare did not write a million words a year, nor Twain, nor Dickens, nor even Asimov. Most of the pulp writers didn’t write a million words a year. Hugh Howey may have written Wool in seven days, but he did not go on writing a novel every week; he would soon have run out of sufficiently developed ideas. Ray Bradbury was renowned for being a prolific short-story writer, and he generally wrote one short story per week – less as he grew older. ‘Pulp speed’ is a chimaera.

                  The late Frederik Pohl observed that any jackleg typist can manage 75 words a minute, at which speed a person could write two novels a week without working overtime. But as he then pointed out, no writers write two novels a week; and so clearly there is some other process involved. He suggested that the name of that process is thinking. Some books can be written with little thought, and some require much thought. There is no necessary correlation between the mere time spent thinking and the quality of the output; but that also means there is no negative correlation. To spend less time thinking does not automatically improve your work.

                  Therefore I shall go on writing as fast as I can, and no faster; and if people spout arrant nonsense about how anyone who does not write at ‘pulp speed’ will inevitably fail, I shall go on pointing out that they are wrong.

                • Tom,

                  Because less is more. Right? Hold your stories in, outline, ruminate, and plot; polish words to death with your precious thinker. Grind away those interesting facets of original thought. Allow your careful criticism to win out and change things endlessly so as to oppress your inner child who only wants to share fun, new stories with people. Choose a trickle of work and live under a special, personal unhappiness.

                  Doesn’t sound productive or pleasant to me. Sounds anal retentive, like donkey work made up by some middle manager to keep his thumb firmly on his peons.

                  How do I know you do this? Because long before we tangled emotions, back when I suggested you be nice, I had already read your George Lucas fluff like you wanted. GL’s a rich idiot, so an easy target for you to say he needed to work harder. That in no way means the rest of us need to work that painstakingly to get good results.

                  So. You defined your school’s terms and aggressively opposed them to allynh’s views, whom happens to enjoy Smith’s advice, who you diametrically oppose. I decided you are not Smith’s equal in fiction or essay. I picked up the battle flag and attacked. That’s why I replied only to you, you drew me in. No one else in this thread asked for an argument. Admit that’s what you wanted.

                  Anyway, I’m done with you, Crotchet. Got more important fish to lure. Good luck with your process, because you are a lost cause for new ideas. Stick to your dogma. Sleepwalk and genuflect in the gloom to your harsh god. Pray. You will need his terrible blessing to let any wonderful thing escape.

                  The rest of us who don’t listen to pompous and tedious overlords will be free, out in the sun and fields, singing story after story like silly idiots with smiles from ear to ear.

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