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I get asked a lot about how Scott manages to write as fast as he does. I guess people are too frightened to ask him. Or something.
I wonder about how fast Scott writes, too. But then I look at how many books Meg Cabot has out every year (by my count around five) and I wonder how come he writes so slow.
Here’s the background on the nine books he’ll have published from March 2004 to September 2006:
He started the first Midnighters book in early 2002. He’s since written books 2 & 3 of the Midnighters trilogy, So Yesterday, the three Uglies books, Peeps, The Last Days (which is my fave) and is well on his way with the first Leviathan book. That’s nine plus books in four and a bit years. Not quite as fast as the publishing schedule makes it look, but still plenty fast.
For comparison: during that time I’ve written four books—Magic or Madness, Magic Lessons and Magic’s Child (and I’m still rewriting), plus another book that didn’t work out—I’m also halfway through another one, and I’ve edited Daughters of Earth. Many would say that’s a decent output, but in that time Scott’s written five more books than I have. Five! (And, no, I’m not going to figure out how many books Meg Cabot published during that time.)
But he’s also been sick more often than me. Lots more and lots worse (shingles, anyone?). Writing that fast and that diligently—Scott, like Meg Cabot, writes really good books—isn’t sustainable. It broke his brain and his body. He’s on the mend now, and has a much less gruelling schedule ahead: only one book a year.
The problem is that when you write three or more books a year you never have time for anything else. You turn in the draft of one book and immediately have to turn to rewrites on another, then to checking copyedits, or page proofs on yet another. There’s never ever a break and eventually your brain blows up. (I’d love to know how Meg Cabot does it. Maybe she has clones.)
On the other hand, he could be making a living doing—I don’t know—pretty much anything else. Writing, afterall, is (mostly, or at least, sometimes) fun. Not to mention that Scott’s previous gruelling schedule is how come he’s now able to afford to write just one book a year (and under his own name too). Lots of gruel first before you can live a life of non-gruel. (If you’re lucky, that is.)
Writing fast, it turns out, can be amazing for your career. Having all those books out so fast is what made Scott a name in Young Adult lit land so quickly. If you have a bunch of books out every year your name is less likely to disappear off the face of the earth.
It’s why I plan to up my own productivity to two novels a year. You know, if I can actually write that fast and still produce words that hang together okay, which, obviously, remains to be seen. Not many people can. Writing fast isn’t a necessary ingredient for being a good writer. But it can help if you want to make a living as a writer.
Wish me luck!
Posted by Justine at 0:02, 9 July 2006 under Scott's books, Writing life | 17 Comments »
E. Lockhart Says:
Interesting. I was just thinking about my own pace yesterday — a deadline every six months for the past two years, which is too much for me and I need to go slower or I will get sick.
am missing drinks night this month
hope your deadline goes well
July 9th, 2006 at 7:15 AM
2. Justine Says:
It really is no joke that if you write faster than you’re able you’ll wind up in crap physical shape. So be careful!
On the other hand, like Scott, you’re arriving in the land of YA with a big buzz because of so many high quality books—Boyfriend List, Fly on the World, The Boy Book—coming out in such a short time (I can’t wait for your theatre one!). If you can keep it up just a big longer you’ll be set and able to take it a bit easier.
Any advice on how to keep up a six monthly deadline without dying?
Do you have any idea how Meg Cabot writes all the books she does?
I’ll hoist a drink on your behalf!
July 9th, 2006 at 11:21 AM
I’ve got YA books coming out – one early next year, one i’m just finishing writing (due for release end of 2007 or maybe early 2008) and the third the year after that.
I don’t know if it’s REQUIRED to have a dozen books with my name on it crowding the shelves before anything can be called a “buzz”… but speaking for myself I tend to do “some” research even when I’m writing straight-off-the-top-of-my-head YA fantasy which means that I simply cannot produce two or three books a year. ALl right, my megabook’s two hundred thousand words were written in less than four months – but “Jin Shei” was a fluke and not the norm. I don’t know if I’ll ever write anything that fast again.
I guess I’m doomed – oblivion awaits – unless I can produce something every year which is sufficiently interesting to a section of the reading public that the level of interest and the name recognition factor don’t just fade away into the sunset under the weight of all the other competing volumes flying out of the publishers like a flock of startled doves (how’s that for a metaphor that isn’t just mixed, it’s shaken AND stirred…)
I’ve got your #1 sitting on my to-be-read pile, haven’t got around to that yet, I haven’t read ANY of Scott’s – there’s *too much to read*!!! WHen Christmas comes around, I want a barrel full of extra hours which I can insert into my days as needed…
July 9th, 2006 at 1:03 PM
4. Justine Says:
You’re not doomed. There are plenty of VERY successful YA writers—Libba Bray, Holly Black, Jeanne Duprau, Phillip Pullman, just to name a few—who write one-a-year or slower very successfully, indeed, thank you very much. There’s not one model for success. Thank Elvis! The Scotts and Meg Cabots of this world are the exception, not the rule.
Success can be a long time coming. Scott’s first bestseller was his 13th book (under his own name). Other writers have successful careers (ie they can support themselves comfortably) without ever having an official bestseller. Very often slow and steady does win the race. (Not that it’s a race!)
I’m just thinking aloud based on watching Scott’s career and seeing that three books a year can creates excellent buzz (but also make you sick!)
Thing is I have no idea how fast I can write without destroying my health. I’ve only been freelance since 2003 and had a bunch of legacy stuff from my academic career to get through (most notably Daughters) before I could become an all-novel-writing writer. So now’s the time I find out how fast (or slow) I can do it.
I suspect that two YAs a year will be the very fastest I can go. But I want to write other books, too. How to fit them in and pay the bills? Ah, well, we’ll see.
You wrote Jin Shei in less than four months?! Wow!
July 9th, 2006 at 1:22 PM
“Jin shei”… was an interesting book, shall we say. It basically came out of the woodwork and mugged me.
And right now, not counting next year and the book I’m just finishing (#2 in the YA series) I have another book under contract which is coming out the year after that, so I’ve got the book-a-year angle covered, for now. There’s another project in the works which I can’t really say much about right now, but it’s rolling like thunder, and that might take care of the year after that. Afterwards… I have ideas, I do, I can probably keep ‘em coming.
What I need to do is figure out how you guys have done what you’ve done, and start a blog buzz about the YA [grin]
July 9th, 2006 at 2:26 PM
hehe. nanowrimo, anyone? and also- good luck! one month out of the year, i dump aside everything i possibly can (i.e. everything except school) and crank out everything i’m physically capable of, because the rest of the year, i’ll be lucky to make twenty minutes in a day, not to mention the dry spells. i guess if my meals were depending on it, i could write more. but last year i really did make myself sick (and a chronic skipper of classes), and i didn’t even have anything like official deadlines or contracts to worry about. eep! i am in awe of you, all of you, who make your living by writing books. someday i hope i’ll join your ranks.
July 9th, 2006 at 4:11 PM
i am terrified that i have three books to write in the next year (even though one is nearly finished, and the other two will be quite short), as well as working full time four days a week.
oh well. i am young…
July 9th, 2006 at 8:02 PM
Darice Moore Says:
I’m rooting for the two-books/year to work out, for purely selfish reasons (more books for meeeeeeee)!
I can’t speak from published experience, but I’ve found that I write fast, but rewrite slowly. I guess it’s all down to whatever rhythm works best for each writer.
July 9th, 2006 at 9:23 PM
Danny Yee Says:
I’ve always been skeptical of anyone’s ability to write more than one (good) book a year (and sustain that level of output), but maybe shorter children’s novels are an exception.
July 10th, 2006 at 2:50 AM
Meg Cabot, and I say this with the caveat that I grab her books off the shelf as fast as she writes them (Every Boy’s Got One So much love–!) is writing Very Easy Books.
Seriously? No worldbuilding required. Basic Plot elements? Not merely standard, but expected. Vary them, even for True Art and your readership will be Well and Truly Torqued Off.
The marvelous Mr. Westerfeld is doing phenomenal worldbuilding plus up-ending cliche’s and all the other stuff that demanding SF/spec. fic writers require in addition to solid characterization and page-turnable plots, etc. etc. etc.
If I ever meet the man, I’ll genuflect “I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy”.
I haven’t yet read a Westerfeld that hasn’t impressed me, and only two (questionable moral center) that I didn’t like.
July 10th, 2006 at 4:57 AM
maureen johnson Says:
Oh, never count the Meg Cabot books. I did that for a while, and every time I did, I’d have to go sit on the sofa and breathe into a paper bag.
I’m slow too. So slow. I feel like it’s all going very, very fast. I’ve written six since about early/mid 2002. (One was a sneaky one, under another name. That one went REALLY fast. I’m sure you know how that goes.)
But I think it depends. I have one book that’s been in the works for five years, so to do a draft in four months feels impossibly, insanely fast.
But I agree. I think it ends up being good for you. And I’m actively thrilled, as I sit here setting up my desk in England and get ready to start a few weeks of knuckle-down work) that someone else is having these thoughts. Does anyone else occasionally suffer from, oh I don’t know, a mind that wanders a little?
July 10th, 2006 at 5:07 AM
Chris S. Says:
Luck, luck, luck!
Don’t forget, Meg Cabot got Lyme disease, and was essentially bedridden for the better part of a year.
Books good: Lyme disease (shingles, stark raving insanity) bad.
July 10th, 2006 at 12:06 PM
Margaret C. Says:
I wrote a draft in 3 months, but look at me 3 months after that, still recharging. And the thought of rewriting makes me want to CHUNDER! (Did I use the word correctly, J?)
But I’m a newbie still. No agent, no contract, no official deadline. So I’ve got time to work out the kinks. And it’s nice to hear that everyone’s in the same boat. (I like our boat!)
July 10th, 2006 at 6:08 PM
14. Justine Says:
Lili: But will you remain young on such a schedule?!
Danny Yee: Of course it depends on the book, but you shouldn’t be suspicious of one-book-a-year writers. There are lots of excellent ones. If they’re a full time writer they’ve got twelve whole months. Oodles of time! It’s more than one a year where I reckon it gets tricky.
Carbonelle: Harsh! A lot of writing that looks easy like say, Meg Cabot’s books, can be really hard. Getting comedy to work no matter how formulaic it might look—tricky, tricky, tricky. And Cabot does it awesomely well.
Plus world building’s a piece of piss—it’s getting your characters to walk across a room and out the door that’s truly hard.
Maureen: I can’t help but count them in a state of total awe. All the ones I’ve read have been so polished. How does she do that at that speed? How is it even possible?
I still have no idea whether I’m fast or slow. Each book has been so different, which prolly means striving for two books a year may be a bad idea. If only I could write them first and then sell them . . .
I, too, have a book I’ve been working on and off on for many, many, many years. (Way more than five.)
A mind that wanders? I have no idea what you’re talking about.
Chris S.: Lyme disease? I thought you got that from ticks?
Maybe the bedriddenness was how she was able to write so fast?
Yup, I shall say not to shingles, lyme disease and stark raving insanity.
Margaret C.: Yeah, first drafts are for many writers—including me—the easy quick part. I wrote the first draft of MorM in about eight weeks. The rewrites were all done many moths later.
You’re dead right the beauty of your position is that you have all the time you need to get it right. An excellent boat to be in!
July 11th, 2006 at 11:55 PM
you must be joking. it can’t be as easy to right meg cabote books as it is to write scott westerfiedl books.
July 12th, 2006 at 2:38 PM
Little Willow Says:
you’ll do well. quality is more important than quantity.
July 13th, 2006 at 11:40 PM
Personally I prefer for my favorite authors to be KIND to themselves, and I would rather wait longer for a really amazing book that the author feels great about than a few just ‘okay’ books. I stopped reading Meg Cabots books a while ago because they came out so fast and the content seemed less…well, good. The plots became focus on one small thing that was drawn out for way too long.
Scott is amazing that he managed to pump out so many wonderful books in a year, but he definitely deserves a rest. Just my thoughts.
July 15th, 2006 at 1:57 PM
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