For some reason, it seems perfectly acceptable — hell, expected — for a writer to spend years bleeding over a manuscript. Why? Because writers are artists, and you can’t rush art. On top of that, if you’re a writer who can crank out several novels in a year — and yes, there are lots and lots of writers who do this — you’re considered a hack.
This is not a new lament. And for the most part, we all know that in this day and age, if you want to make it as a writer professionally, you need to have the habits of a hack and not an artist. It makes sense, doesn’t it? The more you write, the more projects you finish, the more “product” you have to sell, the more chances you have at earning income, the more chances you have to be read, the more money you make, the more food you get to eat ultimately, right?
You’re thinking, “Ew. She called it ‘product.’ She went and used the M word. This is not about money. This is about my art. It has to be perfect. This is my soul. I want to make sure I don’t put something out there that shows my ass hanging out.”*
So what got me thinking about speed was my brother, who is a working artist. He does character design for a gaming company. He’s got a good job that pays the bills, but that’s not his focus. Instead, he’s constantly working on new stuff, trying to identify and develop new skills, really trying to stretch himself. He does this during his lunch hour and after work.
One of the things he’s been working on is his speed. He keeps track of how long it takes for him to produce a sketch. He says he knows so many talented artists that spend so much time in the planning stages for a piece, deciding on their color palette, figuring out their composition layout, trying to plan out every aspect for some intensely-imagined drawing…and they never finish anything. So he figured, hell, let me focus on just getting more stuff done, and hopefully, I’ll get better.
Think about a daily cartoon artist or a graphic novel artist. They’re not spending days on each panel. They’ve got deadlines. They need to be able to draw their character quickly, artfully, in the way they intend for them to be rendered without thinking…not reinvent them every time they sit down at their desk. That’s called skill.
This, to me, is the mark of a true artist. Not only that, my brother’s making himself ready. Ready for what, you ask? Ready for anything. When opportunity comes knocking on his door, he’s got an impressive body of work to show as a representative of what he’s capable of. Nobody puts in unfinished pieces in their portfolio…and if they do, it’s doesn’t make a good impression.
When I attended the screenwriting program at UCLA, one of the things they stressed, stressed, stressed is that you build up a body of work. You can write the neatest, most inspired screenplay ever written by a mortal, show it to an agent, and invariably, they will say, “Great. What else do you have?” You’ve got to be ready. You want to be asked that question, just so you can pull out your little Fossil messenger bag and say, “Lots. Are you ready?”
So let’s be honest. If an editor were to call you up today and ask you what you have to show them, would you be ready? If not, don’t despair. Tune in next time to find out how you can go from the speed of art to the speed of a working writer.
[Cue in organ music, smile…5…4…3…2…1…and that’s a wrap].**
* We used to get young ladies come into our bar and perch themselves on a barstool, much to the delight and chagrin of other customers. Low-riders and thong undies with a little bow on the back. You get the picture. And often, we’d see other, more modest young ladies politely approach said offender and inform them in a slightly embarrassed whisper, “Your underwear’s showing.” I always loved it when they answered, “Yeah, I know.”
So get brash. Don’t be afraid. The only breath you’re guaranteed is the one you just took. Don’t worry about your ass hanging out. Chances are, it’s hung out before and no one had the guts to tell you then. Just make sure you’ve got a bow on it. 😉
** I try and try (maybe a little), but the cheese cannot be suppressed.