Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Luxury of Time

by Brian Mullen

This week I had a business trip that required me to be in Cincinnati for a few hours. From my home to the location was five hours and I travelled there and back in the same day. That gave me 10 hours total driving time. I used the opportunity to listen to a new audiobook.

I don't want to name the author or the title but let me say the novel was a recent thriller and the author has several times topped the New York Times Bestseller List. The book I read was the author's 14th book and all of them were written within 12 consecutive years.

Let me also say that as I endeavor to start my own writing career, I have been reading many books on how to write or how not to write. These books routinely list the do's and don'ts of professional writing.

So you can imagine how I felt as I listened to the book and heard virtually every "don't" these books had to offer. From characters who are walking cliches to an overabundance of adverbs to unrealistic dialogue to inaccurate factual data to forced plot points, this book had it all. Every "don't" in the book was well represented. And yet it was published and was, by all accounts, highly successful.

Undoubtedly the fact that this author had previous best sellers helped pave the way for books like this one that are less than stellar to go through the publishing process. Having books meet the arbitrary annual deadlines seems to outweigh the story getting a necessary rewrite in order to produce a high quality product. And that's really a shame. While I understand the monetary aspects of the writing world and acknowledge that, when all is said and done, it's a business like any other, there's something profoundly sad about stories that don't really need to be told getting the spotlight while those more deserving sit in stacks on prospective publishers' desks.

In a way, it's almost self-defeating. When you get talented writers to start cranking out novels without the necessary time investment it takes to make the novels great, the quality of the stories deteriorates. As they deteriorate, the author loses fans. As the author loses fans, the publishing companies lose money. You'd think they'd be more willing, therefore, to give the authors a little more time to ensure a consistently higher quality of product than force their people into mediocrity.

But the forced mediocrity of today's star writers only serves to help usher in new authors. With luck and persistence, maybe some of us will get that redirected spotlight. If only we can take the time to ensure our stories are worthy and our writing does those stories justice - especially now, before we get contracts, while we still have the luxury of time.


Anonymous said...

I, too, feel sad when a potentially great story is not given the proper time to nurture and grow. We'd think it ridiculous with plants: Go, lilac, bloom now! But with people and writing, we seem to feel it's OK.

Joyce Tremel said...

Try not to let it discourage you, Brian. True talent eventually wins out.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Oh, Brian, I'm with you.

Too many aspects of the entertainment industry are like this anymore. It's like the only entertainment we're supposed to get from rushed books, music, and movies is the entertainment of watching the publisher/record label/movie studio get richer.

The best way to fight back is to be more discriminating. I've found some amazing books (and music) because I refused to follow the trends.

Anonymous said...

One way to look at this is to ask yourself what exactly was it about the bad book that obviously appealed to 1.) the publisher and 2.) zillions of readers who bought it. Despite shortcomings (that are often more obvious to other writers than to the average reader) there are definitely reasons why bad books continue to have wide appeal. Story elements? Author name recognition? What's the experience readers receive on every page? Drama? Angst? Thrills? Titllation? The detail of a character's life?

I dunno, but the more I turn off my own emotions about books, the less I enjoy them as a reader---but the smarter I get as a writer. Trade-off? Yeah.