at both extremes on quality vs. speed

It was interesting this week, because everybody seems to be thinking about the same question: writing quality vs. writing speed.
  1. Sonje Jones wrote a blog post called "Must. Force. Self. To edit." which is about the question of whether she should edit her novel (the first on a series of four detective novels) one more time or just put it out. (I voted for putting it out immediately for a purely selfish reason: I'm impatient to read it.)
  2. Stephen Watkins wrote a post called "Quality vs. Speed."
  3. Emerald Barnes had a quest post by Christine Verstraete called "Writing and Taking Time to Enjoy It"

This isn't a question I've thought about a lot, and reading these posts made me realize two things.

One is that fiction writers only have to face this on a pretty low level. The writers who really some up against the "quality versus speed" question are the ones who write for newspapers. I remember reading about the legendary writer and editor at the New York Times R. W. Apple, Jr. He was legendary for two things, one of which was his extreme enthusiasm for prodigious amounts of good food and drink (and his correspondingly extreme expense account). But more importantly he was legendary for the speed and quality of his writing.

On September 11, 2001, in the middle of the day, the editor at the Times realized that they would need something for the next day's edition beyond the details of what happened: a "think piece" about the events of that morning, their possible causes and their possible implications. Not an easy thing to put together a few hours after the fact, but necessary. The story was assigned to Apple, with a 6pm deadline. He turned it in on time, and it was, as usual, letter perfect, ready for print. The editor said later that any other writer on the paper would have got it in at least 45 minutes late, and it would have needed work.

Compared to that, any "quality versus speed" dilemma fiction writers face seems pretty solvable.

The other thing I thought about was that I occupy two very extreme positions on this question, at opposite ends of the spectrum.

On one hand, when I'm writing a serial, I work very quickly. I handwrote most of part six of Stevie One on Thursday. I typed up the first half on Friday, and since then I've edited it about five or six times (some on paper, some on the Kindle) and it's online now. You can read it here. I don't think I've sacrificed quality to speed, because I think you write differently when you know it's about to be public, as I talked about in a post called "The Deadline Wakes You Up." Of course, I had some sort of plan going into the chapter, which I followed only loosely, and I had a few really nice bits I was going to include, none of which made it in.

But, at the other extreme, I've found that books take me fifteen years to get right. That's how long A Sane Woman took, and that's how long U-town took. I would like to have an e-book out now, but if it takes until 2025, that's fine, if that's how long it takes to get it right.

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