What I’m about to say might seem like a no-brainer to writers, but I’ve got a hunch that for some readers it’s going to be fresh news:
Writers can’t create in a vacuum.
Time and tools are not enough to create good fiction. Writers need input if they are to create meaningful output, and let me give you a personal example. The other day I went to an orchestral concert. I could have been writing. I’m currently ‘in the zone’ and story is falling out of me, so it was a wrench to pull myself away from that and be out among people, but now that I’m living in regional Queensland orchestral concerts are few and far between – it’s go now or wait a month.
So I deliberately got there late to miss the milling around at the beginning, but I still had to suffer intermission, and that was jarring. When you’ve dragged yourself away from a fantasy world, a roomful of ‘normal’ people feels like being in an aviary of chattering lorikeets, and none of the conversation you overhear seems pertinent. I’ve got an entire empire hanging by a thread and the people next to me in the coffee line are complaining about the price of fuel. My fault, not theirs. So I try to focus on being an observer (always a good fallback for writers who are still half in their own world) and resume my seat as soon as I can, because I know it’s worth it to hear the music.
For those who don’t attend concerts, let me assure you there’s something magical about being in a auditorium of live music where you can actually feel the swell and grumble of it vibrating through your chest. You experience it kinaesthetically as well as aurally, and I love that. Then there’s the emotional reaction. The Bundaberg Symphony Orchestra played Louis Armstrong’s “It’s a Wonderful World” and I welled up. I love that song, but hearing it played through me triggered tears, and there’s more than a momentary emotional reaction happening here. When I close my eyes and let the music swirl around me and through me I can feel the creative tank I draw from filling up. Exactly the same thing happens, to a more limited degree, every afternoon when I walk along the esplanade and hear the waves crashing onto volcanic rocks and smell the salt spray. It fills me up somehow.
Jennifer Cruisie calls it “feeding the girls in the basement”. Anything that creates an emotional reaction fills that tank, and not just happy things. Some of my strongest emotional moments have come from pain, the tragic death of a parent or holding your friend’s hand while they cry. It’s all emotion, and writers need that input, they need to fill the tank because if they don’t they’ve only got dust to draw on when they’re trying to animate their characters. I’m completely convinced that when writers get impossible deadlines and they have to put their lives on hold to concentrate solely on output, their work suffers. In fact, I wish I had a dollar for every time I’d heard a reader complaining that an author they loved is just “churning books out” and the quality is suffering. There will always be exceptions to every rule: writers like Nora Roberts are prolific, satisfy readers and seem to do nothing but write! The rest of us, however, need to take time to ensure our creative tanks are full. Unfortunately when authors do that, they’re sometimes the brunt of reader dissatisfaction for taking too long to deliver.
Guy Gavriel Kay discusses this in his 2009 article: Restless Readers go Bonkers where he relates fantasy author George R.R. Martin’s problem of readers not wanting him to have a life: George R. R. Martin is the hugely successful purveyor of an ongoing, seven-volume fantasy series called A Song of Ice and Fire. Four books are done. The first three came quickly, then there was a five-year wait for the fourth. The first indicated publication date for the fifth installment, fiercely awaited, was 2006. That has rather obviously been missed: Martin is still writing it. The natives are restless… Seems some of his loyal and devoted readers are savagely attacking him for taking holidays, for watching football in the fall, for attending conventions, doing workshops, editing a volume of short stories, even for being “sixty years old and fat” … the implication being he might drop dead before fulfilling his obligation to do nothing else but finish the damned series.
That fifth novel was recently delivered and readers are more than happy with it, but how long will the satisfaction last if it takes another couple of years to deliver book six? Will readers again complain the moment George walks away from the desk? Unfortunately, the days when writers could lead anonymous lives is over. Publishers push authors to be active across social networking platforms, but even writers who guard their privacy aren’t safe from cyber stalking. Readers can now search across blogs, tweets and Facebook updates for an author’s name to monitor their movements as reported by others, which is downright scary. The upside of social media is that writers are more accessible to readers, the downside is that they’re being made accountable.
How will writers manage that in the future, particularly when eBooks can be processed in a matter of months, as opposed to the 12-18 months it takes to release a print novel? No idea. But one thing I do know, despite reader expectation: Input is vital for most writers to produce quality.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. As a reader, do you get frustrated waiting for authors to deliver books? As a writer, how to do ‘fill the tank’?