Thursday, October 4, 2012

Are Literary Masterpieces Still Possible in the Digital Age?

The release of J.K. Rowling’s first book for adults last week got me thinking about writerly work habits in the digital age. I haven’t read her new book yet, and I’m not going to get into what people are saying about it. I just want to talk about how it was written.
Not that I know for sure, of course, but it’s been five years since the final Harry Potter book came out, and one assumes that she spent most of that time working on this new one. After all, according to the popular mythology, Rowling took between five and seven years to develop her concept and then start writing the first Harry Potter book. This fact gets cited often as proof of how hard she worked to create an unprecedentedly successful book. In other words, it weren’t no accident.

You know it's got to be good cuz it's huge!
I’m sure editors mention this time investment because they probably get very, very tired of the slapdashery of novice writers who flood their inboxes with first drafts. But working tirelessly for years on a single book—or worse, spending that amount of time on plotting SEVEN books when you haven’t even sold the first one yet?

I doubt many agents would encourage anyone to do this nowadays.

And if they did, there aren’t many professional writers who could afford to do it, because even if there were such writers, at the end of the day, your book might not succeed and then you'd have wasted all that time. Because sometimes more time = your book has wandered way, way off into the wilderness and has turned into a mountain man who is all shaggy and feral and definitely NOT good company.

But the bigger question is, does anyone work like that anymore? These days, does anyone take an idea and incubate it for years upon years before attempting to get it published? Or is that kind of investment gone the way of the fax machine?

Again, I don’t believe that more time necessarily produces a masterpiece, but it sure doesn’t hurt.  

What I think is that the hunger to be published can ruin your chance to write something truly special, and maybe the ONLY opportunity you have to do something like this—ie., take years and years to perfect a single idea—is BEFORE you get published. Not after. So take advantage of your time now, while you can still afford to be great.