How Hurry Kills Good Books

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1Today’s guest post is by Blake Atwood.

The Tyranny of Hurry in Writing and Publishing: A Plea for Patient Writing

In Story, Robert McKee’s modern classic on storytelling, he says what I believe many writers—and especially self-publishers—need to hear: “Too many struggling writers never suspect that the creation of a fine screenplay is as difficult as the creation of a symphony, and in some ways more so.”

Though composing a screenplay differs from writing a novel in significant ways, what McKee prescribes holds true for creators of all kinds. To do good work—even great work—we ought to be more patient with ourselves and our creations.

The tyranny of hurry has hurt more books than it has helped. Why? The ever-churning, swirling tide of commercialism and technology keeps pushing us into an inescapable vortex of “more, more, more, now, now, now.” We’ve gone overboard for quantity over quality. For writers today, and particularly those seeking to establish careers as self-published authors, we’ve unintentionally stolen the tenured professor’s mantra: publish or perish.

It would be too easy to blame blogging, social media, email and our other forms of shortened communication avenues for our culture of hurry. While I’m certain they bear some responsibility, they are not the final arbiters of how we as writers ought to use our time. They provide (sometimes necessary) distraction, but the way we communicate through those modes shouldn’t replace the carefully considered, thoughtfully worded ideas and stories we relay through our books.

It’s my fear that the astounding ease-of-access self-publishing has granted to all writers has caused us to go mad with hurry. We rush “product” out of our digital doors and into the wide arms of the waiting world so we can validate ourselves as writers. We may take part in Nanowrimo, pat ourselves on the back for writing 50,000 words in thirty days, then publish that slush pile of words the very next month. We may be able to get away with a hurried first draft, but rushing any other part of the process is a blueprint for poor sales and insecurity as a writer.

We may go from manuscript to published book without a single other soul having read our words—one of the most dangerous games you can play when it comes to publishing. (Everyone needs an editor.) We write and write and write, thinking we’re telling a compelling story, yet we fail to realize that the only reason the story is compelling is because it’s our story. (Some writers need a developmental editor.) We refrain from letting those close to us read our words in fear that they’ll reject us in some way, but we have no qualms about releasing our words to the wider, faceless public.

To be blunt, don’t do this.

Don’t let the allure of an Amazon author page detract you from producing your best possible book.

Don’t allow the naive illusion of making millions cause you to rush your publishing schedule.

Don’t permit your ego to outvote the feeling that your book isn’t quite ready.

Don’t bow down to external pressures when your internal barometer keeps wavering.

Essentially, don’t rush what represents so much of you. Like the finest of wines, your book may need to rest for a significant period before it’s uncorked for mass consumption.

McKee goes on to say, “Given the choice between trivial material brilliantly told versus profound material badly told, the audience will always choose the trivial told brilliantly.” When a writer makes an effective use of their time to properly build their book, they can make even the most mundane seem sublime simply by the art of their craft. Sometimes finding the right word may take days, months or even years. Sometimes a book requires its author to live a little longer before unlocking itself. Sometimes, as Austin Kleon writes, “Creative people need time just to sit around and do nothing.”

Your book doesn’t have to be a masterpiece so long as it’s an honest effort on your part to produce something that helps or entertains another person. Your book doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be produced with patient professionalism. Your book doesn’t have to be written in thirty days, ninety days or five years. However, long it takes to write a polished version of your book is how long it will take you to write a polished version of your book.

But there’s a fine line between patience and perfectionism. Creators and writers know their works will never be 100 percent perfect, but they have to know when their work is ready to ship. Unfortunately, there’s no set formula to know when that time is right. It’s more a feeling than anything else, but it does seem to be more clearly felt the more often a creator has to cross that threshold. In other words, there’s a particular moment in time when you may have to exercise a quick reflex in order to pull the trigger finally on publishing your book. (Even then, marketing begins—another ongoing process where it literally pays to be patient).

In Journal of a Novel, one of my favorite books about writing, John Steinbeck says, “You can’t train for something all your life and then have it fall short because you are hurrying to get it finished.”

He knew a thing or two about the writing life. We would do well to remember—and slowly act upon—his words.

Have you ever hurried part of your writing or publishing process? What was the result?

12-1-14 BlakeThis article is an adapted excerpt from Don’t Fear the Reaper: Why Every Author Needs an Editor, now available on Kindle for $0.99. Blake Atwood is an author, editor, and ghostwriter with





Frances Candid Shot 12-5-13About the Author: Frances Caballo is an author and social media strategist and manager for writers. You can receive a free copy of her book Twitter Just for Writers by Clicking Here. Connect with Frances on FacebookTwitterLinkedInPinterest, and Google+.

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  1. Nice post, Blake. I’m a big McKee fan as well. You capture the essential issue when comparing the urge to be the Very Best with knowing when its Time To Ship. I’m also a big fan of Dean Wesley Smith, who’s a strong advocate for erring on the side of shipping….

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