Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Avoiding the assembly line novel

Inside Higher Ed recently spoke about how college students today study an average of 14 hours per week compared to the 24 of their parents. According to an Associated Press poll in 2007, one in four people read absolutely no books. The average person read four books in an entire year. As a writer, you should be striving to tilt that average and raise the statistic. My guess, however, is that the average writer is like the average reader, only using the busy-ness of writing as the excuse to having no time to read.

In other words, people spend less time looking at books. Yet here we are, churning out books like they are soft drinks on an assembly line. Take an empty bottle, fill it, cap it, and send it on its way. Repeat process. Some get drunk, some age out and get tossed in a dumpster or poured down the drain, some are opened and half-consumed, ultimately going flat.

If we are studying less, we are less knowledgeable about writing. And if we are reading less, we are less qualified to write books. Our writing means less, sucks more.

Writing isn't just about slinging words on paper. Reading isn't just about reading news and Facebook on your iPad.

Shut off the world and read. Then shut it off to write. Then shut it off so you can study how to be a better writer. If you say you are too busy, then write for yourself . . . and be happy with that. Just don't try to sling yet another book on the market before you and the story are worthy.

The statistics already show that fewer people are reading and even those are reading fewer books. So instead of inundating the world with another book that won't be read, hold back. Breathe, slow down, read. Study and analyze. Make your book one that the 25 percent who read want to buy . . . and actually finish.


Ellie Garratt said...

Well said!

Sophie Playle said...

Hear hear!

Great post.

(Also unsurprising yet still shocking statistics... if that isn't an oxymoron.)

Jessie Mac said...

This is something I'm guilty of - not reading novels enough. And yes you're right there is no excuse.

I made that same excuse of saying - I'm reading blogs about writing that's reading. But it's not and I know it.

That's why I've cut down writing blog posts to 3 a week and to not go near the computer on the weekends and grab a book instead. It doesn't always happen but I try.

Thanks for the post, Hope - a reminder to me to get reading.

So if 4 books a year is the average - what number should writers be aiming for? I read somewhere that Stephen King reads up to 50 a year (don't quote me on that). What do you think?

Jessie Mac

anjie said...

I wonder how use of the internet factors into these studies. People gather information more quickly and easily these days. Perhaps studying goes faster now in that regard.

They also use internet and TV to avoid kicking back with a good book. :(

Malcolm R. Campbell said...

Just before reading your blog with more nasty stats about reading going into the dumper, two books arrived in the mail. When I start reading, I'll be off in another world, so don't bother calling, writing, texting, emailing, or ringing the doorbell.

I don't know why it's not like this with everyone, or at least, with more people. I see very little in the daily avalanche of tweets, status updates and e-mails that can equal the interest-level in a well-written novel.


Alana said...

You're so right, Hope. Shutting out the world to cultivate your craft (whether through reading, writing, or reading about writing) is essential. Makes me think of the way the samurai people dedicated themselves to a lifelong craft. I need to do some shutting out on a more regular basis--and not feel guilty about it!