The New York Times recently published an article on how writers are having to speed up to feed the ravenous book market. But good work takes time and this week, Kirsty Logan wonders whether we should be slowing down instead…
You, wannabe writer! What are you doing reading this? Get back to your laptop and keep bashing out the next Great British Novel. Time's a-wastin', and you haven't got long left…
The New York Times assures us that even established, bestselling writers like Lisa Scottoline and Lee Child now have to publish two novels a year – or more – just to keep afloat. Apparently, these authors fear that, "if they stay out of the fickle book market too long, they might be forgotten." So what does this mean for young artists?
I don't know about you, but I'm already feeling the pinch of panic. I don't even have one book, never mind two per year. And I'll admit it: I'm impatient. I want it now now now. I want a publisher and I want a novel and I want to win the Orange Prize and I want to sell a bajillion copies and have my smug face on the cover of Poets & Writers. And I want it next week, please.
When I was 16, I was sure I was going to have a novel published by the time I was 18. Then it was 20. Then 25. Now I'm 28 and clutching at the dream of being published when I'm 30 – but even that is looking ever closer. Maybe I'm better off dreaming of a book by 35. Or 40. In the publishing world 40 is still young, right?
We’re constantly told that the world is moving faster; that we have to speed up on the treadmill or get left behind. But creativity doesn't work like that. To produce good work we have to think, and thinking can't be rushed. In a few years, will anyone care that it only took you two months to write your first novel or record your first album or produce your first exhibition? Will anyone care that you did it all by 23 and then sank under the weight of your own exhaustion?
The only way you'll be remembered is if what you produce is good. And good art takes time.
Articles like the one in the New York Times focus us in the wrong direction (and by “us”, I really mean “me”, but I hope that I'm not the only neurotic one around here). Instead of always looking over the next horizon, we should be thinking of that old Zen chestnut about living fully in the moment. What matters is this project, the one you're working on now. You don't need to have it finished tomorrow or next week or even next year; you need to finish it when it's ready. Slow down. Take your time. Think. Forget about all your artist friends tweeting about how they've managed to write a novella and paint ten canvases and direct a short film and win a national award before lunch. Forget about wanting to be established before you're 25. Forget about rushing work that's not ready.
What's more important: to do it fast, or do it right? The more the world tells me that I need to do it faster, the more I want to slow down and do it right.
… on procrastination
… on isolation
Sign up to IdeasTap for advice, funding, opportunities and our weekly newsletter – with all the latest arts jobs.