The Stories We Don’t Tell

I am reading a couple more recent editions of some older series. The George Smiley books by John le Carre and the 87th Precinct novels by Ed McBain. Both of these editions of newer forwards by the authors and they tell their own story. I am almost more excited for the introductions as I am the books themselves. It is fun to read.

I do have to say that Ed McBain or Evan Hunter is the least modest writer in his forwards and it is refreshing. We think of art as a struggle and how it must be difficult and take a tremendous amount of time. We think of authors that release a book a year as ones the work quickly, but McBain mentions in his forward that it takes him about a month to write an 87th Precinct novel, and when you think about it it makes a lot of sense.

On a good night I can pound out close to 500 words in these ten minutes. On a bad night like tonight when I am stopping to look things up and my fingers just aren’t hitting their strokes it is about 350. Now you think about a professional writer writing for a living and hitting down 500 words or more every ten minutes of 3,000 an hour and working a full eight hour day. That is 24,000 words a day. At just over 200 pages an 87th Precinct novel is around 50,000 words.

You work in that editing and storyboarding and all the stuff that goes in to getting a novel from draft to completion and yeah a full time writer can easily pop off a novel a month if they can get in a good flow often enough, and that is if they work eight hours a day.

That would be considered unprecedented speed. We think of the book a year authors as quick workers. The problem is we don’t think of art and work as the same thing. We think of art in the terms of a flurry of inspiration and then a struggle to pull it out and a writer struggling with each sentence to get the exact right words in, but, man, if they got those days where the keyboard stroked they could pound out some pages.

Sometimes you just have to put your back into it and realize, perhaps, that thing we all think is so difficult ain’t that difficult after all. At least to the ones that can get in the zone.

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