|Posted on Thursday, April 10, 2003 - 07:03 pm: |
Not so long ago, Stephen King decided to cash in his chips and quit writing. I'm discovering (through a series of unfortunate experiences) that while some writers get better and better as they go along, some simply run out of steam and . . . well, just pretty much suck by the end. I'm not going to name names, but I'm wondering - is it too idealistic for one to think that a writer should know when to "give it up" and then expect that writer to have the cahonies to admit "Yup, I suck. I'm all out of ideas and my writing has become overly formulaic"? Is such an expectation of self-imposed retirement from writing unrealistic, especially if the writer's work has been his or her means of breadmaking for a significant portion of life? I hear some people (on these very boards) rant about how thus-and-such a writer used to be good, but now routinely disappoints. So what do we expect of that writer?
|Posted on Thursday, April 10, 2003 - 08:12 pm: |
To blow his fucking brains out with a Colt .45
|Posted on Thursday, April 10, 2003 - 08:48 pm: |
No, but seriously--how do you know, even through a series of "unfortunate experiences," that said writer hasn't just reached a dry patch.
|Posted on Thursday, April 10, 2003 - 09:07 pm: |
I'll chime in and say I'm not sure you can really expect things from writers. I think it's a bit like expecting things from hermits.
If you think someone's gone off the boil, then you don't have to keep buying their books. But as to whether they should stop writing, I don't really think it's anyone's business but the writer's own. They may be doing it for money - and writing badly isn't the worst thing you can do for money; they may be hoping that they'll come good again; or they may be happy enough with the pleasure writing gives them, even if they're not breaking new ground anymore.
(Jeff - I think the brain could also be neutralised with a rubber-grip rollerball pen, if inserted under the eyeball and through the socket with the right aplomb...)
|Posted on Thursday, April 10, 2003 - 09:23 pm: |
If all writers are like me (not in terms of ability, I mean, but in terms of the simple *need* to write), then they will not be able to stop writing. When they are able to stop writing, they are no longer writers.
I think that a judgment call has to be made - either by the author, recognizing that he or she is not writing so well lately; by the publisher, recognizing the same and refusing to buy the writing until it improves; or by the readers, who will simply stop buying the writer's books until the writer comes out with something worthwhile again.
Right now, I don't see myself as a very good writer. I cannot help but observe that, as far as the English majors in my school go, I'm far and away the best (fiction) writer of the lot. But regardless of the quality or salability of my writing (which is pretty much zero right now), I have to write. I write all the time. Sometimes I'm pleased by what comes out, other times, not so pleased.
If I do get to the level where I become a bestselling author, and then I get to the point where my work declines in quality, that I'll have the balls to stop myself selling it until it improves.
Um . . . I guess my answer to the question is somewhere in there.
|Posted on Thursday, April 10, 2003 - 09:27 pm: |
One could stop publishing, without ceasing to write. I've been trying to figure out a way to stop writing without ceasing to publish, but perhaps that's what Stephen King is doing these days (hence The Green Tommygoleers, The Shine Zoning, Carrie's Knockers, Misery Tower, etc). Anyway, I think this has more to do with publishing than with writing; no one would blame me, for example, for quitting writing, because I don't publish a novel a year. When one is producing regularly, then I think a tacit agreement begins to materialize between author and audience; I give you your annual fix, and you give me my annual mortgage payment. When you write, as I do, only when you (think you) have something to say, then it's more like the writing stops you, than vice-versa. If I'm to have my druthers, I'll die in midsent
|Posted on Friday, April 11, 2003 - 07:26 am: |
Michael, you make a great point with your "tacit agreement" idea - and this is what I'm wondering: Does such an implicit contract exist? Should expectations on the part of an audience dictate the rate at which a writer writes and, if so, can that affect the writer's quality of writing and, if so, ought the author to up and quit and, if so, has the author broken the implicit contract? Please understand that I'm referring specifically to professional writers, not us common folk who write because we "have to" (I'm in this camp as well).
|Posted on Friday, April 11, 2003 - 09:30 am: |
The other thing to consider is what sort of explicit contract exists with said author's publisher. Not only does one book a year set up that expectation from the audience, but also from the people who put the book out on the shelves.
Many publishers put time constraints into their contracts saying that the manuscript must be delivered on such and such a date and the final book out by blah blah blah. It's up to the publisher if they want to stick to that or not. Some publishers do (and they've asked for advance money back from an author when the date is missed) and others don't (they want the book when it's done). I think this relationship can be more important in driving the rate of book writing by an author.
True, the author has to sign the contract and agree to those terms. But what I see happening often is that a lot authors end up with several books in their closet before they sell one. So the publisher signs up the four books or so they've already written and they get these books out at the rate of one a year (thereby creating the tacit/implicit agreement with the audience that this person is going to keep publishing books and also making sure that the public doesn't forget who they are) and then they move on to new material. What happens if it took ten years to write four books? Will the audience be willing to wait two years for the next one?
In my experience, they usually do. We used to get letters in at Tor all the time from people accusing Tor of holding on to Jordan manuscripts and not publishing them. My response was always: "If he wrote one of those books every month, Tor would put out one a month." (which would over-saturate the market and destroy the fan base, but we're talking hypotheticals here) If people like an author, often they'll wait until the next book comes out. Of course, with genre fans, they tend to be better readers, so they aren't waiting for the new Grisham so they can read their book for the year.
So, to speak specifically to your question, if the author decides to quit publishing (as opposed to quit writing [I don't think any writer quits writing, look at Robert R McCammon] which is an important semantic point) when the audience is used to a book every year-and-a-half on average, I think the writer has broken the implicit contract. Which is unfortunate because everyone deserves some time off (we all take vacation away from work, right?) and maybe the writer needs to recharge their creative juices. I'm still waiting for Gary Larson and Bill Watterson to come back. That pissed me off that they decided to call it quits. But it's their decision. They broke their implicit contract with me, but it's what they deemed as best for them. I would think that it's a tough decision for a writer to make.
However, I think in the Stephen King case, there are some published books that we could have skipped and perhaps gotten more years/new books from him going forward into the future. This speaks to the quality issue that you bring up. And I think the poor quality as a result of expected turn-around time for novels is caused more by the publisher than the audience. Hopefully the author feels a sort of responsibility and debt to his fans to provide the best writing of which they are capable. But, when it's the people who are paying your bills (forget King and royalties for a second and let's just focus on advances) you might feel a stronger debt to them and get them the product when they ask, no matter what state it's in. Especially if your contract pays $X on signing, $X on ms delivery of book 1, $X on ms delivery of book 2, $X on hardcover pub of book 1, etc. (this is a great way for published and author to break up $million contracts--less money for the publisher to put out at once, and less money to account for at once by the author)
I don't believe for a second that we'll never see another new Stephen King book (after the Dark Tower), and that's not just wishful thinking on the part of a King fan (I've had a tough time with his work since Misery, and I haven't read anything past Insomnia). I think he will miss it. How many sports figures keep coming back when they stay retired? How many musicians keep having farewell tours? (Rolling Stones anyone? The Who would still have them if most of them weren't dead)
Hoyl crap, I just ranted off into oblivion. Thanks to whomever reads this.
|Posted on Friday, April 11, 2003 - 11:19 am: |
Giving up writing commercially doesn't mean giving up writing for personal fullfillment. We may never see another king book published during his lifetime... or MAYBE he will simply decide to work with small, independent, (west coast based) publishers (who have oustanding message boards), who are willing do do things on his terms, and his timelines...
(I can dream, can't I?)
|Posted on Friday, April 11, 2003 - 04:25 pm: |
Did I mention that "Stephen King" is my pen name? You may have seen some of my work.
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|Posted on Sunday, November 14, 2004 - 04:53 pm: |
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