Monday, February 9, 2009

What do Newman, Berry and Deaver Have in Common?

I just returned from Love Is Murder, the outstanding mystery conference held in Chicago. The days were full of informative sessions about the craft of writing.

But buried were a few tidbits that I bet most people glossed over: How hard successful authors work.

Sharan Newman talked about being given 5 months to write one of her books, a non-fiction reference work. Each day she would first care for her mother who has diabetes, and then go to her office and work until the end of the day. That was it. That was the sum and total of her existence.

Steve Berry only quit his full-time law practice last year. He had four attorneys working for him. That was his "regular" job on top of writing a historic thriller a year. Before his first book sold, he trained himself to write a big book a year because he wanted to be with a New York publishing house, producing a book a year. So even BEFORE he had a contract or an opportunity, he wanted the mindset and discipline he knew he'd need to reach his goal.

Jeff Deaver told me he rarely talks about how hard he works. He doesn't come to conferences to rain on people's parades. But he spends 8 to 12 hours a day "in a dark room" working on his books. It takes him 8 months to research a book, BEFORE he begins the actual writing. Then he's on the road 3 months--or as he put it "three months of one hotel after another"--to promote his new work.

All of this is in concert with Malcolm Gladwell's new book Outliers, where he notes it typically takes someone 10,000 years of effort to achieve mastery.

There's a reason Sharan, Steve and Jeff are such successful authors. They've worked hard to achieve their goals. We want to think that success is luck and talent, but it's clear to me that there's a component too easy to dismiss: time spent on one's craft.


Camille Minichino said...

I would say that more than half of my writing students drop out when it dawns on them that you don't sit down and write a book from page 1 to the finish, and then do a quick review!

But one appreciative reader can make it so rewarding -- yesterday at my launch party, a reader corrected me on the color of my character's hair! I mistakenly called my protag. a red-head in our conversation; she gave me scolding look and reminded me what my character looks like. I was forgiven when I told her how many hours I'd been up.

Julie (Chloe's mom said...

Thank you! The hardest thing a writer does is apply butt to chair every day.

Terri Thayer said...

Nice post. It does us well to remember how hard writers work. I'd say more, but I have to go write!

Ellen said...

I don't really have 10,000 years to devote to achieving mastery. Fortunately, I'm a fast learner. Even more fortunately, I have other sources of income.

On the other hand, I'm well along in the project of writing a million words.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Oh, Ellen, you CAUGHT me!

That's 10,000 hours, folks.

Forgive me, I'm a bit tired from the weekend.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

And Camille, you are so right. Most people have no idea how non-linear the process is. Nor how often we must revise and revisit.

Gee, I wonder if Gladwell's 10,000 HOURS excludes marketing expertise. I'd bet it does.

Linda O. Johnston said...

Great post, Joanna! I've never wanted to try to calculate how many hours I spent learning to write, and not even how long it takes me to write and edit a book. It does take a lot of work and dedication--but at least it's a labor of love!

Sarah Jensen said...

Great post Joanne.

My sister in law decided that if I could write, then she could too. I of course encouraged her. It amazed her how much work went into what I did.

The research takes hours and hours. The writing takes research. And then comes the editing.

When she realized that I didn't just sit down and write a novel, that I worked hard for it, she gained a whole new respect for authors in general.

She is still writing, because she caught the bug, but she hasn't completed her novel, like she'd hoped, in a month. :)

I believe that if something is worth having, it's worth working at. It may not be easy, but when you have a completed ms, it's so very worth it!

Thank you again for the post!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

There are two worlds out there.

The world as we wish it were.

And the real one.

You can waste a lot of time, money and effort in the world as we wish it were. (And as an example of this, I had to look up the usage of "was" and "were" with the word "wish." I WISH I could always reliably conjure up the usage, but alas, I cannot. Camille and Ellen, did I do this right?)

Camille Minichino said...

Yes, the conditional mood: were, meaning it isn't!