An interesting article in the New York Times on the slow productivity rate of certain authors:
Updike and Oates are extreme examples, but there’s something to be said for what might be called the Woody Allen Method: Good times, bad times, you keep making art. Many of your productions will hit; some will miss; some will miss by a lot. But there’s no time for the flatulent gas of pretension to seep into your construction’s sheetrock. This is how Trollope, Balzac and Dickens worked. Each would have agreed with Gore Vidal, who once declared of those who moan about writer’s block: “You’re not meant to be doing this. Plenty more where you came from.”
Contrast this with the more productive writers:
Some novelists may be in revolt against today’s almost militarily mechanized pop writers. Not so long ago a dignified genre writer — a John Grisham, let’s say — was expected to issue a book a year. Now we confront James Patterson, who publishes as many as nine a year; they pop from the chute like Krispy Kremes.
Though of course, the Pattersons are all co-written; he’s more like an imprint than an author.
That aside, it does seem odd that many of us consider long gaps between books to translate roughly into ‘longer time produces better quality books’. There’s wisdom in the fact that, when you bang something out it might not all that good. Presumably there’s an ideal spot between spending time lovingly crafting something and not leaving it so late that your readers have forgotten who you are. You also have to throw in what the prevailing culture is, which defines readers’ expectations – pretty much a book a year (though many authors achieve success by having a glut thrown at the market and their books being in 3 for 2 promos as if this industry was about selling tins of baked beans).
I’ve mentioned before that writers get better at writing (or at least some do). They get more experienced at the craft and it can become easier to put a novel or characters together, so I know that speed of craft is not that related to quality. What’s more, it’s worth suggesting that some writers take their time not because they’re channelling some divine entity for their gift – but because they’re slow at writing books.