Sunday, May 13, 2012

Writing against the clock

In writing there are always more deadlines than expected, especially if someone else wants to publish your work. Sometimes the content ends up being forced and the final polish is nowhere near as fine as desired just because the piece, whether creative or informative, has to be belted out before the deadline is up. It can leave a writer discontented with their work and somewhat ashamed if it goes to print in such a condition.

But worst of all is when the readers pick up on the drop in quality. Reactions are normally negative. A reader only moves on to reading your next piece if they either love your works so much they just have to have them all. Or if they don't know you from a bar of soap so don't realise that you wrote a good piece and a bad one. Those that vote through purchasing, those that read only the good stuff as it were, tend to make judgements like "the author's lost his mojo" or "her work has little substance anymore" and then avoid buying or reading any further works you produce. No matter whether the quality improves or not. They are the once disappointed, twice as grumpy as necessary people.

In some ways you could say that the fault of failure lies with those who create the deadlines because they are the ones pushing for material to be handed over before it should be. Writing is an art and so every piece should receive the effort needed to make it of high quality, no matter how much is required. It is fair enough for writers to grumble in such a manner but as with most things, such an opinion is skewed by self-interest and over-absorption into the creative process rather than production.

So you could also say that it is the writer's fault because they're being too focused on their work being up to their own standards rather than acceptably marketable and publishable. If the writer would just do a better job of getting it all down in one take rather than faffing over little details which could be resolved by someone else then there wouldn't be a problem at all. Writing needs an audience because without an audience writing is just the scratchings of a loony talking to himself or herself. And if the writer had managed to create something in a certain period of time before then why not again?

In truth the failure to write to a deadline or produce quality work to a deadline falls on both the writer and the publisher. In the age where it is believed the quicker the turn out the greater the audience share due to the repeated exposure keeping works in the minds of the audience, those writing are coming under increasing pressure to produce works at a quicker and quicker rate. And because of the over-attention to the publisher's needs the quality is dropping.

For example, in journalism, the name of the publication becomes famous and most reputable by it being the first to publish 'the scoop'. To be the first doesn't just mean discovering the event first but scribbling up the details as quickly as possible and hitting send before anyone else in a competing publication does. Thus you get spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and chunks of barely readable material being printing. All because of the need to be first. 

You may have also noticed that to be the first to print the news what are practically fliers are being written and published rather that articles, with a full article to follow. This is supposed to ensure the publication got in first, snagged your attention so that you'll go back and read more. It's as though by being first they've appointed themselves the authority on the subject and wish you to believe they are too. But returning to read more does not happen nearly as frequently as the publications like. For many, just finding out whoever it is has died, for example, is enough. They don't need and aren't really interested in the details. For others, once they know an event has happened then reading on it in their most trusted publication rather than the first to publish is preferred. So audience members can actually be lost rather than gained through the time lag between flier and article.

But again, there's the other side of the coin that will remain as long as there are writers about. As all writers of novels know, you just have to go back and fiddle with the details just a little more. Yes, there are some writers who believe their every single word is genius but for the rest of us more level-headed sorts it is more about the effort of creating perfection than our works ever being perfect. A level of dissatisfaction and uncertainty will always be there and if possible we'd only hand our work in once we're assured enough.

Deadlines help to push a writer along but the best way to assure a writer that their work is acceptable is through having someone read and like what has been produced so far. Only when this stage is reached are writers comfortable with handing in their works. So to write to that deadline and be comfortable with the quality it is a good idea to have a trusted reader on standby, one who's willing to help you out no matter when, who will give you a yea or nay as to acceptability. An outsider's perspective is often the only way to go. And if the quality isn't good enough then approaching the publisher with your concerns early rather than late is a great idea. Don't give your publisher/s heart attacks if you can avoid it. Heart attacks are bad for business.

When writers and publishers think carefully on the pressures felt by the other party and adjust accordingly (giving small extensions and a helping hand through an editor or agent as well as writing to reach certain goals set by the publisher and listening to their requirements rather than producing only according to the writer's whim) works can be produced in a timely manner that are of high or high enough quality not to lose what audience has already been gained. So, for the writer, keep a mind on the publisher's need for sales, the roll of marketing highs and lows and the publisher's desire to maintain a good reputation (yours along with it). For the publisher, keep in mind that the writer will after a while have a complete mental breakdown if the deadline is too tight because sometimes it is simply impossible to write coherently under a deadline and meet it. Some flexibility is required for art to be produced. 

If everyone works as a team it usually works out well. If we all fight and squabble over faults and failings then we'll all likely lose out. And as the pressures increase, finding solutions other than tightening the deadlines might be required. Hopefully not to the extent of 'fliers' for novels (which I have to say that some short stories can read as) but something of interest to the various reading audiences about (games, role play, corsplay, signings, talks etc.).

And speaking of deadlines, mine is coming up. I have to scribble out a few more sentences, edit, find a picture or two to make it all look pretty, hope that my writing up to some sort of scratch and hit send so that I can go into the city for a Mother's Day tour of the NSW Art Gallery and a feast (I hope - dietary restrictions allowing. I just hate those days when you leave the house and find there's nothing you can eat about) in the botanical gardens.

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