I love this post by Neil Gaiman about entitlement, especially as concerns readers upset that George R.R. Martin hasn’t finished his latest novel in the bestselling series. It ain’t a science, the rate of burn-out is high, and anyone who thinks that just churning out novels is a good idea–either for readers or writers–is full of crap.
Deadlines in this business are always approximations, and always getting broken to some extent, or revised because of circumstances beyond a writer’s control.
People are not machines. Writers and artists aren’t machines.
You’re complaining about George doing other things than writing the books you want to read as if your buying the first book in the series was a contract with him: that you would pay over your ten dollars, and George for his part would spend every waking hour until the series was done, writing the rest of the books for you.
No such contract existed. You were paying your ten dollars for the book you were reading, and I assume that you enjoyed it because you want to know what happens next…And sometimes, and it’s as true of authors as it is of readers, you have a life. People in your world get sick or die. You fall in love, or out of love. You move house. Your aunt comes to stay. You agreed to give a talk half-way around the world five years ago, and suddenly you realise that that talk is due now. Your last book comes out and the critics vociferously hated it and now you simply don’t feel like writing another. Your cat learns to levitate and the matter must be properly documented and investigated. There are deer in the apple orchard. A thunderstorm fries your hard disk and fries the backup drive as well…
The primary engine that runs your writing life is your imagination–and the ability of your imagination to assimilate new catalysts, new information from the world, and then turn it into something worth putting on the page. It’s a renewable source, but you can run out of it if you don’t give yourself time to recharge. Sometimes, too, thinking about a novel or story is important. Too many writers, I think, start writing before the story or novel is ready to be written.
Anyway, Gaiman’s post is also an important push-back against the idea of what constitutes a “professional” writer. To me, a professional writer doesn’t just put something out to put something out. A professional writer protects his or her imagination when necessary, even if it means being a little late on something. Beyond considerations of peripheral professional behavior–treating people with respect, etc.–all I owe myself and readers is to write the best I can, and to be silent when I have nothing to say. Honestly, we’ve got this one life. If you’re devoted to writing, don’t screw that up with a mistaken idea of what a “professional” does. Just make the writing good. There’s no do-over after you’re dead.
Not a plug, but Booklife deals with this whole issue, too.