I have been reading Kristine Katherine Rusch on the business of writing, because it’s been a long time since I thought abut writing as a business, and publishing is changing, due to Kindle and Nook. She sounds authoritative, and the topic is interesting to me at the moment.
Then I got to her advice on how to write, if you’re going to survive as a writer. I’m less sure about this.
Rusch says writers should think of themselves as storytellers, rather than authors. I think she’s telling people to not take themselves too seriously. Don’t think of yourself as a fine art or literary writer.
She says writers should write fast, not worry about revising and not worry about style. Practice will make one a better writer and practice will enable one to find one’s “voice.”
According to Rusch, the famous writers — the ones we still read, like Dickens and Shakespeare — wrote fast. It is certainly my impression that Dickens was a fast writer. He wrote 14.5 novels in 34 years. That’s half a large novel a year, which is impressive, but not as impressive as Rusch, who can write four to six novels a year.
Shakespeare wrote 1.6 plays a year during his working life, which is lot more than most modern playwrights, though Shaw must have him beat. Again, this is impressive, but not as impressive as the number of words Rusch has put out. Remember that a play script is a lot shorter than a novel.
Then there are the novelists who were far less prolific: Emily Bronte (1 novel), Charlotte Bronte (4), Herman Melville (4), Jane Austen (6), Lady Murasaki (1), Wu Cheng’en (2). This is off the top of my head. All these people are still read. I am not an Emily Bronte fan, but I love Jane Eyre, Moby Dick, The Tale of Genji, The Journey to the West and all of Jane Austen’s novels.
I suspect all of these writers revised and thought about style. Shakespeare had an amazing vocabulary and was a master of the mot juste. I don’t think that this came out of nowhere or even from writing a lot. It came from study and thought and craft. Here is Macbeth, after murdering King Duncan:
Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.
And from a dictionary:
1591 (adj.) “flesh-colored,” from Fr. incarnadine, from It. incarnadino “flesh-color,” from L.L. incarnatio (see incarnation). The verb properly would mean “to make flesh colored,” but the modern meaning “make red,” and the entire survival of the verb, is traceable to “Macbeth” II ii. (1605).
I add the dictionary quote because it’s interesting, and “incarnadine” is a neat word. It rolls off the tongue. Redness spills from it.