The Speed Writing Movement The Speed Writing Movement
Culture

The Speed Writing Movement

by Anne Trubek

October 4, 2009

Tina Brown's new imprint will focus on fast books. Can they stack up?


Speed writing seems to be the flavor of the week. First we were graced with the news that Sarah Palin's memoir, Going Rogue, is to be published in November, a short four months after she began working on it. Readers seem unconcerned that the quick turnaround may dilute the quality of the book-it is already the number one selling book on amazon.com. Then came the announcement that Tina Brown's The Daily Beast will start a line of book imprints that focus on quickly penned titles.

The Beast's books will be on timely topics, and will run short, about 150 pages long. They will be for sale as e-books first, and then be released in print. Freelancers for the site will write the books, and will be given advances to cover the one to three months they will be given to produce a final manuscript. Brown explains the reason behind the fast clip this way: "There is a real window of interest when people want to know something…and that window slams shut pretty quickly in the media cycle." Brown also noted that there is "a gap between online writing and full-length books that was no longer being fully met by a dwindling market for magazines." (Ouch).

As a writer, I am conflicted about these speedy books. Palin's memoir is ghostwritten, of course, which helps explain how a non-writer could compose her life story so quickly. But should writers cheer or lament the Daily Beast's new model?

Sometimes, when I am following a complicated news story-online, in the papers, and on television-say the Afghan election or the discovery of Ardipithecus ramidus-I think: "This is very interesting and I want to understand it better. I cannot wait for the New Yorker article to come out." For such topics, a short book might be a great alternative. On the other hand, I value rigorous research, in-depth reporting, and carefully wrought prose. I worry that an emphasis on speed will diminish depth and style. After all, would we want The Decline and Fall of The American Empire to be written in a day?

Ezra Klein offers a refreshing perspective on my anxieties, and provides context for understanding why we might be capable of writing faster now than before-and not because we are all stupider, lazier, worse readers than we used to be, the oh-so-predictable response. In "Fast Books!" he notes that some writing is, indeed, easier:

People tend to assume that blogs are a product of technological advancements in publishing content. But the writing of constantly-updated political blogs is a product of the falling time cost for finding information. You can now get all your polls on pollster.com, and all the op-eds from every newspaper, and all the archives from all these newspapers, and all the info on other blogs, and so on and so forth.

That's why I can publish 15 posts a day. Writing doesn't take very long. Quoting doesn't take very long. But assembling information used to take an awful long time. It required a lot of phone calls and microfiche and faxes and walking over to Brookings and paging through newspaper archives and begging a source at Gallup. Now it doesn't take much time at all. That allows me to be the equivalent of a very fast columnist, and there's no reason it won't allow others to become very fast book authors.

It took me seven seconds to copy and paste this into my word document.

The piece of Klein's argument I hesitate to endorse is this one: "Writing doesn't take very long." Sometimes one can write quickly, sure. But often writing takes a very very long time. It depends upon what kind of writing you are doing, and what kind of writer you are. If you have experience doing research, if you have trained your mind to think critically, and if you have a facility with words-then you can put together an argument, analysis, blog post, and even a book quicker now than you used to. But there are a lot of "if" requirements, and without these foundational skills, writing becomes gobbledygook, and the writer will have a monster Google-induced headache.

So maybe I can get behind a speed writing movement, and train the young ‘uns to increase their posts per minute. But it would need to be accompanied by a Slow Writing one, to borrow a term from the foodies. I suspect Klein has quite a bit of education and training under his belt-and that that training took a good number of years. It takes a lengthy apprenticeship to become a master blogger. (And, thus, the compensation for such blogs and books should be higher than it is for those who take longer to produce.) We do not want to unloose just anyone into the world of fifteen posts a day, or a one-month turnaround book author.

Phew! That was quick. Already done with my column! Now, back to slogging through revisions of a book I have been writing since the twentieth century. The next one, I promise, will be faster. (Tina-call me!)

Recently on GOOD
The
Daily
GOOD
Sign up to receive the best of GOOD delivered to your inbox each and every weekday
The Speed Writing Movement