Thursday, June 11, 2009

Quick, Good, or Cheap. Pick Two

I was recently reminded of this old project planning adage and it got me to wondering if it applied to my current occupation as a part-time writer. I've seen it worked out time and again in various software projects at the places where I work full-time. Please stay with me as I think this through.

Good + Quick = Expensive

This makes sense to me. In order for a writing project to get done quickly and well, you need one or more experienced writers focusing on it full time. The bigger the project or the quicker you want it, the more (or better) writers you'll need (although there is certainly a point of diminishing return, as shown by Brooks in The Mythical Man-Month). This is probably why most television shows use a small army of writers to get a teleplay written every week--divide and conquer. Plus, the more experienced the writer the more expensive (in theory) they will be.

This doesn't preclude, of course, the serendipity of an experienced (or even inexperienced) writer singlehandedly pouring out a complete and polished first draft in an amazingly short period of time. But from what I've been reading and experiencing, that is the exception and not the rule.

Good + Cheap = Slow

This seems to be where I am at, no matter how much I'd like to change it. Since there is only one of me and I am still learning how this writing stuff works and I have only so many hours in the day (of which many are filled by my day job and other obligations and desires) and I want what I write to be good, it's taking me a while to get things done. I've been working on the outline for a new screenplay for over a month now and it's still not quite there. Likewise the planning for a couple of novels. I did manage to whack out a first draft of a short story in a week. But it still needs a rewrite or two (or more) before it's ready to submit to anyone other than my wife and friends.

On the other hand, there is a hidden cost to constantly not having finished a project (or at least a step of the project). There is a point where (A) it's just got to be done (no more procrastinating) and (B) it's good enough. This is the battle I'm fighting.

Quick + Cheap = Inferior

As I wrote above, there are probably times where a single writer can finish a great work in a short amount of time, even if they are inexperienced (I've read that Mickey Spillane wrote his first novel, I, The Jury, in nine days, disregarding any arguments about how great it is, it's certainly been influential). But again, that's the exception, and not the rule, and is not what should be expected of most writing most of the time. If I were to bang out a novel in nine days, it would probably be crap. Heck, I've knocked a novel in 30 days during National Novel Writing Month, and all four times it's been crap. But I've learned about writing and about my writing. And now I've at least got four (almost) book length manuscripts saved to my hard drive.

Where does that leave me? I'm a part-time writer. I'm just way too practical and settled in my lifestyle to walk away from a high paying job and write full time. But I've been bitten by the writing bug, so I'm going to keep on writing. I just have keep my perspective and not expect to have a novel or screenplay pop out of my computer every few months. I also have to read more books, read less Internet nonsense, and write more words.

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