I spend a lot of time nowadays writing—or thinking about writing—stuff that I eventually publish on the web. There are two modes of entry-writing that I tend to operate in:
A lot of the time, I come up with a kernel of an idea and then gradually add thoughts, ideas and turns of phrase, and try to link them all together like a jigsaw, until they become a sensibly-structured, nicely-flowing article.
Other times, I just start writing, and the whole thing materialises linearly. These entries tend to be a lot quicker to write, but sometimes end up missing important points, or phrasing things awkwardly.
While the well-thought-out entries are generally actually better, the quick-and-dirty ones are more fun to write—there seems to be less pressure involved in writing them. I think the longer something gestates, the larger it seems. When writing articles, particularly the well-thought-out variety, this is compounded by the number of extra ideas, details and tangents I come up with during the gestation.
It takes me a particularly long time to write recommendations for the Friday Fetch-it because if they're rubbish, it's not just the article itself that I'm failing to do justice to—it's the song as well. And I like those songs.
It's the same with other things—I think it's a lot harder to do anything that's been waiting to be finished for a long time. Because you've been thinking about it and (supposedly) working towards it for ages, it takes on mammoth proportions in your mind.
And I think that's because of the phrase “worth the wait”. When you're made to wait for something, you expect it to be good. An example from the wonderful world of pop music: there's generally a two- to three-year gap between albums by an artist, in which they release little or no new music. A few decades ago, artists would generally release an album every year, maybe even two in a year. Back then, the music industry was less fiercely competitive (I assert without evidence) and a less-than-stellar album could have been more easily taken in a record label's stride; for example, News & Tributes by the Futureheads was far from disgraceful, but lost the 'Heads their record deal, because it didn't sell as well as their self-titled début.
Now, I'm not suggesting that a high output quantity somehow nullifies low quality... but it drastically mitigates it. It's easier to overlook one mediocre whatever when it's in amongst a big pile of generally-very-good whatevers. There's also that idea of not putting all your eggs in one basket—if your work (eggs) is spread across lots of smaller ideas (baskets) then if one idea ends up being rubbish (getting dropped), there were still plenty of other good ideas (eggs in other baskets).
It's not as if each person has a finite amount of inspiration—it's more of a “use it or lose it” deal.
Some examples of things I’ve done that have taken ages
...or things I've started, at least.
- Brothers or Sisters took me six-and-a-half weeks to complete; and this was supposed to be for a “stream-of-consciousness-type” blog. When I finally did publish this, it actually won an award. So that was nice.
- That review of Manager by Nat JM that she asked me to do a few months ago: I decided I was rubbish at reviewing individual songs, or that any comments I'd make would be superficial if I didn't consider them in the context of the rest of her work. So, I took it upon myself to review her entire back catalogue, which is only about a dozen songs but, unfortunately for me, is increasing at a rate of two a month. I know roughly what I'm going to say; I just need to produce the prose. (Hey, since her style of music is pretty unpolished I could easily justify similarly unpolished prose. And I reckon I shall.) Never before will so much of value have been said about Nat JM...I hope.
- The biggie: The Perfect World—a compendium of improvements to the world that Gardner and I've been working on for about three-and-a-half years now. That's a decent fraction of a decade. We came up with the idea towards the end of sixth form; we have since left university. When this is finished (and it's about 80% of the way there (only another year to wait, then)), this will rock. They'll invent a new category of Bafta just for us.
(The preceding entry was presented in Hybrid-o-Prose™: the first few paragraphs were (relatively) well-thought-out and have gestated for five or six weeks; much of the remainder was written, largely linearly, in the space of about an hour.)