Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fast Food Book Burgers

They say not to quit your day job when you become an author. My day job before becoming an author was working in fast food, so it was not a big loss to me.

Lately, I've felt like writing and working in fast food have something in common. In both industries, to make money, you have to be quick. Fast food is just "food" without the word "fast."

I am not a person who likes to be rushed. I like to take my time to do things and do them right. Sometimes I can do things quickly, but overall, I like to take my time.

When I worked at Subway, there was this machine for cutting the tomatoes quickly by hand. You'd stick the tomato in, push the handle down and the tomato would be sliced through instantly. My co-workers would have something like ten tomatoes done in thirty seconds, while I would take a couple of minutes to do the same thing.

The reason for this was because on the tomato machine it had a warning that if any parts of this machine were broken, it was dangerous to use and could slice off your hand. The machine was very broken from the moment I started working there. The blades would swing wildly outside of the machine if you didn't aim it perfectly at the tomato. I took my time slicing tomatoes because I was afraid I would chop my hand off.

My co-workers never chopped their hands off. I am clumsy, so perhaps I am more at risk of this than they were, but the fact is, they took a risk, did things quicker, and accomplished more in the time it took me to accomplish one thing. They had no reservations about calling me slow or mocking me for it, but I refused to risk my fingers for tomatoes.

I viewed them as dangerous and foolish. They viewed me as lazy.

I did this because I wanted to take my time and make sure I did things correctly. Yes, it would probably be fine if I worked fast like they did, but I wanted to feel one hundred percent certain of myself every time I chopped the tomatoes.

They were more business minded. They had checklists that they needed to get through quickly.

We both worked hard at our jobs, we just approached it differently.

There is so much arguing in the writing community about whether it's superior to write fast or slow. People who write quickly believe their books are perfect. They are business minded and know that they need to get things out there as fast as possible to make money. They usually do make more money than the people who write slowly.

But people who write slowly and take their time, don't like to take short cuts. They want to make sure everything is written perfectly. They don't like mistakes being made. They take their time to write things better and let the business aspect take second place.

It's about your personality. It has nothing to do with talent. It has nothing to do with how hard you work.

It's not a jab at anyone if I say that I am writing slowly to make sure I write this story better, to focus on quality instead of quantity. But it is actually a jab when writers insist that their quick work is as good as anything someone wrote slowly created because that's the reason we take our time.

People who eat double cheeseburgers don't worry about whether or not the cheese is all aligned perfectly. They're not thinking about whether there is too much ketchup or not enough. They're not concerned if the bun is toasted slightly more than normal. What they care about is the taste. They want to eat a double cheeseburger and they want to eat it quickly.

So if a fast food worker takes the time to make sure all those details line up perfectly every time, they are going to make less burgers than the person who just slaps it all together. Their burgers will be superior, but the customer isn't going to notice the difference.

The critics might. They might analyze the burgers and notice all the little details, but the average consumer will not. To them, it will all be the same double cheeseburger because it all tastes the same.

I feel like this is true with books as well. No customer is ever going to notice how quickly or slowly it took us to write any book. A critic might, but that doesn't mean you are going to get more sales. Getting books out faster gets you more sales. Just like with fast food and getting double cheeseburgers out to the customers more quickly.

When you write slower, you do write better (not compared to other people, but compared to yourself), but it's not often necessary. Little details matter less than the big picture.

Still, big mistakes happen less often when you write slow.

When I worked in Subway, I was working with a guy one night who was the fastest worker in the place. Everyone always told me to be just like him. He was helping me learn how to cook the tiny kids sandwich buns they used to have.

They came in this giant box where they were all frozen together. We needed to break them apart to be able to defrost and cook them. In the process of breaking them apart, he dropped several on the ground. He picked them up and put them with the rest.

I objected, but he argued with me that we had just mopped and there was no way that these buns that dropped on the ground would hurt anyone. I was wasting time.

None of the customers ever noticed that he dropped them on the ground. None of them got sick. It was indeed faster what he did rather than starting over and making sure we didn't drop any buns on the ground next time. But it didn't feel right to me to give customers food that fell on the ground.

People who write slow do things slowly because the shortcuts don't feel right to them. Whether the shortcuts are okay or not doesn't matter. They won't feel good or proud of a product unless they take their time.

In my marriage, my husband likes to do things quickly. He likes to check things off his list. I like to do things "right" or how I view them as right. I am slower than him at doing things often, I take time to plan them perfectly, but I can sometimes do them better than him because of it.

We've learned from each other. Sometimes I should do things quickly and stop worrying about the tiny water blotch on a dish that went through the dishwasher. Sometimes he should do things slowly, like when it comes to my dogs. Patience with them, doing things slowly and correctly, always gets them to behave more.

If both people who write fast and people who write slow realize that they can learn things from each other and stop defending the way they write constantly, I think we can all improve. There are times when you really need to write something slowly, when that's the only way to get something done correctly. And there are times when writing needs to be sped up. You're taking too much time on the little details and it's cutting into your paycheck.

I don't believe people who write fast make a million mistakes. I don't believe their books are bad, but I do believe if you write slower, you catch more mistakes and make a better quality of book. It's not a jab because thinking this way means I am bad at business. Good marketing is the most important thing when it comes to selling books and making a living. We just have different strengths and weaknesses. Marketing is often a struggle for me, while it might come naturally to someone who writes fast.

I just don't want to hear again that books that are written quickly are just as good as any book written slowly AND they sell more AND the people who write fast are superior in every way. And I don't want to hear again that anyone who writes quickly has no idea what they are doing AND their books are automatically worse than people who write slowly. Try to find ways to appreciate each other instead. Try to find ways to appreciate each other's strength. Stop competing with each other and start learning.


Anonymous said...

There was a time when I thought just like you. I'm not a fast writer (I can get a book done in about 3-5 months), and I firmly believed all those things you wrote in your post.

Then I started reading books from authors who finish a book in 1 or 2 weeks, and it felt like a slap in my face. You know why? Because those books WERE better than mine. Yep, the book I'd slaved over for months was worse than what an other author wrote in 1 week.

Is it fair? I don't know. I've always been slow. It's just how my brain works. But it taught me a lesson. I've ditched all superiority thoughts I had and have learned to respect those authors who can write wonderful books quickly.

Obviously, there is a lot of trash out there, but there are legitimate authors who can put out great books in no time. Those books are absolutely not the "fast food" you call, even though I'd love for that to be true (at least then I'd have an excuse for taking such a long-time ass to finish a book). They are great books. Those people are more talented than I am and have MUCH better discipline than I do. It's just a fact. People have different speeds. I've learned not to sugarcoat myself anymore, because it doesn't help self-improvement.

I can only learn from those authors.

E.B. Black said...

Well, that's my point. I want people to learn from each other, as I said in the last paragraph, rather than bash each other.

I don't mind people saying that they write books quickly or that's how they prefer to do things, but there's been this long stream of blog posts that are just about how writing fast or slow is superior and the other way sucks. When I think writing fast or slow is all about your personality and not at all about your talent or work ethic. I was trying to say that here, but it was difficult to articulate.

Whether a book is good or not is all relative. I might not agree with your assessment that people who write books quicker than you write better books. Regardless, though, I think you should be proud of your books and the effort you've put into them.

I wasn't comparing fast food to diner food or a home-cooked meal and saying one was like writing fast and the other was like writing slow. I was saying that the book industry works a lot like the fast food industry, whether you write fast or slow. In fast food, you have to be fast or you can't make a living off of it and people will pressure and criticize you if you do anything slowly. This is often the case in the book industry. And it surprises me because when I first started, I thought writing books was a marathon not a sprint. That's what I've been told. But the sprint method seems to sell more. But that doesn't mean people who write slowly shouldn't be appreciated as well.