As anyone who's still waiting for the sixth Holmes on the Range novel can tell you, I'm not a fast writer. I'm so slow, in fact, I just wrote an entire blog post about it for my friends over at the Sleuthsayers website. There are a few reasons the new novel's taken me a while -- indecisiveness, rights issues, other projects, the need to feed and clothe children -- but it really does boil down to plain old-fashioned slowness most of all. When it comes to writing, Speedy Gonzales I am not.
(I'm also not Speedy Gonzales when it comes to escaping from cats and whatever else Senor Gonzales does to pass the time. I recall one cartoon mouse remarking to another that "Speedy Gonzales is friends with everybody's see-ster," so we might know at least one other thing Speedy does around the village with great speed and enthusiastic shouts of "Andale! Andale!" Some things maybe it's better not to re-watch as an adult.)
(Oh, and I should have included "dumb distractions" on my list of reasons the new book's so overdue.)
In my Sleuthsayers post, I lay most of the blame for my slowness as a writer on the fact that I like to hear what I write out loud. Which shouldn't necessarily slow me down, I know. Legend has it Erle Stanley Gardner dictated his later novels to a team of fast-typing secretaries. (When I say "legend has it," I mean I read it on Wikipedia.) I already know that wouldn't work for me, and not just because I can't afford a team of fast-typing secretaries or even one secretary with missing fingers and tinnitus. Putting words together is something that requires effort for me -- lots and lots of effort if I want those words to form good sentences. Imagine if Bizarro became a novelist: "Me want to finish new book last year, so me am still writing it as slow as possible." That's me.
And I don't just move slowly when putting words together as a writer. I even do it slowly as a reader. Just as I want to hear everything I write, I "hear" everything I read. I'm not saying I read everything out loud, though I might as well. I mean I read at the speed of speech. Any faster than that and I just start skimming.
That makes me a pretty good copy editor and proofreader and a lousy mystery fan and colleague. There are so many books I want to read -- hundreds, it feels like -- yet in a good year I get through maybe 20. Making things worse: When I see one of those books I want to read on sale, I buy it...even though I know there's a good chance I won't crack the thing open before Judgment Day. (And when Judgment Day comes, the first thing St. Peter's going to say to me is "Why the hell did you buy so many books?")
We recently had the floor redone in my office, so I had to pull my unread books off the shelf and move them for a few days. When it was time to put them back, I thought it would be fun to stack them into a literal To Be Read pile. Only I couldn't do it. Put that many paperbacks on top of each other, it turns out, and when you get about six feet up it starts to feel like building a chimney out of Jell-O. I could never get it to say up long enough to finish. (I'm guessing that's a sentence that would never come out of Speedy Gonzales' mouth. Callback! Arriba!)
Submitted for your approval: the closest I came to completing my To Be Read pile, documented by a notable photojournalist. (My wife.) And keep in mind I have two dozen more unread books on my Kindle.
Anyone want to recommend a good book on speed reading?