The Book Wasn’t Written in a Day

In case you haven’t heard, Snooki from MTV’s Jersey Shore has published her debut novel, A Shore Thing. Snooki wasn’t the only “celebrity” to score a book deal in 2010. Justin Bieber wrote a memoir. Hillary Duff, Lauren Conrad, and Nicole Ritchie penned novels. These days, anyone can write a book!

Well, these celebrities don’t actually write their books (surprise!). Typically, the publisher facilitates a relationship between the celebrity and a ghostwriter, who is hired to write the book on the celebrity’s behalf.

Jersey-born writer Valerie Frankel snagged the job as Snooki’s ghostwriter. She spent the summer of 2010 writing 1,600 words per day, every day, until she finished the book. That was “followed by a few weeks of ten-hour-days editing”.

Though I’d prefer celebrities not waste precious paper with their “I’m-in-it-for-the-money-only” books, I won’t begrudge them and their ghostwriters the opportunity to be published. As much as I hate to admit it, I guess there is a place in the market for these types of books. If I was a huge fan of a celebrity, I’d probably buy his or her book, if only out of curiosity.

However, I wonder what kind of attitude this perpetuates about books and writing and how that attitude makes my job as a creative writing teacher that much more difficult.

I have attended panels at the annual conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) about writers who have just published or are trying to publish first books. Never EVER have I heard a “serious” writer admit to writing and completing a book in a summer. Two years? Yes. Even 10 years? Yes. Heck, I’ve been working on a manuscript for almost three years now.

And that time-line doesn’t include the amount of time it takes these writers to find agents and willing publishers. The entire process from start to finish for one book can take 15 years – and that’s not unlikely.

Are you shocked? How, then, could Snooki and her ghostwriter finish a book in one summer and have it on the shelves just a few months after that?

Well, the goals are different. Snooki’s ghostwriter was paid to complete a product that would give Snooki more publicity and earn her more money.

The writers at AWP know that fame and wealth are hardly worthwhile goals – let’s face it, there’s no fame or wealth in literary fiction. These writers are writing because they have a story that they want to tell, and they will work on that story until they feel completely satisfied with it. What’s the point of trying to publish something subpar if it’s going to take forever to find someone to publish you? You might as well give it your best effort.

Also, Snooki and her ghostwriter are recycling ideas and themes. They are telling a story that’s not necessarily original. They rely on cliches and standards that their readers would already recognize from other things they’ve read or watched. Writers who are writing for themselves are usually trying to push the boundaries – they are trying to have new ideas and create something truly original.

When students arrive for the first day of my creative writing class this semester, will they come with the attitude that a book can be written in one summer or even one month (NaNoWriMo)? Yes, it’s possible to write a book that quickly. But if you dashed off a book for the sake of finishing it, would the finished product make you feel proud?

(Photo by elgin.jessica)

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