You can’t rush genius, right? Well, Dwight Garner from “The New York Times” doesn’t quite agree. In his recent article, the author bemoans the amount of time it takes big name celebrity authors in the U.S. to produce another novel. Some writers, like Jeffrey Eugenides and Jonathan Franzen, have taken almost a decade to write something else. At first, the public waits with bated breath, clamoring to see what these authors will write next. Then three years go by, then four, then five, and we begin to forget to miss them. Meanwhile, some authors are churning out five or six novels a year (helped, of course, by co-authors).
This article put me in mind of Harper Lee, the author of the classic “To Kill a Mockingbird.” She reportedly started a second novel, which she has yet to finish. And her first novel was published in 1960! Hers is an extreme case – Lee has all but retreated from public life and does not court attention or seem to worry about her relevance to society. It does make me sad, though, because it makes me wonder what we’re missing. Would she be capable of another equally stunning story? Would we have met characters we would have loved as much as Scout and Atticus? Thinking about this has made me realize that when we read an author’s work and come to love it and and the world and characters they have created, we feel like we know that author. We even feel like we own that author, that we have some kind of claim on their time and their talent. They can’t just cut us off after one book – we want more! And sooner, rather than later, please.
I want to agree with Garner and join in his plea to good writers to write more often. I would love to read a new novel by Leif Enger every year or immerse myself in another world created by Ann Patchett more than once every four or five years. I’m an impatient person by nature, which makes it even harder to wait. But I’m also not a writer – I can’t imagine the torturous process that is really good writing. It’s also difficult to imagine the kind of pressure that an author must feel to deliver another masterpiece. So, while I’ll hope for a quicker return on the next novel from my favorite authors, I’ll be content to wait until genius strikes again and the words begin to flow and their next book is born. And I’ll even try not to forget about them in the meantime.