Tim Morton is writing a couple of books, under the titles Realist Magic and Hyperobjects. And he’s writing them terrifyingly fast, blogging about it as he goes. His stuff is worth reading, so it clearly works for him. Graham Harman is similarly fast, and has also blogged on book writing. People think I must write fast in order to write the amount I do. But while I can write fast; most of the stuff I’ve published has had very many hours poured into every page. There are footnotes in The Birth of Territory that I look at and remember the days getting to that point. Towards the end I estimated that each chapter of the nine took me about four-six months of full-time, no teaching, work, enabled by research leave, summers and the Leverhulme award; and that on top of all the work I did on it in parallel with other projects and while teaching.
Anyway, back to Tim Morton. The most recent entry is here. It’s a short post, so I’ll reproduce it in full. But do go to that post and follow the blog backwards. But this one is great:
Some books that I’ve written, I’ve been totally in charge. Two to be precise: Shelley and the Revolution in Taste (my first one) and The Ecological Thought (number four).
Other books have been more probing in nature, less certain: The Poetics of Spice, Ecology without Nature, and this one, Realist Magic.
Now the ones that came out as I meant them to were very gratifying. But I learned the most from struggling through the more experimental ones. And I’m still learning from Realist Magic. As I revise it, I keep figuring out what it’s saying, and being quite surprised, in a good way.
I know that sounds absurd. But with a project as long as book, sometimes you aren’t in charge of all of it. And, in a broader sense, why write anything at all if you know exactly what you’re going to say?
Well, there is a reason actually: love. You want to communicate something to people because you love it. The Shelley book and the second ecology book were like that. But the other three are more primordial: they are about being willing to be surprised.
I very much identify with the idea that the writing process allows you to work out what you are saying, or in this even more detached sense, what the book is saying. I’ve hated writing books when I’ve known exactly (or nearly exactly) what I was going to say – the only one I could genuinely say that of was the Lefebvre one, towards the end. I knew what was needed to finish it, but had about 60,000 words to go. I vowed never to write another book like that, but then after all my books I’ve said I’ll never done do another one like that, in process as much as content. One day I will run out of things to say, but I might run out of ways to find out how to say it first.