Do some writers write too much for their own good? I defended Ogden Nash against that charge, made by a literary critic, in my last post. But what about other prolific writers? Do any of them ever write too much? The question might be addressed according to several different topics.
1. The writer's income
2. Long books
Some writers seem incapable of writing short books. I am thinking of Thomas Wolfe, Pat Conroy, Edward Rutherfurd and Neal Stephenson, among others. Their mammoth books may scare away some readers, but others are attracted to books with some heft to them. Why take two or three novels with you on your winter cruise when you could just take that 920-page Ken Follett novel I recently finished? But it has often been argued that Wolfe, for one, would have benefited from more ruthless editing. Writing long can indicate a lack of skill and discipline. Graham Greene, one of our better writers, says his publishers complained because his books were too short.
You might think an author could write two 400-page books instead of one 800-pager and thus double sales and royalties, but it is not that simple. Once you have developed a plot, created characters and done whatever research is necessary, writing a long book is much easier than starting over on a new book.
3. The number of books
I have been a Westlake fan for 50 years and read one or two of his books a year, yet there are still several of his books I have yet to read. I find this a trifle frustrating, especially since there are so many other writers I love who write books faster than I can can read them. Yet this wealth of unread books also seems like something of a luxury. It means that, while I may never catch up on my reading, I also will never run out of books I want to read.
5. Literary quality
In the end, writers write as they write, fast or slow, long or short, good or bad. Readers, both literary critics and the rest of us, just have to take them as they are and render our verdicts as they be.