Strangites and Norrellites ... Prolific writers vs Perfectionist Writers

I recently read, after years of wanting to but never quite getting around to it, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. It's the story of two regency era magicians (Or maybe Georgian ... I've found differing online opinions, but the book does stretch for about a decade and is kind of set right on the border of where I've seen both those eras defined as beginning and ending) with very different approaches who start as student and master and end up rivals.

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Throughout the book, you're definitely prompted to side with Strange. Strange is more likable, less neurotic, tends to play (for the most part) fair, and ... well ... he's kind of sexy (yeah, I said it). Where as Norrell is an older man with a lot of hangups who constantly worries about what others think of him and sometimes uses underhanded methods to manipulate others.
Norrell is a traditionalist, cautious, unwilling to take risks, wanting to prepare forever and act never. Whereas Strange is a free spirit, ready to jump in with both feet and to try anything (damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead and all that).

However, in the end (I think), you come to realize that even Norrell has a point. That his methods are messed up and some of his thinking is completely backwards, but on his own Strange treads into dangerous territory because of his lack of restraint.

There's a section, though, about how each of these men approach writing that I found amusing. Norrell always means to write a book, or an article, or a letter, but keeps himself in the planning stage ... Where as Strange quickly dashes out all sorts of things, stating that the best way to write is to just put it on the page (not an exact quote. Sorry, I had to return my copy to the library). So in some ways Norrell is an (admittedly extreme) plotter and Strange a pantser. (writer jargon ftw!)

That said, a lot of writers tend to be extreme versions of Strange or Norrell (Strangite vs Norrellite as the book calls it) and get extremely protective about which version they are.
The prolific writers who can dash out work in a heartbeat scoff at the slowpokes as unprofessional.
The time-taking-long-planners argue that you can't really make anything good if you don't put time into it.

Generally, I dislike telling anyone their preferred method of anything is wrong. I'm a big believer in finding what works for you and not letting yourself be bullied by the opinions of others. Too many people try to force themselves into boxes and routines because someone swears that's the ONLY way. Too many creative lights are snuffed out because that "only" way ended up not working so the person assumes they are a failure.
I know people who have been working on the same book for years. Then you have authors like ... well... me. I'm not a 10k per day writing beast, but I put out three to four books a year and don't tend to stay on any given project for more than three or four months.

The thing is, it is hard to say you are happy with how YOU work without implying that the way other people work is somehow wrong. Yeah, I'm prolific. No, I don't think it is wrong that you can't write as quickly as I can ... but at the same time, I'm not going to belittle my books as "lesser" because I wrote them quickly. I'm happy with my books. I know they aren't perfect, but I wouldn't put them up for publication if I didn't think they were good books. I mess with them just until I feel they are where they should be and I move on.

That doesn't mean I'm completely secure. I have a constant fear that everything I've built up is going to crash down on my head someday because I was going so fast I didn't notice ... something. But my personality type is driven by constant creativity. I'm the total opposite of a perfectionist, and knowing this about myself is why I try to get so many outside opinions on my books, because if it were up to me, I'd be okay just doing spell check and putting up my first drafts. I like them. I don't think there is anything major wrong with them I bring in the beta readers and the critique partners to tell me where other people might see flaws that I don't.

But eventually I have to stop that process because you could polish forever.

And I also admit, it is really hard for me to know for sure if I'm doing that at the right time. Every book I put out, I worry that I'm a bit like Strange going too far with forces he doesn't understand and my writing will eventually plunge me into darkness .... or at least garner some well-deserved negative reviews on Amazon (I'm not sure which would be scarier).

So I think Strangites need some Norrellites in their life to tell them when to throw on the breaks and stop and evaluate.
And I think most Norrellites need a Strangite to kick them in the pants and tell them it was fine four drafts ago! Just publish the blasted thing already!

But they're better off working together, rather than trying to force each other to conform.

There must always be at least two magicians, always at odds, for balance.

So perhaps that makes me Childermass ... hmmm ...


  1. I haven't heard of that book but the premise strongly reminds me of The Night Circus - a competition between two approaches to magic - though the rest of it is quite different. I wonder if that's where the author got her inspiration.

    I'm definitely more of a plotter. I literally cannot write unless I have an end point and I like to have an outline to guide me as I go. Not intricately detailed but a rough road map.

    1. I haven't read TNC yet but it was published a few years after JS&MN. Though I think the clash is a pretty common trope, not necessarily just in magic, but the "new school of thought" vs "old school of thought."

  2. I'm some weird combination of both. I do more outlining/planning than I used to... but I also love to finish things and move on. I have a friend who is an extreme Norrellite: she writes 7 drafts of every chapter before moving on to the next one!! She also to my knowledge has never finished a book, because she gets sick of it before she gets halfway through the story.

    I think it's worth pointing out that some writers may not seem to be as prolific simply because they write much longer books. Robert Jordan, for example, may not have as many books out as other authors... but probably has written just as many words as many authors who have twice (or more) as many books out.

    Sounds like an interesting story... off to add it to my TBR pile... my constantly growing... never diminishing... TBR pile. LOL

  3. I just saw this old post and it made my day. XD YES! We can both be Childermass... ;)

    1. Definitely an interesting fellow, Childermass.


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