Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Is there such a thing as writing too much?

I have been accused of being "prolific" at times. I say "accused" because some people equate writing quickly with writing badly. I have set on paper five novels. "Five?" people say (usually non-writers, I'll confess). "How is it possible?" To which I want to reply, 'are you kidding me?' If I'd exercised more discipline I could have written a book for every adult year of my life and probably had something so shiny with the sheer electricity of effort that it would run out and publish itself.

If you write every day, or even five days a week, you're going to produce a lot of material, and hopefully you have something to cull from that material. I both admire and resent writers who say they write every day, 7 days a week, inspiration or no. They take their work seriously, as a job, keeping the muscle exercised and not relying on the rumored strike of inspiration to plough into them. Are they, then, prolific, or just dedicated? The average successful writer publishers a novel a year. Joyce Carol Oates has been known to write more than two a year!

But let's look at the numbers (I know, you thought we were talking about writing; bear with me) : If you wrote just two pages a day--that's about 500 words, barely out of the gate, though sometimes all you can muster--and you did this five days a week you would write 2500 words, or 10 pages per week. If you did this every week for 52 weeks--1 year--you would have written 130,000 words, or approximately 520 pages--almost twice as long as the average novel published these days. Do you see what I'm saying? 500 words is a pretty moderate number, too. I tend to write about 1000 words at a sitting, sometimes as many as 2500 if I'm really on a roll. I can write a "draft" of a novel in six months easy. Revision is a whole other world of time and pain, but you can do a lot of revising in six months. I'm not saying this is a great way to write every book, or that every writer can do this, but if you consider my pace, the fact that I've only written five novels shows me to be far from prolific.

Besides, most writers will tell you that they write to teach themselves. I wrote four novels to get one I really liked, and even that one may not be the winning one. So I have to sit my butt down and believe that there's another 300 pages in me somewhere. Sometimes this is a daunting feeling, until the itch of the next idea gets under my collar, then it's just like jonesing for your next score.

A friend emailed me this evening and asked when I'd begin the next novel, and how I would get started on such an endeavor. It just so happens that I have formally begun a new novel. By "formally" I mean that I am attempting to write every day with a loose seed of an idea in mind. Each day I give it attention it gains more facets, starts to look like something I want to keep writing. Sometimes about 100 pages in, that feeling dies off and that's a real bummer.

I'm curious how other writers approach novel writing. For me it's one step into the light, and five more, groping through the dark after the rest of it. The story reveals itself to me if I'm patient and curious. I often find that an idea is novel worthy if it sort of wraps me up in it, gets me unrealistically excited and makes me want to talk about the idea to anyone who will listen (the not wanting to talk about it part comes later). Novel writing is a process of discovery, like cave spelunking or hikining in a totally foreign terrain. I can't know all the answers, all the people, the central conflicts at first. I have to know only the tiniest bit because it's the exploration that is enjoyable, not the knowing. I get started by getting started. I write a novel about 1000 words at a time.

And yes, I did have extra caffeine today.


At 7:14 AM, Blogger clarkknowles said...

I try to write everyday. Five days a week. A couple of days ago, I spent the whole day writing a paragraph, which I later deleted. I'm working on novel #3. Number one had good writing, but wasn't a good book. Number two is both, but can't land a home. Number three is either gonna be great or a glorious failure. No telling which at this stage. Why, exactly, do we follow this path?


At 8:38 AM, Blogger Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

Ah Clark, can't you read between the lines? All these posts about how much I can write are just ways to distract myself from the fact of rejection!



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