on being prolific
June 25, 2014
I am a prolific writer. I average a couple of books a year and a handful of short stories, which I guess is a lot. I have to admit, from my end all I can see are the dozens of books and stories I haven’t written yet, and I never seem to get enough done. But I’ve come to realize, that on the larger scale of things, yes, I am prolific.
I’ve been thinking lately about why that is and how that happens, because I never decided to be prolific, I never mapped out a strategy that would let me write as much as possible. It just happened. But how? Well, the writing every day thing certainly helps — I don’t even have to write a lot every day, just a little bit. Just enough. I’m always thinking of ideas — I don’t wait for an assignment or contract to come along. Writing both short stories and novels helps contribute to the perception of me being prolific.
And there’s one other trait I hit on lately: Abandonment. Knowing when to let go. Being able to move on to the next thing when one thing isn’t working.
What this means if you’re an aspiring writer, if you want to be a professional writer: Don’t pin all your hopes on one thing. As soon as you finish writing that first story, that first novel — start the next. Immediately.
I’ve talked about my three trunk novels a lot. I probably have a proportional number of trunk short stories to go with my 70+ published stories. Then there’s all the stuff I never even sent out: a couple of “practice” novels, a bunch of stories. I still occasionally write a short story that immediately goes into the trunk because I’m not happy with it. It’s okay, because I’ve got this new thing to work on, and it’ll be better.
Because you know what? All those lessons you learned writing that one thing? You’ll be able to use them on the next. The next thing will be better. The reason it was so easy for me to abandon those early novels and stories? As soon as I wrote the next thing, I saw that the earlier stuff wasn’t very good. The only way you can see yourself making progress as a writer is by working on new things, so you can compare.
If you want to be a professional writer, you have to become an idea factory — you should always know the next thing you want to work on. If that last thing doesn’t sell, doesn’t work out, or isn’t actually that good — that’s okay, because you’ve got this next thing, and the next, and the next.
And for the love of all that is good and holy, don’t spend ten years working on the same thing. Don’t rewrite the same thing endlessly, thinking that this next revision will finally make it good. Or, do, but don’t expect to ever become a pro at this gig if you do.
At the risk of inciting ear worms, Let It Go. You have to be able to let go of old work and move on to the next work.