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On Being Prolific

March 19, 2012

I choose to write, and that seems to be rare, especially among writers. It’s probably because I don’t subscribe to the theory of the muse. As a songwriter, I was able to sit down and write on command, and the same thing holds true for my poetry and literary fiction. Why should genre writing be any different? The act of writing, whether it’s good or bad, is the beginning of a strong work ethic. The one thing that seems to hold true among successful self-published authors is that a major portion of their strong readership comes from the fact that the authors are presenting new offerings at regular intervals. If that is the case, then there is no time to wait on a muse or suffer from lack of ideas. The successful writer is prolific. Harlan Ellison said that becoming a writer is easy, but staying a writer is the hard part.

In my earlier post, Where Do Ideas Come From, I talked about the inspiration inherent in everyday experiences. It is also true in my own life that creativity comes in waves, so it is critical to have a system in place to capture those ideas. I use the note function in my iPod as well as a small notebook. I always have one or the other or both, and I jot down ideas as they come, sometimes in quick succession. Those quick little notes are transferred to a Word file for future use. Story ideas are not a daily occurrence, so I am careful to catch them when they are flowing. When I am ready to work on a new project, I open my Word file and look through my list. I am always able to find an idea that I can work on, and once the words start to flow, they keep coming. If not, I pull out another idea and start a new project.

One of the tricks that I use to develop a daily writing routine is to set an acceptable minimum. I typically try to write three to five thousand fresh words each day. Many times I am able to crank out more, but I always make myself write to my goal. I find it effective to get words on the page. I can always come back later and spend time editing, and if we are honest with ourselves, editing is part of the process, but it isn’t writing. I want new works that advance a body of work. This is my career, and I am going to put the same type of effort into writing that I would into any other job.

Michael Moorcock wrote a wonderful piece on producing a book in three days. Another prolific writer, Moorcock developed a system that allowed him to put out Sword and Sorcery novels fast enough to generate needed income. It was his job, and he worked at it. I’m not advocating that type of speed if all it produces is poor quality writing, but he was able to write consistently and write well. I need a little more time, but it is possible to write a well-crafted novel in four to six weeks if you have a handle on the basics of grammar, plot development, and characterization. I run into too many people at workshops and meetings who have been working on one manuscript for thirty years. They will work on it for the rest of their lives, never submit it for publication, and die without ever seeing it in print. I can’t face the idea of languishing over a story for years on end. I have too many tales that I want to tell.

It doesn’t matter how much or how little time you have for writing. Take advantage of what you have and put words on the paper. Keep track of new ideas on the spot. Don’t rely on memory. I’ve lost too many great starts and bits of killer dialogue because I decided to write them down when I had more time. Treat writing like a job, and one day that dream may come true. What are your ideas, tips, and tricks for being a prolific writer? Post your comments below.

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