Math is the Friend of Prolific… And the Enemy of Excuses…

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From Dean Wesley Smith:

Writers who want to hold dearly to the myths of writing must stay away from math. Math can be super deadly to writer’s fears and myths and beliefs. Math, after all, is just numbers.

So let me point out where this is glaringly clear in a simple example.

You write 250 words of fiction a day, shorter than many of your emails. Most writers can do that in 15 minutes or less.

So you do that every day, you manage to make your writing important enough in your life that you carve out 15 minutes a day to do it.

250 words x 365 days = 91,250. That’s a full novel.

Now is where this entire column gets brutal. Let’s say you really like writing 50,000 word novels like I do.

And you can manage to cut out of your busy game schedule and work and family and television schedule one hour a day to write. And if you are like most writers, you can do 1,000 words in that hour. (If you are much slower than that you need to deal with the fear.)

Here comes the math…

1,000 words x 365 days = 365,000 words divided by 50,000 word novels = 7.3 novels a year. So say you took two weeks vacation from that horrid hour-per-day schedule so you only wrote 7 novels in a year.


Wrapped up in neat bows in writing myths.

Excuse #1… What about rewrites? If you are still lost in that myth, I can’t help you. Learn how to cycle and write in to the dark and stop being sloppy and produce a finished draft.

Excuse #2… Where will I get that many ideas? (I really can’t help you.)

Excuse #3… What about all the publishing that goes along with that? Oh, no, every month or so you might have to spend a few extra hours to publish your novel so you can make money.

Excuse #4… What about all the plotting and outlining and character sketches and such to get ready ahead of time. (Oh, my…seriously?)

And on and on and on… Pick a myth…

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

10 thoughts on “Math is the Friend of Prolific… And the Enemy of Excuses…”

  1. Well, his math is correct, but it doesn’t work like that for me. And it’s not because of “excuses,” but because of the other things in the authoring/publishing pipeline. It’s not only about writing.

    I just indie published a 54k-word novel (SciFi/Alt History). One year after the prior one. This new book has 88 scenes. I try to write a scene a day, but never quite make it. Add 50%. That’s 132 days. But before I wrote a single word, I had to work out my concept, premise, and finally, my outline. And do a lot of research to make sure all of this held up and made sense. Which meant reading other books, research studies, articles, etc. Figure another 100 days. Then after several drafts with my own self-editing (including ordering and carefully reading a POD proof book from the latest designed draft—I do my own interior formatting/design work—I sent a pretty decent draft to my freelance editor. Then waited for her to come back. And then considered the suggestions and then made the fixes. Then ran it all by her again. Then I worked on the cover (I do my own covers). I usually have a rough draft at the beginning and work on it over the months, tweaking, fixing, restarting. Then I sent it all out to Beta readers and waited for them and reworked based on those suggestions (some good, some not). All the above: another 100 days. And I took some days off because, you know . . . life.

    TOTAL TIME: ~365 days.

    That’s what’s working for me. Can I speed it up? Probably. Will I? TBD.

    • I’m always curious about other people’s process.

      John Banville takes three to four years to write a novel. He also writes as Benjamin Black, who takes four to five months to write a novel. Banville writes sentences, loving crafting them. Black focuses on Story. Each feeds a different need.

      Lately Banville has become jealous of Black’s success so he has retired the pen name, except in Spain. That is intense.

  2. Gotta say, as a reader I do not find persuasive the argument that a second draft is a waste of time. Actually, I do find it persuasive, as fair warning that I will heed. There clearly is a market for the speed-written novel, but I am not part of it.

    • It varies.
      Some people have a gift; they couldn’t write bad prose if they tried. Stream of consciousness is publishable right there.
      Others need to do multiple passes to be satisfied. And often not even them.

      I have a friend with a gift for dialogue; she can spin pages and pages of sparkling dialogue, multiple voices and personalities, often snarky, in real time chats. Yet she’s never fully satisfied with her plots. (Her fantasies are unique and delights, though.)

      Writing recommendations always need to be prefaced with: “What works for me…”
      Because nothing is universal.
      But it’s worth listening to everybody willing to share, as long as you work out your own process afterwards.

  3. I used to love analyses like this, but now I think ‘yes, but do I want that much of my life consumed by my job, even if I love my job.’

    I’m a better person when I get my head (and my body) out of the writerspace and into the real world with my family and other human beings. Personally, anyway. I don’t think on my deathbed I’ll be thinking ‘I wish I’d spent less time with my kid and used that time to finish another 25 or even 250 novels.’

    Everyone’s gotta find a pace that works for them, and 3-5 books a year is more than enough for me. I don’t think you should let other people’s math make you feel bad about those choices, as long as they’re choices you considered and made, purposefully. *shrugs*

  4. I agree that, just as various types of people do all sorts of jobs in different ways, writers have styles that match the way their brains work and their personalities and energy levels.

    One thing I have observed, however, is that some writers think the strategy they adopted when they began writing is always going to be the best strategy for them to pursue throughout their writing life.

    Thus, from time to time, I think it’s not a bad idea to consider alternatives or tweaks to the writing process that may actually lead to better writing or a more enjoyable and/or repeatable writing approach that works for the individual author.

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