Writing math is the only kind of math that I do. (I’m a writer, I do words. Numbers are another beast.) I’m constantly figuring and re-figuring how many words I need per day to complete my novel by X date. The date keeps moving because, inevitably, I’ll miss a day or three in my allotted schedule and have to adjust. And I ALWAYS feel like I’m going to slow.
Now, I know you’re not supposed to compare yourself to other writers, published or otherwise. Every writer has their own pace. Every writer has their own process. And one of the reasons I think writers read articles and books on writing (hello!) is to help refine their own process. At least, I hope that’s the case. It’s unhelpful to draw comparisons between two people’s situations. But it can lead to groundbreaking productivity if you find a nugget of advice that you can steal and apply to your own work. Like:
“Why, yes! I will write in the morning before everyone else in the family wakes up.”
“Why, yes! I will write in the evening after the kids are in bed.”
Either way, as long as you figure out your process, you scored. Right?
Sometimes, however, you come across a writer who is intimidating in their productivity. This writer will make other prolific writers feel like incompetent wannabes with no work ethic who’re sitting around, wearing tweed, sucking their thumbs and agonizing over why the muse doesn’t talk to them.
Nora Roberts is such a writer among writers.
She has over 200 books in print right now — with no backlog, according to her. She’s been writing since 1979, with her first published novel happening in 1981. So I did the math:
200 books/37 years (since it’s January, I just counted up to 2016 because she’s only had a couple weeks this year…) = 5.4 books a year.
Assuming each book is around 100K (the average-ish American novel), that means she has written at a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) pace — 1,667 words per month — every month for three decades.
Suck it, Stephen King! — Who, I’m guessing, blasted out a short story while I was typing this sentence.
Being the competitive type, here is an illustration of my initial thought upon doing this math:
But no. It’s a vicious lie I’m telling myself right there. I’m not that fast. I believe that I can hit a Chuck Wendig/Stephen King type pace with some effort. (And, let’s be real, that’s some kind of pipe dream.) But Nora Roberts will forever kick my ass at churning out words. However, there are some things to learn from such numbers:
1. To produce words, you must show up and do the work — which means exactly what it means. This shows up in EVERY SINGLE PIECE OF ADVICE TO WRITERS. There’s a reason for this. Words do not magically show up on the screen and tell stories. Writers have to do that. Nora Roberts writes everyday. [website]
2. Those numbers are produced by a human — which means I (and you) can produce something. Maybe not the million-and-a-half novels that Roberts will complete by the time she goes to work at the great typewriter in the sky in a hundred years or so, but words can be put on paper. Lots of them. Probably even more than I think I can do.
3. Be bold and interested in what you write. I’ve read a handful of Roberts’ novel in the past month or so. One of them was Origin in Death, which I found fascinating because Roberts took the ethics of cloning, mixed it with murder, and created an intricate story that touches on a lot of current issues. The tangle she created is enough to drive several stories, if she was so inclined. If you want to produce more words, then pick subjects that fascinate you. You’ll want to get back to work because it’s interesting for you.
And don’t shy away from contemporary issues that inspire or anger you. If you want to write about politicians, or medical discoveries, or technology, then freakin’ do it — don’t think “Who am I to write/comment on these things?” — you’re a writer and a citizen of the human race, and if it moves you, if you have something to say: SAY IT.
4. Be consistent. And be patient. Roberts has been writing (based on her interviews and her author bio) for 37 years and a couple weeks. That’s an entire lifetime for some people. (i.e. Me.) Producing things takes the time it takes, but as writers, we need to put in that time.
In the interest of productivity tips: as a writer, what do you do to keep yourself putting the words down? What’s the best tip you’ve heard for producing material? Are you intimidated by Nora Roberts-type numbers, or do you find it inspiring? Or both?
Jenny writes dark fiction that her mother hates. Her stories and essays have appeared in Across the Margin, Pantheon, Shimmer, Black Denim Lit, Skive, and others. When she’s not writing her own stuff, she’s reading mysteries for Criminal Element. When she’s not writing fiction or reviews, she’s writing/directing/performing/designing plays at Springs Ensemble Theatre.