Wayne Hoffman-Ogier, a wonderful writing teacher at Bennington College, used to remind us that if we wrote only one page a day, that would produce a 365-page novel at the end of the year. He’d hold up his palms as though holding a weighty manuscript and say into your eyes, “That’s a hefty book.” It would also be more than Hemingway or Joyce could be relied upon to supply daily at points in their careers.
I’ve thought about Wayne and his stories of writing processes since writing The Brutal 2,000-Word Day. There, I explored why the fast pace of e-publishing is likely harmful to most writers. But today I’d like to explore why it’s simply unnecessary.
In mocking Scottoline, tweeters pointed out that at 2,000 words per day, seven days per week, she would accumulate 730,000 words per year. The average SciFi or Fantasy novel is somewhere between 90,000 and 100,000 words range, with most genres measuring in shorter. Such productivity, tweeters chided, was god-like and almost certainly a lie. At that pace, Scottoline would have to shelve five or six novels per year.
To me, the simple math also debunked the need for the 2,000-word day. At 1,000 words per day, taking one day for rest per week and the occasional extra day off when your mother catches fire, you could hit the 100,000-word mark in four months. That’s shorter than the NFL season, and yet would create something as long as The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
If you aimed for ceaseless productivity at that 1,000-word pace, you could produce a rough draft of N.K. Jemisin’s entire trilogy in just one year. I doubt anyone has the chops to produce that kind of quality work at that pace, but it’s worth reflection.
Even at 500 words per day after work, a school teacher could produce a similar door-stopper Fantasy novel more than once per year. And because so many bestselling authors still have to work second jobs, that’s likely the schedule for some of the writers you admire.
I write faster than that. It’s been pointed out that I’m on the opposite side of the spectrum from who Chuck Wendig was mocking, as I produce over a novel a year, sell short stories and flash fiction, and produce daily content here. But it’s necessary that fast-producers respect slower processes.
Well firstly, some day your words will probably come slower. Then you’re either going to delude yourself that they aren’t, or self-loathe. I’d head that off if I were you.
Secondly, because irrational pressure kills writers.
But thirdly and most simply, because many vital works take time. Right now traditional publishing is pressuring writers to produce faster. If self-publishing takes over like we expect it to, it shouldn’t adopt the same Mean Girls approach. We’d have a legitimately better landscape if those people whose platforms thrive from quick production help out slower produces.