This past weekend, Jeff Goins posted “How to Be a Prolific Writer”. His fundamental suggestion, as I read it, is that writers should plan to do more than they think they can do. He says, “I want you to bite off more than you can chew.” In some ways, I really agree with him. Many times writers don’t write – or don’t write much – because we think we can’t fit writing into our busy schedules, so part of me is with Jeff in this.
But part of me also holds back from this idea for a couple of reasons:
1. In a society that seems to think busy=good, I’m not sure I want to encourage anyone to do more; in fact, I usually find myself wanting to push people to do less. Focus on what you love and let the things that can fall away – those things we commit to out of some sense of duty or our desire to control – let those things go. Then, maybe we’ll find a place to make our writing the thing we love, and maybe we’ll find something else to love. So I would say be prolific in your writing if that’s what you most want and love, but don’t be prolific just for the sake of production.
2. Which brings me to my second point of hesitation. Being prolific says very little about the quality of our writing or the joy of our practice. Some writers are very prolific – take Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King, for example; I think they probably are vampires and don’t need sleep; that’s how they produce so much work. But other writers – Donna Tartt, Marilynne Robinson, Toni Morrison – produce books much less frequently, and I have to say as good as Ms. Oates and Mr. King are, I usually prefer to read the work that has been mulled through time rather than the quickly drafted prose of some. There is, of course, a place for both the quick writing and the slow prose, but let’s not make the mistake of thinking faster is simply better, especially when it comes to writing.
So I’m of two minds, I guess. I do think writers should write all the time, that we should write broadly and deeply, and I love the idea of pushing ourselves to do more than we thought possible. But I also don’t want us to get lost in our busyness or sense of production and lose sight of our real aim – to live and write life to the full.
So what do you think? Do you agree that writers should be prolific? Do you think that it’s better to produce only first-rate work even in smaller page counts? Where do you stand on this topic?