It’s not ALL about the seat of the chair

Now that our Evil Alter Blogger has had his say about those who sneer at prolific writers, I figure it’s time for me to say something on the matter in propria persona. Herewith, I reproduce a comment I made over at the Passive Voice, which the gracious Carbonel thought well of.

One Scath muses aloud:

I’ve been earning a living as a writer releasing 2 books per year. Wonder what will happen if I up that to 4 per year?

I respond:

Either (a) you will more than double your income, because you are attracting more readers and have twice as many products to sell to each one; or (b) your income per book will suffer because you are rushing yourself to meet an arbitrary production schedule, and not giving the ideas long enough to cook. Or some combination of the two effects. It depends entirely on you and your internal process.

Like most writers I know, I find that the process of coming up with good story ideas is not one that happens solely whilst one is applying the seat of the trousers to the seat of the chair. I can usually come up with enough stuff in twenty-four hours to keep me busy at the keyboard for four or five hours writing it down. I find that if I force myself to spend more hours at the keyboard, I often end up forcing out rubbish just to fill up the time.

Of course everyone’s mileage differs; but that ought to be the real lesson – everyone’s mileage differs. There is nothing inherently wrong with having the fixings in your mind to make one decent book per month, or one per quarter, or one per year, or one per lifetime. (Very few of us can manage one per month. That much time at the keyboard leaves very little time for having enough of a life to feed a fluent stream of new ideas.) The only thing that is unequivocally wrong is trying to base your schedule on someone else’s idea of how much you should write.

If Patty Pretentious says you should write only one book every ten years and it will be a literary masterpiece, she’s almost certainly wrong. If Harry Hackworthy says you should crank out a book every two weeks, just as fast as your fingers can type the words, he is almost certainly wrong. If Sammy Statistics says you should write 1.21 books per year because that is the aurea mediocritas at which the average Great Writer writes the average Great Book, he is almost certainly wrong. Writers, especially great ones, cannot be aggregated in that way.

There’s a reason why Polonius did not say, ‘To the Huffington Post’s own self be true.’ Or even, ‘To thy critique group’s own self be true.’


  1. This reminds me of heated debates I, a plotter, had with organic writers. They said I must cut what I had written, and there was no way out of this. Meanwhile, while they were writing whatever came to mind and then cutting out what did not fit into the long-winded story that resulted, I was building on a skeletal framework of plot to which I added muscle, sinew, circulatory system, skin, nerves. Had I cut, it would have been necessary bone. I needed to literally “flesh out” my story.

    Their failure to see that anyone could have a fundamentally different writing process was either blindness, hubris, or both.

    • Their failure to see that anyone could have a fundamentally different writing process was either blindness, hubris, or both.

      I would describe it as ‘System Failure in Social Skill #2’. There are two bedrock social skills that we all must learn, for all others are founded upon them. These skills consist in realizing two basic facts, and having the knowhow to adjust one’s behaviour accordingly:

      1. Other people are real people, just as you are a real person yourself.

      2. Other people are not the same person as yourself.

      Many people intuitively grasp #1, but hang up badly on #2. They come away thinking either that all people are just like themselves, and misinterpreting nearly everybody’s behaviour and motivations; or that those people who are not just like themselves are not really People after all, but some kind of Nasty Vermin on whom it is always open season.

    • I write to outline, but I have to plump up on the second draft because the first doesn’t get enough detail.


    The idea is that some people benefit from writing every day, but some don’t, and some people have the time and energy to write every day, and some don’t– and being told to write every day paralyses quite a few people with shame.

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