Friday, July 29, 2011

Write On

By Kristina Wright

Prolific or not? Probably not. I guess it depends on how you quantify prolific. Number of words written? Number of hours spent writing? Number of stories tucked away in folders on the hard drive? Number of stories published? Number of genres published in? What is prolific?

Most of my real life friends are non-writers. Many will never read my erotica. So they wonder about what they do and phrase awkward questions that are meant to express interest in what I do without hearing any of the naughty details. They want to know how much I write, how often, where the ideas come from and, though few will ask outright, how much I make. Most people think they could be a writer if only they had the time.

I used to relate this anecdote: I once wrote a 5000 words story in under 3 hours and sold it in 2 days.

That sounds somewhat impressive, but it really doesn't say much about my writing ability or how prolific I am to relate an anecdote about one short story. What it does is lead people to believe that a) writing is easy (specifically, writing erotica or porn or smut, pick your word) and b) that yes, they could in fact be a writer, too.

I used to follow up that bragging anecdote with this far more humbling one: One year, I wrote 900 pages of fiction and didn't sell a single word.

That sounds... daunting. Scary. Terrifying. Even to me, and it's my story. But again, it doesn't say much about how prolific I am to only discuss one particular year without detailing what I was writing (novels and short fiction) and whether I was finishing those novels (I finished two) and whether I was submitting those 900 pages (I was) and whether every year is like that (some are, some aren't) and whether I learned anything from those writing experiences that helped me sell other words (I did). And even then... what does that tell you about my writing habits, other than I can handle rejection and I don't give up? Not much.

Garce wrote about Stephen King in his column this week. I've been crushing on Stephen King since I was 13 years old and I even thanked him in my introduction to my paranormal erotic romance anthology Dream Lover for inspiring my stories. Reading Stephen King taught me about writing through anything-- tragedy, illness, addiction, depression-- and putting my soul into my writing even if it means no one else gets it or buys it. (He also taught me about hooking the reader with cliffhangers-- few authors can write a cliffhanger like Stephen King.) But much as I adore Mr. King, I am nowhere near as prolific.

How prolific any author might be is subjective to the person considering the author's output. I might have added a dozen new writing credits to my name in the past couple of months, but look a little closer and you'll see several reprints, a couple of stories that had been languishing on editors' desks for over a year, a couple more pieces of writing that aren't more than flash fiction, etc. The bullets look nice on a resume, but they are little more than indicators that I am, in fact, a working writer.

And then there are those 900 page years-- years where I sit down at the laptop day in and day out, pass up opportunities to socialize with friends, stay up far later than I should, write through lunch, write on holidays, write on vacation, write while baby naps instead of napping myself... Those are the months and years that I feel most productive-- when the output exceeds even my own lofty goals. But who's to know how prolific I am if none of those words ever see the light of day? Are the words really written if they're never published? The MFAs among us might say, "Absolutely!", the full-time freelancers living on their writing will likely say, "Hell no!" I fall in between those two categories-- I revel in the days of high page counts and the feeling of creative accomplishment, but I also feel the compelling need to get those words in front of a reader, preferably a paying reader.

When I first saw the topic for this week-- "Prolific or Not?" I sarcastically muttered, "Not." I was even tempted to have that be my entire post. Just that word: Not. My life is in a state of chaos right now and finding the joy in writing has taken a backseat to meeting deadlines, editing anthologies, doing promotion and all the other stuff that goes along with a writing and editing career. And I mostly feel like I'm failing horribly at all of it, in addition to not being a very prolific writer. And knowing the whys of my lack of productivity and admitting that I have some very good reasons for not writing more only makes me feel better some of the time.

There was a time when writers wrote in a bubble. We didn't know what our peers were doing on a day to day basis unless we knew them in person. In the age of the internet, it only takes a few clicks on the keyboard to pull up dozens of my peers who are doing so much more than I am doing or could even hope to do right now. Writers who are blogging every day, writers who are starting their own magazine or e-book press, writers who are writing two books a year, writers who are doing more, more, more than me. I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing every writer feels that way-- at least the ones who bother to look up from their computers to notice.

And maybe that's the key to being prolific-- not to measure words counts or publishing credits or Amazon sales numbers against any other writer. To simply write. And write some more. To write when the spirit moves me and even when it doesn't. To write today and tomorrow and the next day. To find the time or make the time or beg, borrow or steal the time to write. To forgive myself for not writing today or tomorrow or the next day, but to write the day after. To just keep writing. No matter what. Always. Forever. Until death us do part.

Maybe that's what being prolific means. I think maybe it's what it means to me. Write on. I will.

6 comments:

  1. You've gotten to the crux of the issue, Kristina. The question's not really well-defined, so how can we answer.

    Anyway, 900 pages in a year is mind-boggling to me. And reprints are publications too - you deserve extra kudos for keeping your work in the public eye.

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  2. Kristina - maybe we're a beacon of hope anyway. We're not prolific, but we're still writers.

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  3. I think it is as you say - to just keep writing. Franz Kafka after all never published any of his stories in his lifetime and in fact asked his most trusted friend to burn his manuscripts when he died. Fortunately his friend didn't. The difference between you and your friends who would write if they find the time is that you find the time. There are a lot of people who think they have a book in them if they could find the time, but the time you sacrificed away from socializing as you say makes all the difference. A writer -writes. Plain and simple. If someone wants to do it they'll find a way to do it.

    I'm thinking of that movie "Quills" about the Marquis de Sade. When the asylum wardens confiscated all his writing materials he took a piece of glass and wrote a story on his naked body in his own blood. He may have been crazy, but he was a writer.

    Garce

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  4. This is fantastic, and terribly true. I feel the hand of time bearing down on me very strongly sometimes, and in those times I feel like I'm never prolific enough, that I'm going to grow old and die before I can do what I'm supposed to be doing.

    And other days, when the hand of time is off playing push-and-shove with some other writer, I feel slightly more prolific, as though if I can just get a bare minimum done each day, it will eventually lead to a true lifetime of words.

    Bestest, s.

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  5. Kristina, this is so true, and especially about the non-writing friends who don't understand. You've already proven that you can find time & energy to write, no matter what.

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