It seems that the romantic notion of the writer toiling away at his desk in spurts of inspiration for years only to emerge from the cocoon of his desk with a literary masterpiece has been traded out with another, more macabre. With the myth of the troubled artist busted, we’ve rallied around another golden calf in recent years: the insane workaholic, self-published author who writes 10,000 words in an hour and publishes a book every other day like a manic half-human, half-typewriter mutant/android.
Okay, I may be exaggerating a little. But still. This new author image is just as bad as the first.
Don’t get me wrong, I admire and respect a person who is dedicated and focused enough to write fast. Writing faster has made me a better, more productive author. This isn’t a post about quality vs. quantity. This is a post about *checks teleprompter* not killing ourselves writing so, you know, we can be around to do more of it and reap the forthcoming rewards for our efforts. Balance is more important than engaging in a Scrivener death march.
A few months ago, I remember listening to a podcast interview with a writer who’d been publishing left and right, producing at a breakneck speed. During this interview, the host asked how he’d done it and one of the first things he mentioned was he’d sacrificed regular exercise to finish a certain book because he “had to get it out.” Most people aren’t bragging about this, and this guy wasn’t. But others in the writing community walk around like that hulk in the gym, muscles bulging from pre-workout and steroids, asking everyone “Do you even write, bro?
In my opinion, this is a rather short-sighted way to carve out a career, like driving a case of Red Bull instead of getting a good night’s sleep. Sure, you got that next book (or books) out, but how long can you maintain that pace before your brain fries and you spend your time hiding in the pantry wearing a tinfoil hat, all the while waiting for the Big 5 agents to come steal your muse? When does it all come crashing down around your head?
I’m not knocking on passionate, hard-working authors. I consider myself one of you. I’m not totes jelly you can write 5,000 words per hour. But when you tell me you’ve forsaken your health, social/family life and who knows what else for a book, well, I guess I just don’t get it. It seems to me you’re perpetuating that poor, starving troubled artist stereotype all over again.
As Austin Kleon says in Steal Like an Artist: It’s best to assume that you’ll be alive for awhile. Eat breakfast. Do some push-ups. Go for long walks. Get plenty of sleep.
In the long run, which of the following do you think will get you further over the course of five years? What kind of person would you be at the end of each scenario?
A. Go to work, eat, sleep and write 5,000 words/day
B. Wake up, write for 15-30 minutes (let’s say 250-750 words), go to work, come home, spend time with family or friends, exercise for 30 minutes, write or market for another 15-30 minutes (same word count as before, so between 500-1500 per day) and then the night reading a book watching your favorite TV show, etc.
Obviously in the first scenario, you’re producing roughly 5x more words each day. That might be well and good for a few weeks or even months, but what kind of life is that? I’d count the second scenario more productive and fulfilling every time. To me, balance show greater discipline and success. Writing like a madman just so you can tell everyone you busted out 10k words in a day isn’t sustainable over the course of a career (at least for the majority of us). Your fingers may move but there’s only so much creative juice in the tank each day. You can’t write on fumes.
There’s only so much creative juice in the tank each day. You can’t write on fumes.
Some might call me lazy, or assume I don’t have the “drive” or “commitment” they do. I can assure you, you’re wrong. I want to be a full-time author, bad. But what I want even more is to not be some flash-in-the-pan author who writes one series and fades away. I want to be enduring. I want to be both efficient and effective. I want this to be a lifelong career. Given the choice, I’ll choose to be the tortoise every time, no matter how much in the moment I wish I was that damned, showboating hare.
This isn’t a death march, people. It’s the long haul. Sure, sometimes your sprint and sometimes you walk while you’re trying to figure out your ideal pace, but just remember: you may be able to sleep in a casket, but you can’t write in one.
Derek Alan Siddoway ( D_Sidd) always thought he wanted to be a paperback writer. Instead, he broke into the self-publishing world in 2013 when he realized there had to be a better use of his time than writing queries to agents. Converted by the fellowship of indie authors, he never looked back. Now, he’s the Founding Father of Undaunted Publishing, a hybrid publishing house combining the best of traditional and self publishing, and the author of Teutevar Saga, an epic/historical fantasy series with a “medieval western” twist. Learn more at derekalansiddoway.com.