Friday, November 13, 2015

Bell on Becoming a Prolific Writer

Over at Kill Zone, James Scott Bell (Try Dying) discusses how he moved from being a frustrated neophyte to a prolific professional writer. Excerpts:
Got an email the other day from a writer I met at Bouchercon. We’d chatted a bit about the craft, and he wanted to thank me. He’d just completed his first novel and was raring to go on his second. He wrote, “I’m amazed at how prolific you are.”

That was nice to hear, because when I started out that’s what I wanted to be—prolific. I was 34 years old and hadn’t written much of anything for ten years (I’d been told in college that you can’t learn how to write fiction, and since I couldn’t write fiction—fiction that was any good, anyway––I figured I just didn’t have it). So when I made the decision to finally go for it, even if I failed, I wanted to make up for lost time.

Now, according to traditional standards of the writing life, I am prolific. I’ve produced around fifty books, hundreds of articles, several stories and novellas. I’m happy with my output. ...

I heard from a young writer recently who said he was having trouble getting started. He has a wife and young child at home, is working long hours, and when he gets some time to himself he is easily distracted by social media, and is too much of a perfectionist to get many words done.

For those who have these sorts of constraints, let me offer some advice on becoming more prolific, for it can be done!
Read the whole thing. Bell goes on to list some insightful steps for persevering in the writer’s craft, everything from the importance of goals to how to dealing with rejection (which is the one thing that consistently pulls the plug on my own motivation). But I’d like to add a suggestion that riffs off his list, if I may. Bell proposes setting a strict writing quota, and notes that “some writers say they just can’t write to a quota, that it’s too much pressure, that it squeezes the creative juices right out of them.” I’ve been one of those writers. Something that’s helped me move beyond that mindset, though, is content writing. Yes, I produce punchy pabulum for pay, and regularly doing so on short notice not only reinforces the idea that I can write, it reminds me that sometimes people like it enough to give me money. And that perks me up even when I’m feeling like the most melancholy genre hack.

(Picture: CC 2008 by Nic McPhee; Hat Tip: Brandywine Books)


Michael Morse said...

One thing I used to get a giant kick out of on Social Media, Facebook prompt, "write something." Thanks for the article, good stuff!

Loren Eaton said...

Thank you, sir! You most certainly have written something and much more than simply one time.