Wednesday, July 12, 2006

AG: Silverberg, Asimov and Me



I recently read an essay by famed science fiction author, Robert Silverberg titled “Building Alternative Realities.” Silverberg is one of the pillars and guiding forces of science fiction and has been writing for fifty years. Fifty years! His work has been recognized by five Hugo awards and five Nebula awards.

Intrigued by the article, I did a little internet research. The revelation that he had been writing for half a century impressed me, but a line in a Wikipedia article flat stunned me. By his own accounting, Silverberg used to write a million words a year. I’m going to give you a moment to let that sink in. One million words per year. Such numbers prompt me to break out the calculator. After a little number crunching, here’s what I’ve learned. A million words per year….

…is equal to ten, 100,000 word novels.

…means writing over 3800 words every work day of every month. In standard manuscript format that equals 15 pages per day. And this he did before word processors or computers.
Such information can inspire the writer’s soul, or knock it to the ground and kick it around the block a few times. Usually, I fall in the latter category. Writing for many of us doesn’t flow that fast. I’m considered a prolific writer, but compared to the likes of Silverberg or Isaac Asimov my production is akin to a stampeding herd of turtles. Asimov’s bibliography is a list of 509 works, 463 of which are books. His collected papers are kept in the Mugar Memorial Library tucked away in 464 boxes lining over 210 feet of shelf space.

On the flip side, some writers produce only a handful of books. Does that make them lightweights in the authorial kingdom? Not at all. Quantity is not the measure of good writing. Craft is. Some people can crank out four books a year, a dozen articles and maybe a few short stories and do it without breaking a sweat. Others agonize over the process.

Asimov quipped, “Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” He also said, “If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.”

Some people think fast; some think deep. The same can be said of writing. The key is not to mimic the output of the prolific, it is to tell the story the best it can be told. If that happens quickly, then great. If it takes much longer, then fine. Just get it written.

Alton Gansky lives and blogs and thinks deep at his home in California. Read his personal blog at http://AltonGansky.typepad.com.

4 Comments:

At 1:02 AM, Blogger Dineen A. Miller said...

Oh, did I need to hear this right now. Thank you very much.

 
At 9:26 AM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

You said, "A million words per year….…is equal to ten, 100,000 word novels…means writing over 3800 words every work day of every month. In standard manuscript format that equals 15 pages per day. And this he did before word processors or computers."

Sounds like he had OCD! Just kidding. I feel saucy this morning after writing a blog post on kissing.

Your post has greatly inspired me. Thanks again.

 
At 3:46 PM, Blogger Chris Well said...

The key is not to mimic the output of the prolific, it is to tell the story the best it can be told.

Whew! Because when you quoted that "10 books a year" number, I thought maybe it was time to give up.

Thanks, Alton, for defending writers who need a little more time ...

:)

 
At 2:41 PM, Anonymous John Robinson said...

One million words a year?? Yowch. Al, brother, I think you and I need some of those speed-up pills George Jetson uses!

 

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