Saturday, January 4, 2014

How Much Should I Write?

I'm guessing that if you are a visitor here, you are also a writer, too.

Even if you've never published a word except on a blog or your Twitter feed, you're a writer. We are all using one platform or another. I'm old enough to have come from the lovely world of Old Media, and it's absolutely true that getting a novel accepted by a major New York publisher requires talent, hard work, and luck. Doing it once or twice is hard. Doing it for a career is quite an accomplishment.

Which brings me to Isaac Asimov.

I've written about him before because I remain in awe of his talent and his prolific writing ability. Don't get me wrong--I think Harper Lee had a career with her one book. But Asimov, one of the most honored science fiction and science writers of the 20th century comes in with more than 500 written or edited titles.

Five-hundred. Think about that for a moment. That would be an average of ten published books a year for fifty years! And almost all of this was done on a manual typewriter. Asimov had talent, and he knew it. But there was something else going on. He was addicted to how he felt when he was writing.

Isaac Asimov
Aren't you? I know I am. Except for a few days in my life, I have written every day since the early 1970s. And I'm sometimes accused of having published too much. My next book will be my 19th published volume, if you include a little chapbook I published in the 1990s. My autobiography, It is Written: My Life in Letters, will be my 18th full volume when it comes out this fall. Which leaves me 482 books shy of Isaac Asimov.

We have very different ideas about how many books a writer should publish. In the old days of publishing it was almost considered bad manners to publish more than one book every four years or so. But these days, if you are off the grid for more than a few months, the odds increase astronomically that you will be off the grid forever.

That's one of the things I am fighting with a book this year and one in 2015. I deliberately took two years away from the writing world--no speeches, no readings, no blog, only one published book that was very light on promotions. I'm very happy to note that the book that did come out in this period, Emerson's Brother, is a finalist for the Townsend Prize.

But Asimov, in addition to his 500 books, wrote an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards, too. Ninety-thousand! How did the man have time to eat? And what else could he have possibly done but write twenty hours a day?

I think he was a fine writer. I still have a fondness for science fiction and it's latter-day ancestors, people such as Neal Stephenson. I'm reading the Cryptonomicon now and loving it. But writers always wonder if they are writing from art or compulsion or both. I do know that if you are a born writer, there is nothing on this Earth you would rather do.

I won't publish remotely as many books as Asimov. Or as few as Harper Lee. But in the end, what I've done feels about right for me. May you have the same luck in your work as a writer, too.

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