Less Is So Rare

The reading of The Writing Life by Annie Dillard progresses. When she’s lucid, she’s quite helpful. When she’s not, she’s quite interesting. It’s a win-win.

Here’s one of my favorite parts:

“To comfort friends discouraged by their writing pace, you could offer them this. It takes years to write a book – between two and ten years. Less is so rare as to be statistically insignificant.”

Does that comfort you? She continues with examples of the writing timelines of famous full-time writers:

“If a full-time writer averages a book every five years, that makes seventy-three usable pages a year, or a usable fifth of a page a day.”

That’s full-time writers, remember.

She concludes:

“There is neither a proportional relationship, nor an inverse one, between a writer’s estimation of a work in progress and its actual quality. The feeling that the work is magnificent, and the feeling that it is abominable, are both mosquitoes to be repelled, ignored, or killed, but not indulged.”

Some of you may find this discouraging, especially if you’re not a “full-time” writer. That’s a lot of time spent producing without knowing if it’s compost or vegetable until you’re done.

On the other hand, since you can’t tell until you’re done, why waste time and energy on qualifying a WIP when you could be writing it? I’ve tried judging it before it’s done. That leads to writer’s block. I find the whole concept of digging out the good stuff later encouraging.

I’ve got a long way to go on my current WIP, but I’ll tackle it one day at a time, one sentence at a time, one word at a time. To do less is to stop being a writer. I’m not willing to do that.

About Robynn Tolbert

Born in Kansas and born again at age six, Robynn has published two novels and started her third. Robynn, aka Ranunculus Turtle, lives in Kansas with a clowder of cats, a patient dog and a garden.

3 comments on “Less Is So Rare

  1. Sounds like you’re gleaning some great wisdom from Ms. Dillard, Robynn! More than a sentence at a time is definitely too much for my little brain. Thanks for the perspective.

  2. Yeah, I’d prefer not to reflect on exactly how much time/work goes into really finishing a novel. It’s a little depressing. I’ll keep my rose-colored glasses on and continue to plug away at my WIP with dreams of sugar plums dancing in my head.

  3. My Dearest Turtle,

    You don’t have that honorary name for nothing. Slow and steady, that is how the race is won.

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