Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Zelnorm for Writers?

Sierra is seeking validation:
What's normal? I write for an hour a day. In that hour, I only manage to scribble out about a page or two worth of prose. It demands a lot of thought. Is it normal to spend that much time on only one or two pages or am I just hopelessly slow and inept?

At risk of seeming obvious, what's normal is what's normal for you. I know of writers who claim to produce 20 pages of good copy every day, rain or shine. (Personally, I tend to find the output of these writers about as exciting as reading a telephone directory.) I do know that I have had days in which an idea has sprung forth fully grown and I've written 8 pages of publishable material in a single hour.

Then again, I've also had days when I've sweated and strained all day long to produce just one possibly salvagable paragraph, and other days when I've written 12 or 15 pages of great prose, only to throw it all out later because either, a.) it was great material but it didn't fit into the story, or b.) it only seemed like great material in the heat of the creative moment.

The key, for me at least, is to be unafraid to cut my own words mercilessly, but only after I get to "The End." If I start editing before then, I face the very real risk of falling into an infinite revision loop and never actually finishing the thing.

As for your writing demanding "a lot of thought:" thinking is good. Thinking is your friend. Outside observers always underestimate just how much thinking needs to occur before Word One ever hits the page. Spewing out a lot of words quickly is easy (as the blogosphere proves daily); writing a few well-chosen and memorable words takes time. Or as someone very famous once put it (the quote is variously attributed to Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, or Blaise Pascal), "I'm sorry this is so long. I didn't have time to make it short."