Productivity, quality, and saying no

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I can produce a certain amount of quality (at least I think it’s quality :-)) writing within a given time frame.  That amount has varied greatly as my career has advanced.  When I first started out (with The Halls of Stormweather and Shadow’s Witness), writing 500 quality words in a day was a struggle.  Today, with a much larger “writer’s toolkit” at my disposal and significant experience under my belt,  I can produce maybe 1,500 to 2,500 words per day, but 2,500 is really about my daily maximum.  After that, intellectual and creative fatigue causes the quality to suffer.  I could write more, of course, but they would be just words, not quality words, and I’d probably have to rewrite them entirely the next day.  Who knows, maybe later in my career I’ll be able to write 4,000 words a day and still be happy with the quality of the work.  Some writers do that, and write great material, so I know it can be done.

Anyway, the 1,500-2,500 word per day average means I can write a couple novels (maybe even two and a half) and a handful of short stories every year.  That seems to me solid output.

Still, balancing the tension between high productivity and quality requires turning down work sometimes.  I find this difficult.   I worked hard to have whatever footprint I have in the genre marketplace, and one of the benefits of that footprint is to get offered cool projects to work on from time to time.    But when I’m already at what feels like maximum capacity (which is where I am today, right at this very moment, Dear God someone help me!), I am forced to reluctantly decline.  Otherwise, I’m doing a disservice to myself, my editor/colleagues, and, most importantly, my readers (see here for my brief thoughts on earning and re-earning an audience, which I can’t do if I’m pushing myself to hard).

So, I guess the upshot (hardly deep wisdom, but a point worth noting nevertheless) is that I’ve found it important to recognize my limits and abide by them.  The last thing I want to do is take on a project when I can’t deliver on it to the standards I expect of myself.

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you for this; I’ve always wondered how much you do each day. My only other question: Where do you find the time with work and family obligations?

    • Karen,

      I work mostly weekends and nights, sometimes on my lunch hour (and always on vacations). It’s a juggling act, but it’s working out all right. 🙂

      Paul

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