Apart from being successful authors, what else do all these – very different – writers have in common?: PG Wodehouse, David Baldacci, Stephen King, John Irving.
Well, they are all prolific (King over 100 books and novellas published; Baldacci around 34; Irving about 20 novels plus multiple screenplays; and Wodehouse over 90 books in his lifetime). So it comes as no surprise that they all work (or worked) on more than one writing project at the same time.
P.G. Wodehouse was said to have ‘built up’ his books over roughly two-year periods each, plotting and developing scenarios before fully drafting, with two or more on the go. Whilst I am not a big Wodehouse fan personally, his approach does seem to make sense. Stephen King is said to work on short stories if he finds himself delayed on longer writing projects, whilst John Irving has said that whilst he doesn’t usually write more than one novel at a time… “it has happened before (and will happen again) that I’m writing a novel concurrently with either a screenplay or a teleplay.”
Even where authors are not working on multiple books simultaneously, they will have others germinating. Alice Hoffman has said that “I only work on one novel at a time, but I have notes about other novels, sometimes outlines, sometimes chapters. They’re like planes on the runway waiting to take off…” Good simile – though that sounds pretty much like working on early drafts to me.
In addition to the creative urge, for popular authors with a hungry (and perhaps fickle) fan base, you can see why they need to keep ‘em coming. Indeed some, such as James Patterson, openly use teams of ghost writers – or “co-writers” – to flesh out their ideas (though I read somewhere that the non plus ultra in prolific authors Nora Roberts does not work on more than one book at a time, and has denied using ghost writers. Impressive).
And sales aside, the benefits of having more than one book on the go at once seem clear. For one thing, it’s common advice to take a step back from a draft for a while prior to re-drafting or editing – meaning you read with objectivity what’s on the page rather than what you imagined in your head. So going off to start a draft of something else could make sense.
However, the above-mentioned writers are commercially successful enough to be able to write full time – or they belong to a quite different decade. In reality, hardly any authors attain significant commercial success, and even most published authors need ‘day jobs’. For instance, the average annual income for a published writer in the UK was given as £12,000 (about $15.5k or €13.5k) in 2017. In terms of the average number of copies sold of each book, numbers appear to be between 250 – 500 copies.
In which case… For the unsuccessful part-time or hobbyist writer, between the full-time day job, kids, housework, commute, caring for parents, etc., it would seems unwise to work on more than one key writing project at the same time.
It is frustrating. Sometimes an idea pops into your head and it’s hard not to jot that down. Then you might itch to expand it. And even if you’re not actually writing, you might not be able to resist a bit of research, or to start ‘writing in your head’. I have a draft I have not touched in over a year, yet I still mentally add and go back to it from time to time with revisions. But given I already have an existing draft on the go, it would be silly to start a parallel project. Wouldn’t it?
PS Apologies to anyone who saw the title of this post and hoped it might be about breasts.
Images: Hans / 22248 images