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Prolific writer is one of those terms that is difficult to nail down. The word prolific just means: productive, abundant, or creative. In other words, we may “know it when we see it,” but the meaning is subjective. It’s a quality that requires comparison. And by comparison, history has delivered some very prolific authors. Interestingly, a review the top forty prolific writers, reveals many names you might not recognize.
Sometimes the reason may be as in the case of the German author, Rolf Kalmuczak who wrote over 2,900 novels but did so under over one hundred pen names. In other cases, such as Barbara Cartland’s 772 novels, the unfamiliarity may be because you’ve never endeavored to read romance. But there are other names, such as Isaac Asimov and his 506 books, you may know even if you’ve only experienced his stories in movies (Bicentennial Man and iRobot). The numbers, however, make the modern day prolific writers such as Stephen King (plus 100) and Nora Roberts (plus 213) seem almost lazy.
Although one could certainly argue that quality is of greater value than quantity, the list of “who’s who” in the most prolific writers club, has plenty of quality. Of course, back here on the planet, “Lord let me just get one book out a year,” being more productive is a consistent theme for many modern authors.
When asked “how” they produced so many books, most prolific writers fall back to advice on character development, confidence in the work, or as Muriel Spark suggested, get a cat. The question of “how” appears as difficult to answer as the question of “inspiration.”
It is not that these authors are holding back some secret, it’s that they, themselves, can’t answer to the exact mechanism that creates such production. But, within their processes lies some consistency that might hold the key. There are things you can identify that seem almost—there aren’t any absolutes in most things—universal to all prolific writers.
1. Prolific Writers Are Prolific Readers
The one consistent behavior of the most productive writers is that they are prolific readers. Their love of writing stems from a love of reading. And most are known for not just reading a few books, but an enormous amount of books. To be a prolific writer, you need to have a lot of ideas, and there is no better way to find new ideas than exposure to . . . Ideas. An additional benefit is that exposure to different styles and plots also improves a writer’s own crafting of style and plots. Plus, if you want to know what good writing looks like then you have to read it.
Does that mean an author should read Classics? First, any reading is better than no reading. But one psychological theory on learning suggests that“hearing an incorrect answer” can lead to providing the wrong response in the future. In short, we remember the question and the first response regardless of the validity of the reply. Additionally, much learning is the result of modeling. So exposure plays a role in how we learn. The better the teacher, the more opportunity for the student to advance. Exposure to the Classics provides a writer with a greater opportunity to improve their storytelling than exposure to comic books.
2. Habit Over Inspiration
E.B. White wrote, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” Prolific writers have a severe writing habit. They write every day. They . . .
*Originally posted on WritersAfterDark.net by Raymond Esposito