Is Ruth Rendell, aka Barbara Vine, the most prolific writer ever? Her output is truly phenomenal: 21 Chief Inspector Wexford novels, 26 ‘non-Wexfords’ and 13 Barbara Vines, as well as 6 short story collections and a few non-fiction titles. And it’s quality stuff too. I just can’t get enough of her compellingly twisty storylines (A Dark-Adapted Eye, The Bridesmaid) and her clever and wry insights into human nature and the mores of society (The House of Stairs, Going Wrong, The Keys to the Street). In short, she rocks. So it’s no wonder that her fan mail contains countless queries from wannabe writers asking what her ‘secret’ is.
How does she do it?
When speaking at the Cheltenham Book Festival once, she lamented those letters, the kind that go, Dear Ms Rendell, I want to be a writer. Please can you give me some advice? She said she’s tempted to reply, For a start you should stop writing letters to me and get on with your own writing. Ouch!
But she has a point.
The Productivity/Creativity Principle
A profound thought about writing and productivity popped into my brain the other day: the more you write the more you write. Okay, it doesn’t look quite so profound now I’ve written it down, but I promise you it felt like I was onto an important discovery. Could it be that creativity and motivation have a direct relationship with writing output? The faster you empty the well (productivity) the more quickly it fills back up again with fresh and wonderful ideas (creativity) that you can’t wait to get down (motivation)? Conversely, the less you write the more stagnant you become or, worst horror of all, the source dries up completely. I feel a mathematical formula coming on… if p=productivity, c = creativity, s = speed, etc.
Would you like a refill, Sir?
There’s another analogy I want to run with, this time from Stan Barstow’s brilliant novel, A Brother’s Tale. The MC is Gordon Taylor, a writing tutor who by his own admission (only to himself, you understand) ‘dabbles’ in the field of creative writing. Chapter six takes place in a Chinese restaurant, with a foursome made up of Gordon, his wife Eileen, his famous footballer brother Bonny, and one of Gordon’s students, Eunice (a pushy type who’s trying to bag an interview with Bonny). A number of things conspire to put Gordon in a sour mood that evening: his wife’s annoyance at Eunice barging her way in, his loaded brother splashing the cash around, ordering champagne, and flirting with his student… (Yes, of course Gordon fancies her – she wears smoke-grey stockings and writes sexy poetry, for heaven’s sake!)
Gordon is irritated when the waiter comes over and refills each of their wine glasses. Nothing wrong with that, you might think. Aha, but those who’d drunk at a faster rate, like Eunice, ended up getting more of the wine. But hang on a minute, Gordon – that sounds like my Productivity/Creativity Principle. Perhaps you need to drink more to get more. I speak metaphorically, of course.
Okay, so how is it for you with your writing? What’s your formula for productivity? Who or what fills your wine glass? I’d love to know.