The Under Ground Writing Project

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The 30%

Posted by Jenny Maloney on January 14, 2013 at 8:40 AM

There seems to be a general consensus among professionals that quanitity leads to quality. So, the more you write, the more you pay attention as you're writing, the better you'll get as a writer. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book The Outliers talks about 10,000 hours of attentive practice. There's the oft-quoted Bradburian 1,000,000 words of crap before you get to anything good.

But something that we don't always ask ourselves is: Am I one of the writers who is producing enough words, writing enough stories, exploring enough with my work, and generally doing the work that I need to in order to write well?

During NaNoWriMo last November, the blog Rescue Time ran a small study of 100 writers during the course of the competition. They came up with some interesting findings. They discovered what websites the most productive writers used. They broke down the 5 Habits of Highly Motivated Novelists.

But one thing overall caught my attention. To help me explain what caught my wandering eye, I've decided to use some illustrations. Let me first introduce you to the Monster Writers Inc.:

Monster Writer's Inc. is a writers group that consists of ten aspiring Monster Novelists.

Below, the pens represent the amount of work that Monster Writers Inc. produces:

As you can see, the group produces work on a consistant basis. However, according to the Rescue Time observations, 30% of the 100 writers they tallied produced over 70% of the work. If we apply that to the Monster Writer's Inc. group you notice:

For all the work produced, three - a measly three - produced the vast majority of the work. Now, this doesn't mean they necessarily produced the best work...but when you're playing odds like that, do you really want to bet against them? I wouldn't.

What does this mean for us? Well, for me, it means three things:

1. The publishing competition is not as fierce as you think. Most 'writers' are talking about writing, reading blog entries about writing (Hi!), half-finishing things, or not producing (read: practicing) at a rate that will make them strong enough to publish. While all 10 little monsters may submit their work, only three (or fewer) are in any position to have people read their work.

2. I may not be working hard enough. Am I producing enough? I know that, personally, I haven't been finishing strong. Now I have something to focus on: finishing.

3. Writers need to be encouraged. Motivation is kind of hard to come by in some cases. We work full time jobs. We have kids. We're tired. Sometimes it's well worth turning to the writer in your life (and the other writers in your life, if you're a writer) and saying "Hey, buddy, you're doing a good job. Keep going."


Hey, buddy. You're doing a good job. Keep going.

Categories: Patterns, NaNoWriMo

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Reply Debbie Meldrum
1:50 PM on January 14, 2013 
Sounds like the 80/20 rule in business. 80% of complaints come from 20% of customers. 20% of staff do 80% of work, etc.

Here's to being in the 30%!
Reply Ali
5:01 PM on January 14, 2013 
Love the visual aid :)

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