Monday, October 3, 2011

Sweet Sacrifice

Perhaps you've heard of Nora Roberts? In case you haven't, she's one of the most prolific authors of our time. On average, she releases 5 books a year, and has done so for the past 30 years. Currently she's written over 200 books, and shows no sign of slowing down.

Any author would die to have her productivity. So how does she do it? While Nora is gifted, it's her discipline that sets her apart. Nora works 8 hours a day, every day. No exceptions. On weekends and holidays, you'll find her at the computer, and she rarely takes a day off. Due to tight deadlines and edits from her publisher, there are days when she works longer. It's hard work, and she does it every day.

In a typical year, Nora works approximately 3,000 hours (8 X 365 = 2920 + additional hours worked). Her average book takes approximately 500 hours to complete, enabling her to produce six titles a year. Now that you see it in this context, is it really surprising that she churns out so much so often? And what happens when things don't quite go according to plan? "Keep beating the square peg into the round hole," she advised my mother one fateful evening.

While we're at it, let me throw another name out there that you might not know. His name is Ryoki Inoue, and he's world’s most prolific author (Guinness World Book of Records). Currently he's written 1,100 books, the bulk of which was produced in a ten-year span.

Over the years, Mr. Inoue has developed a system that allows him to write up to 3 books a day. At the height of his creative powers, he averaged 6 published titles a month or a new book every 5 days. There are stories of him writing whole chapters on bathroom breaks and entire novels while at the beach or having his car fixed. It's extraordinary what Ryoki Inoue has accomplished, and he's still going strong. "I like doing one book in three days, rather than three books in one day," he told a reporter.

Excuse me while I pick up my jaw from the floor.

When journalist Matt Moffet heard about Ryoki Inoue's exploits, he was immediately skeptical. Against Ryoki's objections, Moffet flew down to Brazil to see Mr. Inoue work firsthand. True to his word, Ryoki turned out an entire novel in one evening (Sequestro Fast Food) between the hours of 11:30 pm and 4:00 am. A week later it was published. Amazed by Inoue’s prolificacy, Moffet wrote an entertaining piece for the Wall Street Journal, which was published on May 2nd, 1996.

Ryoki's advice to aspiring writers? Abandon inertia, rely on organization and discipline to succeed, juggle multiple projects to keep productivity high, use dynamite to solve plot conflicts (I’m not even making this up), and don't stop until you finish.

The messages that Ryoki and Nora are relaying are quite similar: it's all about working hard and maintaining discipline. More importantly, it's about personal sacrifice.

What are you willing to give up in order to succeed?

Certainly there are times when Nora or Ryoki prefer to surf the Internet or take a day off. Perhaps they give themselves a treat here and there, but the other 99% of the time, they're hard at work. Do these prolific authors buy cases of superglue to keep them in their chairs? It wouldn't surprise me.

Now I'm not suggesting that you devote every waking moment to writing, nor am I expecting you to become a prolific author of the likes of Ryoki Inoue or Nora Roberts. If you take something from their example, let it be this: set your hours and honor them voraciously. Eliminate distractions (sorry, family doesn't count), and most of all, be willing to work hard.

Nothing's impossible when you're willing to work hard.

In order to reach your goals, you'll need to make a few sacrifices. Some of them are easy: instead of watching a movie, read a book, or better yet, write. Reduce your television time, gaming, and Internet browsing. Actually, I would suggest that you work on a computer that doesn't have Internet access so that you're not tempted. Indulge in your hobbies as a reward, and you will appreciate them more afterwards.

Also take your nutrition into account. When working long hours, it becomes quickly apparent when you're running on bad fuel. Remove soft drinks from your diet, and replace them with water instead. Snack on fruits and vegetables instead of potato chips and cookies and you will work longer with better focus. Nutrition directly affects mood, and you won't want to do anything (much less write) if you feel terrible.

A month from now you won't remember how important it was to read the latest gossip, beat a videogame, or that you wolfed down a Cinnabon (ok, maybe that last one), but you will remember the sweet taste of success when you publish that novel you've been toiling with for the last few months. Indulge later; don't make play time your full time. Instead, do something meaningful with your time!

When it's time to work, work. No excuses. If you need to step it up, invest the time and energy. No one wants to hear about how tired you were; they want to hear about how you overcame obstacles. Put everything into your writing. Become great. Recognize and eliminate bad habits. Force yourself to read and write more. Create an environment that fosters productivity. Put in the time, maintain discipline, and make the necessary sacrifices. By removing obstacles that encourage failure, all that's left for you to do is to succeed. And succeed you shall.

Let your sweet sacrifice speak for itself.

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