The Right Rate of Productivity

Dwight Garner had a piece published in the New York Times a few days ago that’s terrifically well written and very intriguing. Garner’s basic point is that there is a right rate of publication for writers; 10 years per book is too long, Carl Sagan’s pace is too fast, and John Updike’s may be just right. One has to read the article to appreciate Garner’s fine way with words  — “At minimum, a writer’s book should be like his or her serious boyfriends or girlfriends; if there are some you can’t remember, you have had too many.” — but I want to add to the discussion with some thoughts sparked by the idea that there is a right level of literary productivity.

Whatever is the right pace for producing words and making the public aware of them, this pace is governed by what we call quantity-quality trade off. Produce lots, and the lots produced is bound to be shoddy. I wonder, however, if this trade off is ubiquitous. Does it always bite? Does the quantity-quality trade off apply in, say, blog writing?

Blog entries are meant to be bite-size. Lots of time can be taken/wasted in writing a short blog post, but its short length and the expectation for posts to be self-contained put a natural limit on how long one spends on a post. Of course, one can post too much; verbal diarrhea has not been vanquished by our sophisticated plumbing system; filtering content is costly, and the costs should be born by both writers and readers (write less; read less junk). However, verbal diarrhea is hardly likely to improve by taking more time sprucing up up the words/tinkering with the content, and so, I think, there is no quantity-quality trade off in those cases of expulsions . Bloggers sometimes express the wish to write more, but again, this isn’t quantity-quality. This is not finding the time to write, or simply not having topics on which one is inspired to write. Quantity is kept to zero, but it is not for fear of sacrificing quality.

In short, for me, at least, there has not been a case of a post improving because I’ve taken longer on it. However, I haven’t ruled out the possibility of being a cholera-sufferer myself.

(PS. I’ve reduced my 1 post a day to 1 post every weekday. With school and new job starting, I may further self-cure of any lingering symptoms of literary cholera.)

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