How important is a huge body of work?
By Shoshana Greenberg (Lyricist/Bookwriter)
Sometimes I get a burst of energy and think, "I want to write and write and write and write and write and..." and if I'm lucky I write for about an hour. Then I'm sad because it seems I'll never be the prolific writer I'm supposed to be. I love the idea of amassing a huge body of work, and I don't want to ever stop writing, but as a writer, at this point, I'm not sure I'm the type to churn out tons of material. Am I still a writer if I'm not writing all the time? How many songs, musicals, plays, blog posts do I need?
I feel like the student Calvin from the Sideways Stories from Wayside School story. Bebe can draw 200 pictures in an hour, while Calvin can only draw one. Consequently, he doesn't think he is good at art and instead of drawing helps Bebe draw even more pictures each class period, believing he is doing the world a greater service by bringing it more art. Their teacher, Mrs. Jewls, corrects him by saying:
"No, no! That isn’t how you measure art. It isn’t how many pictures you have, but how good the pictures are. Why, a person could spend their whole life drawing just one picture of a cat. In that time, I’m sure Bebe could draw a million cats... but if that one picture is better than each of Bebe’s two million, then that person has produced more art than Bebe."
I love this story and I know what the teacher says is true, but I still feel this pressure to be prolific and continuously produce work at a fast rate--that that is what makes a good writer. I don't know where this comes from. My teachers would encourage us to write all the time because writing is like a muscle you have to keep in shape, but they also encouraged us to go slowly and find our way through our writing. Maybe it just comes from comparing myself to others. Many writers seem to be workaholics--writing constantly, producing work constantly. It makes sense that the more one has written the more chances one has to get something produced or published, but if I try to work this way I just become frustrated.
Perhaps the answer is just to keep pushing myself to write but not worry about always writing. Not to worry about rate of production or the number songs or musicals or plays I have, but to worry instead about the stories I have to tell and what I have to say through those stories and words. I think (and hope) that that is more important than output and a body of work, that that is the way to create something meaningful, monumental, and eternal.