I am fascinated by this article about Andrew Offutt, who wrote at least 400 books before he died in 2013. The majority of these were sexually-explicit pulp fiction, written under 17 pseudonyms.
I’m not advocating for this genre. But I do invite you to play along with me for a moment: Can we distill some lessons from Offutt’s prodigious output that will benefit our own work?
Offutt’s son, Chris, recalls his dad’s writing process:
Dad’s writing process was simple — he’d get an idea, brainstorm a few notes, then write the first chapter. Next he’d develop an outline from one to 10 pages. He followed the outline carefully, relying on it to dictate the narrative. He composed his first drafts longhand, wearing rubber thimbles on finger and thumb. Writing with a felt-tip pen, he produced 20 to 40 pages in a sitting. Upon completion of a full draft, he transcribed the material to his typewriter, revising as he went.
His goal was a minimum of a book a month. To achieve that, he refined his methods further, inventing a way that enabled him to maintain a supply of raw material with a minimum of effort. He created batches in advance — phrases, sentences, descriptions and entire scenes on hundreds of pages organized in three-ring binders. Tabbed index dividers separated the sections into topics.
Dad was like Henry Ford applying principles of assembly-line production with pre-made parts. The methodical technique proved highly efficient. Surrounded by his tabulated notebooks, he could quickly find the appropriate section and transcribe lines directly into his manuscript. Afterward, he blacked them out to prevent plagiarizing himself. Ford hired a team of workers to manufacture a Model-T in hours. Working alone, Dad could write a book in three days [italics added].
Applying Assembly Line Principles to a Creative Act
Do those paragraphs describe a literary hack — or a master of productivity? The answer is not so simple.
Consider the painter Chuck Close, who works by deconstructing his huge images into small grids that he completes one at a time. The parallels between this respected artist and Offutt are clear.
What we can take from them is the process of dividing large projects into smaller parts that can be created independently. Offutt actually created many of those parts prior to producing the first draft of a book.
We can take this idea and run with it. The goal is to save time and effort when creating a book manuscript.
In my next post, I’ll suggest ways to do this.