Robert Frost Only Published 10 Pages a Year

My complete works … adds up to maybe 700 pages in 70 years–10 pages a year. … I don’t calculate on it, but it comes out to be about that much a year–probably twice that and half thrown away.

–Robert Frost

If you didn’t know Robert Frost, and he said to you, “I’m a writer who publishes 10 pages a year,” you would consider him a failure. Yet, those 10 pages were eloquent and perfectly crafted. They are enduring contributions that we will cherish for as long as English poetry is valued.

Today, writers are only considered prolific if they blog everyday, publish at least ten major articles a year, and author at least one book a year. Frost had an entirely different perspective.

Of course, we’re not all Frost, and we certainly couldn’t make an income operating under his mindset, but he had one thing right. For every two pages you write, you can count on only one being publishable.¬†And that’s if you’re good–really good.

Because my first draft is never ready for publication, I often buy my delete key flowers: it’s overused and under appreciated.

There’s one simple reason why there are so many writers in the world and so few that are published: Writing is a painful process; being edited can hurt.

Editors should be more apt to reject something than accept it. It’s highly likely that the piece just submitted to you is really a draft, or a list of ideas in the form of an article. I would take two to one odds that the content that comes in the door tomorrow is not ready for publication. Why? Frost is right–throw away half of what you write and half of what is submitted. Because, frankly, it’s probably not ready for publication.

Frost understood the value of deleting words he once liked, and if any of us aspire to be as great as him, we should too.

How do you decide what pages to throw away?

One Response to “Robert Frost Only Published 10 Pages a Year”

  1. Brian Davidson January 20, 2013 at 11:08 pm #

    This sentence often echoes in my mind when proofreading: “Just say something.” I frequently edit by asking questions like “What am I trying to communicate? Is this paragraph helpful or distracting?” Thesis-driven writing.

    It is interesting to juxtapose this post with the one titled “If It Doesn’t Ship, It Doesn’t Exist.” Balance is hard to find.

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