Lester Dent and Formula

Productivity and creativity are two concepts often placed at odds with one another – the idea being that good art takes time. This isn’t really borne out by evidence, and a statement I rather prefer is this one: The art takes the time the artist requires.

Lester Dent, a pulphouse author from the late 20’s and 30’s, is a grand example of this – the man churned out story after story for monthly magazines at an astounding rate of speed (especially when you consider the pen-and-paper/typewriter equipment he was working with). He wrote well over 150 novels in a 30 year career, plus many, many short stories. These weren’t Epic-Fantasy tomes, but Dent wrote over 200,000 words a month, as this piece states and which seems in the realm of possibility, considering his output, that means an average of 6000 words per day. An average paperback page contains 250 words or so, meaning Dent cranked out 24 pages every day of fiction. Equate this to an artist like, say, Bob Ross who could put together a complete landscape painting in a single 30-minute show.

Dent and Ross don’t get their productivity through some magical incantation. They didn’t, to my knowledge, perform some ritual sacrifice or discover a fallen meteorite that granted them superhuman abilities. Rather, they used formula. They kept their work, mostly, in line with a template that worked for them. Knowing when certain things had to happen for his characters let Dent focus on setting and dialogue. He could merrily type away, note when he’d reached a certain part of his story, and then kick the next section off without pausing to ask “what happens now?”.

The point I’m taking away from this isn’t that, to be productive, we all need to follow what Dent and Ross did. Instead, we might look to them for inspiration, for the drive to find a formula that works for us, whether we’re writing fiction, making movies, or even just knocking out a day’s worth of tasks. There’s value in making templates, even if you don’t think one could apply to your situation/goal. Give it a shot. See what you can come up with.

I mean, if I could come up with a formula for wrangling my cats consistently every day so they didn’t destroy my house, that’d save me so much time. And furniture.

A couple other things:

  • Dent also managed to snag a pilot’s license, climbed mountains, and passed electrician/plumbing exams, at least partly because of the time he saved by adhering to his process. I’m sure, with that extra time, I could play more with my overlords; the cats.
  • I’m late to the game, but the current workout show of choice is The Americans, which is proving to be a fascinating, fun dive into an early 80’s thriller. I love that their ‘day jobs’ are as travel agents – something that gives plausible excuses for being active at all hours and often away from the office. Wonder what current-day spies prefer to have as their undercover gig of choice – remote software developer? Uber driver?

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