Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Two Cent Tuesday: Growth Chart

Over a month ago I created a full bibliography of all the stuff I'd written and published since 1994.  Eventually I got to thinking of a way to represent this graphically--in graph format.

Because the idea that occurred to me is that by looking at those books I could track my growth and lack thereof as a writer.  So first let me post the chart and then I'll get down to explaining it.  BTW, the numbers are pretty much arbitrary values.
Click to embiggen as Offutt would say...
The bottom (Y?) axis represents a year, some being listed more than once as they correspond to a particular work.

From the chart you could extrapolate a few distinct periods:

Period One:  Infancy (1994-2001)

We start arbitrarily at 1 with A Light From the Darkness in 1994.  It was by all measures not very good.  It's the kind of thing I probably shouldn't put out there, but what the hell.  Hardly anyone ever buys it.  There's a slight uptick then with the Rebirth Trilogy as I eventually called it:  First Contact, The Savior, The Final Battle.  The story was a little sharper though the grammar was still pretty bad.

 Period Two:  Aggressive Expansion (2002-2007)

Starting in 2002 with The Leading Men I began to get into literary fiction.  Really between 2003-2006 was when I was sort of hitting the books, really working on the craft and all that.  That was when I naively thought if I just worked really hard at it I'd find that fabled Northwest Passage to getting published.  There is a large drop for what eventually became Young Family (Children of Eternity #2) just because it took three drafts to get that into something not completely awful.

Period Three:  The Peak (2008)

All that hard work on craft and all that left me burned out in 2007, but it opened the door to reaching the peak with Where You Belong in 2008.  That's where I was in the zone as they say.  I'll talk more about that next week.

Period Four:  The Permanent Period (2009-Present)

Since reaching the peak, things have largely plateaued.  There were a couple of setbacks in Time Enough to Say Goodbye and Awakenings, both of which required a couple of drafts.  The Chances Are series I consider to be the best from this period, though others may disagree.  More or less right on through the present things have been keeping an even keel.  The name "Permanent Period" comes from Lay of the Land by Richard Ford where the narrator claims you eventually reach a point where great changes are no longer possible.  You are who you are and that's how it's going to be from now on.  That's not really a bad thing in my book; if you've been at it for almost 20 years and you still haven't figured out your identity yet that would be the bad thing to me.

The idea here is to chart a writer's growing maturity--or lack thereof.  You start off knowing very little and then you learn until you reach the pinnacle of your powers and then you settle in.

I used myself because who else do I know that well, but really you could do this for any author who's been around 20-30 years.  I could plug in my literary hero John Irving or someone like John Updike or Kurt Vonnegut or Stephen King or John Grisham or whoever else you want to name who's been around for a long time.  I'd wager the chart would wind up looking pretty much the same.

You could look at it like an athlete in whatever sport.  A guy breaks into the league, hones his game, becomes a star for a while, and then as he gets older settles back in as a reliable but perhaps not spectacular player before finally calling it quits.  Think of Michael Jordan for instance.  He was drafted in the early 80s and then through the 80s was honing his game before he exploded in the 90s as the king of basketball and then with the Washington Wizards he settled into being an OK but not great player for a couple years before he retired.  So it goes.

So where do you think you are on the chart?


  1. So it boil down to production and quality.
    It looks as though you've been plenty productive as far as the standards of quality that might be subjective. We are our own worst critics.

  2. I'm in the caption of the chart. Look at how much you glean from me? Seriously, I'm such a trendsetter.

  3. How did you determine, exactly, the quality of your output? Sales? Your own opinion? Aggregate opinion of others? A little of all three?

    1. It's my rating. I tried to be honest with myself though I'm sure others would disagree.

  4. This looks like a tricky thing to quantify, but I would hope my chart is continually going up.

  5. I just wish I was "on" your chart. Maybe this coming year I'll finally get something published.

  6. Wow. Such an audacious task. I would chart myself as having a low point, then a jump up in the first year, and being pretty even since then. And that evenness is at a pretty low level. I'd rather not do that to myself, to be honest, I'd quit writing if I did so.

    What I think is interesting, is that you've got your best known stuff rated as your third or fourth best works. Maybe you can add superheros to Where You Belong and really raise the roof on your upper limits.

  7. I think if you actually work on reinventing yourself, so to speak, every so often, you can continue to get better. Like U2. They are still viable as a rock-and-roll band producing new material because they took risks, changed things, and continued to grow instead of allowing themselves to fall into a groove of familiar. Sure, those experiments won't always pay off (as their late 90s stuff shows (even if I do like it)), but it -can- pay off.



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