Kyokutei Bakin wrote over 470 books, including a 106 book novel. The 106 volume novel took 28 years to complete. That’s about 4 books per year. His other books included 30 long novels. Possibly there are a couple of hundred novellas in there as well. Even if it were only 470 novellas he wrote, we’d still like to know the secret to his writing output. What do we know about him?
Bakin was born in 1767 Japan, so the qualifications for publication were a little different than today. It’s seems like before 1900, if you could write a novel it would get published. That doesn’t change his accomplishment. 470 books is a lot of writing. If he wasn’t good at the start, he would have been eventually. And he was. His novel Nans? Satomi hakkenden (“Satomi and the Eight Dogs”) is considered a classic.
There’s not a lot of information about Bakin, but among the biographical information there is a clue as to how he was able to write so much.
Bakin was born a Samurai. His parents died when he was young and the rest of his family was wiped out by famine and plague. After drifting for some time, he renounced samurai status in order to become a writer. His samurai upbringing provides some insight into his prolific writing output.
Bakin would have been raised Samurai from a very young age. Samurai must have strict discipline to succeed. A failure to satisfy their master could result in orders to commit hara kiri; suicide by cutting one’s abdomen open with a knife. A lazy samurai would not last long. His father would have trained him to spend every day exercising, practicing hand-to-hand combat, and sword fighting. Japanese history records samurai as young as six being sent into battle. Their training began as soon as they could walk.
Young Bakin must not have liked his samurai training much. He drifted away and became a writer instead. He could say goodbye to all the physical exertion and keep the time commitment. If he chose to put as much time into writing as he was forced to put into samurai training, his output would be like that of a prolific writer from the start.
Since Bakin chose writing as a career, he would have needed to start writing immediately. You could imagine the reaction if he didn’t. “You haven’t written anything? Your father’s sword and armor are here. We will find you a post and get you back into training.”
Bakin put the time into writing. While it isn’t clear what his age was when he began, he wandered for a while before starting. If he was 21 when he began writing and lived to 81, he wrote an average of 8 books a year. Ten books is considered the threshold a writer must pass before getting good. At his writing speed, it would have taken him a little over a year to become a proficient writer. That’s a lot of conjecture. His output may have been slow the first few years. He might have done menial work to pay the bills until his writing succeeded. It’s hard to speculate about life in 18th century Japan.
The lesson all writers can take from Bakin’s success is, put in the time. If you put enough hours per day into writing, you will have no choice but to improve. So, go ahead, write that story with all of the twists and turns you don’t know how to handle. You’ll struggle at times, write bad scenes and boring dialogue, and feel like you’re writing crap. But, as you write more and more, you’ll discover you find new ways to write any kind of scenes or dialogue and your writing will improve.
Are you putting in the time to make your writing succeed?
Article by Ivan Izo.