Thanks for the Good Example, Ralph McInerny

I can’t say I knew Ralph McInerny well. We ran into one another only a few times. He taught philosophy at Notre Dame for decades, but he was most widely known for having written more than 80 mystery novels, the best known being the Father Dowling stories that were turned into a television series nearly 40 years ago.

In his memoir, I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You, Ralph, who died in 2010, explained how it was that, despite having a full teaching schedule, he managed to write so many books—not just novels but many non-fiction works too. He said that each night he retired to his basement, where he had a stand-up writing desk, and he stayed there until he had written 750 words, about three double-spaced pages. That comes to about 5,000 words a week or 250,000 words a year, roughly three novels of standard detective-fiction length. If you write at that pace for three decades, you end up with close to 100 books.

Just saying that makes me feel useless as a writer, but I take consolation in noting that Ralph was an exception. Many writers produce only a single book in their lifetimes, and few produce more than ten. I’m already past that, so at least I can’t be called the caboose—though I’ll never be called the locomotive either.

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