Friday, 2 November 2007

How Productive Are You?

David raised an interesting question in my mind in his comment on Aliya’s latest post when he said that if he had an hour a day to write, he’d produce seven pages a week. I find it fascinating that writers in general (and the MNW subset) work at such different paces. Aliya, Brian, Matt and I all seem to work relatively quickly, but in short bursts: David chisels his prose from solid granite.

One of the few professional writers I’ve met is Robert Silverberg, an amazingly prolific author in his youth. Working in a variety of genres (mainly sf and soft porn…) he was a perpetual motion machine (maybe not the best metaphor for a soft porn writer). At one point he was writing a novel a week, and lamented to me that if had PCs had been around in the 1950s he could have written a novel a day. Balzac was similarly fecund.

At the other end of the scale, Kingsley Amis reckoned he’d had a good day if he produced 400 publishable words (maybe the key’s in the “publishable”: I can—and do at work—produce 400 words of crap in 10 minutes…).

The really interesting thing for me is that there’s no correlation between speed of composition and literary merit. Sure, I like Kingsley Amis, but Balzac’s pretty good too. Do the faster writers need to do more in revision? Or are our brains just all wired differently? And is that hard-wiring or can we reprogramme them?

I wonder whether those of us who only get an hour a day to write would be any more productive if we had all day. I write at 1,000 words an hour, but I couldn’t write 7,000 words in a seven-hour day. And I need the marinating time: when I sit down at seven pm for my hour, I’ll have been generating the ideas all day. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to write, but I’ll know what I want to get out of the scene.

What about the rest of you? How much do you write a day? Could you write more if you had more time to devote to it?

1 comment:

David Isaak said...

A quote from AJ Liebling:

"I can write faster than anybody who can write better, and better than anybody who can write faster."