P.G. Wodehouse spent the dying days of World War II shuttling from one address in France to another. His had been a travelling life, so this wasn’t in itself any sort of obstacle to getting the writing done. Nevertheless he used a letter to an old friend in England to complain that, where once a novel had taken him three months to write, it now took six. The old vim had gone.
He was touching sixty by then, and had been flattened not just by the public reaction to his German radio broadcasts but by the death, at forty, of his beloved stepdaughter Leonora. Readers of Robert McCrum’s biography of Wodehouse can see his life beginning to come unstuck earlier than this – the lights on his dashboard start to blink even before the great sequence of Jeeves novels get underway in the ’30s. But the War finally finished the man he had been. How much older sixty seems sixty years ago, even among men who have spent lives of wealth, success, comfort and universal affection.
What does it mean, turning out a novel in three months? Right Ho, Jeeves is about 100,000 words long. By PG’s reckoning, taking redrafts into account, he’d end up writing in the order of three times as much actual text as would eventually appear in print. Assuming 300,000 words then, we are looking at a likely output of 100,000 words per month, or approximately 3300 per day, or 12 double-spaced single-sided pages.
Given that this was all done on a manual typewriter, and that there is no evidence that PG could touch-type (his clean copies were always produced by a nearbly office bureau or tame professional typist), I doubt that 12 pages was really possible. But he might well have managed 6. PG worked all the hours, and plotted his novels in intense detail. He had his style down pat by the ’30s, and the combination of those factors would enable him to churn quality pages out faster than his woollier, allegedly more literary competitors.
How do bloggers compare with this rate of output?
The number of bloggers who are genuinely prolific in the long term and who maintain any sort of writing standard is, of course, vanishingly small. James Lileks is one who springs to mind.
I’m prone to blogging hiatus, for one reason or another, so can’t be termed prolific. Furthermore, almost everything I’ve blogged has been typed, at speed (50wpm last time I measured it) straight into a browser unedited. This alone calls the quality of the output into question. But mine are the only wordcount figures I have to hand, so here they are.
I started blogging seriously in March 2004 by opening a Typepad blog following a year or two’s tinkering with Blogger. Since then, I have posted approximately 960,000 words. That comes out at just short of 600 words per day, or a little over two of PG’s double-spaced, single-sided pages. I haven’t compensated for periods of hiatus: if PG can keep going regardless whilst in a German internment camp, so could I have done in safer times.
The question in my mind is – if I’ve written the equivalent of six fattish paperbacks in four and a half years, whilst being relatively lazy about it, what on earth has Norm clocked up, say, or Brian Micklethwait?