My model in work is Anthony Trollope who turned out 50 or 60 three-volume novels despite having, for most of his life, a full-time (admittedly, not very demanding) job at the Post Office (he invented the pillar-box). According to his autobiography, Trollope achieved his output with a writing stint of three hours per day, starting at 5am. He set a target rate, with the requirement to write more if he fell behind for a couple of ideas.
All of this sounds crass, at least to those impressed with the Romantic notion of spontaneous expression, but, for those of us who aren’t tortured genii, I think Trollope’s rules are spot-on. To adapt a favorite maxim of the Labor Party, write early, write often and write lots.
That said, I can’t really believe Trollope’s claim that he regularly wrote 250 words a quarter-hour for a three hour stretch. I imagine my methods are similar to his, in that I have my pieces turning over in my head for a fair while before I sit down to write them, and so, when things go well, I’m basically constrained only by typing speed. I can manage about 30 wpm with moderate error count, so that, in principle I ought to be able to beat Trollope’s output rate handily, 450 words to 250. But even the most modest cleaning up – correcting typos and grammatical errors, rearranging clumsy sentences and so on, is going to take 5 minutes in every 15, which cuts my maximum rate to 300 words per quarter hour.
And, while I’m not Flaubert, agonizing over “le mot juste”, I care about picking the right words and so, pretty clearly, did Trollope. I spent 30 seconds or so in the previous para thinking about whether to write “typos” or “minor errors”, and this kind of delay is bound to hit you every few sentences, even when you have the main ideas clear before you start.
All up, I consider myself pretty satisfied when I can turn out a 750-word column in an hour and a half, which is a rate of 125 words every quarter hour, or half what Trollope claims. Given that Trollope was writing by hand, and had to rewrite anything he wanted to change, I don’t believe he could consistently achieve twice that rate.
Trollope described his methods in his Autobiography, which he ensured was published posthumously. He knew that his production-line work ethic would shock the Victorian public, and I suspect he stretched the truth a bit to increase the shock value. (425 words, 45 minutes!)