Monday, March 20, 2006


A correspondent recently remarked on the fact that I seem to produce quite a lot of words on the blog, and that prompted me to do some calculations -- calculations of a kind that I'd been meaning to do for some time -- about 'productivity'. Although I have my doubts as to whether the number of words written by a writer can sensibly be covered by that term. Some words are more valuable than others.

From a long-term perspective, most of my writing has been done as a spare-time activity, while I was holding down a full-time job. In fact my job was, in a sense, more than full-time. However, I discovered fairly early in life that if you do want to write a book then you just have to keep at it; but if you do keep at it, the thing does get written eventually.

In order to keep track of time spent and words produced, I made it a practice for many years to keep fairly detailed records, and these figures might perhaps be of passing interest to other writers.

The busiest time of my working life was the last fifteen years prior to retirement. And during those years I spent an average of 4.5 hours a week on writing. ('Writing' I defined as researching, planning, drafting, revising, marketing, and publicising.)

This probably doesn't sound like very much. And indeed it isn't. I probably did it, typically, in 3 evening sessions a week. But during those fifteen years I produced several books and plays. I tended to write plays rather than novels because I could finish them quicker and they were not quite so tiring to complete.

On average, and it was very much on average, I found that writing a book took me three hours per thousand words. Roughly one hour to plan each thousand words, one hour to write, and one hour to revise and polish. Marketing and publicising were extra.

Within that average, I once completed a 75,000 word novel in 125 hours, and another novel, about 100,000 words in length, took me 600 hours -- largely because my then agent wanted revisions.

After retirement I became, so to speak, a full-time writer (and later writer/publisher). And I continued to keep records.

What I discovered, interestingly enough, is that the amount of time that I devoted to writing did not increase as dramatically as I had thought it would. The average hours worked as a 'full-timer' have been just under 17 per week.

There are several reasons for this. I tend to work in the mornings pretty regularly; but in the afternoons I often go for a walk, or do some shopping. Since I no longer use a central catering facility, simple things such as preparing a meal tend to take far longer. Then, of course, there are numerous little jobs around the house that Mrs GOB finds for me to do.

In any event, I don't think I would really want to spend very much longer on writing and publishing than I do at present.

As for what I produce in those 17 hours a week: well, the sheer volume of words produced has certainly increased since I started the blog, almost exactly two years ago.

The GOB, as you probably realise, is hosted by, part of Blogger, which is part of Google, and Blogger no longer provides a facility for counting the number of posts and the average words per post -- although it did so at one time.

However, I have done a very rough calculation, and it seems that I write about 20,000 words a month on the GOB. This adds up to somewhere between 200,000 and 250,000 words a year. And in the calendar year 2005 I also wrote, in addition to the GOB, some 80,000 to 100,000 words on other projects (including a novel).

All of which begins to look like a surprisingly high total. Something approaching 350,000 words a year. On the other hand, if you do the necessary arithmetic, I think you will find that it still works out at around that 3 hours for 1,000 words figure that I mentioned earlier.

I mention all this for two reasons. First, I sense that many writers are deeply frustrated by the fact that they are not able to do the job on a full-time basis. But if my experience is any guide, fitting some writing into a working week is by no means impossible. And, even on the basis of 4 or 5 hours a week, it is not impossible to work on a long project such as a book.

Secondly, even if you do win the pools, or suddenly get given a contract which is sufficiently valuable to allow you to give up the day job, you may find that the number of hours which is available for writing in a given week does not, somehow, increase in quite the dramatic way that you might have thought.

What you may find is that that slaving over a word-processor, without any kind of human contact, for eight or more hours a day, is a profoundly unsatisfactory way to live your life.


Richard said...

I agree. My most productive period when I was working a demanding job that sometimes had me working 10-12 hours a day, and in addition, I was teaching two night college courses. Somehow I found time to write. During some periods of complete leisure, I was almost as productive, but more often I was not and would waste hours and hours of free time.

It reminds of the cliche that if you want someone to get something done, you should ask an extremely busy person.

Anonymous said...

Being a hopelessly disorganized person, "enough time" always eludes me. The less formal structure I have I find to be best--and then the time just seems to come of its own. Enjoyed your comments greatly.

Anonymous said...

Very informative. I referred my readers to it over on my journal.

Eric Mayer

Christopher Miles said...

Ironic that I came across this post while making extremely poor use of my spare/writing time! Thanks for the illuminating words, much needed.

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