In this morning's Independent books pages, literary editor, Boyd Tonkin, struck by Tony Blair's claim to have written the first 16,000 words of his memoir in 4 days, asks: "How quickly should authors write?" In my experience the most common question asked when a writer meets the public at a bookshop or signing is: "How long did it take you?" I find the question impossible to answer. Firstly, my time, as a full time freelance author gets better results than an academic who has classes to take, essays to mark, admin to perform. So my two years might be equivalent to a don's five years. In addition, most of the time on a non-fiction book is spent on research. The writing is the shorter bit. But the real problem is that no one wants to be honest. With the example of these Flaubertian perfectionists who write 150 words a day who is going to admit to 1500? Actually, I think that figure is probably the truthful norm. A non-fiction writer can produce more, not least because cutting and pasting quotations of 200 words or so isn't exactly creatively exhausting and it boosts your word count. On the other hand, you can actually achieve minus figures if you approach your desk and find that the 1500 words you had built up since the start of the week are actually no good and you must delete them. Sometimes, in writing you go backwards in order to advance.
I once created great amusement with one of my writing students by comparing myself to a carpet-layer. If I had to fit a carpet it would take me a week to do one room. I watch with amazement, therefore, when professionals whip in and do it in less than an hour. If you are skilled, gifted and have a natural aptitude for something you will do it more quickly than someone who writes only one letter or email a week with laborious slowness. Don't believe them if they tell you they just write 400 words a day for a living.
[The above took me nine minutes!!]