How many words can you write in a day?
I am being -- so far as the outside world is concerned -- a very dull girl. That is to say I am blissfully happy, hidden away, writing. I get up in the morning, do the emails and stuff, then go to my (newly tidied) study, lie on my library bed (yes, above -- a rather nifty and cheap auction purchase a few years ago, which allows you to semi-recline with laptop conveniently on knee, books to either side), and I type away.
The project is to get a draft of my book on Roman laughter done by the end of the long vacation. I had 20,000 words already, and I reckon I have done 25,000 more.. and another 60,000 to go. To put that another way, I am just finishing chapter 4, and I have some 6 chapters left (but they are much closer to the lectures I gave in Berkeley so I am hoping they go quicker).
The truth is that I know, honestly, I am NOT going to write 60,000 new words by Oct 4, but if I could be within sight of the target, then I would be happy. Because I really have to start the next project seriously on 1 January.
I could go on, but you can no doubt see already the kind of calculations that are going on in the Beard head, as the paragraphs don't come. How many words can you write in a day.. or how many good words?
My friend Ruth (with whom I had a quick coffee today at the newly refurbished Nasreen Dar coffee lounge, just near our houses -- if you Cambridge folk are interested in this) argues that 500 words of proper original academic writing per day is all you can ever hope for. But I have no doubt that if that is all I manage on writing days (and you have to factor in library days too), then my target is a long way off.
So I have taken to aiming for 1000 a day, knowing full well that I have to start each mnoring rewriting the last 250 written the day before. And when I say 1000, I mean minus the footnotes -- the plan being (for once in my damn life) to put the footnotes in more or less as I go.
The problem is that there is an awful lot of bella figura attached to this words per day total. And people tend to divide between the ridiculously self effacing ("it really takes me at least a day to write even 100 words") and the loathsomely self confident ("ha ha another chapter done this morning"). Neither of which can be quite true.
So far I've been talking about first production, original academic stuff. But much the same thing is true about reviews, and the Scylla and Charybdis of too fast and too slow. On the one hand are people you meet who say "I'm just reading the book this morning and I'll get that 1000 words written by lunch time" (and I think .. those words just wont be any good, you need to THINK about books and HOW to review them, not just spurge 1000 words by lunch). On the other are those who say, "1000 words, I'm afraid it will take me at least 6 months" (and then I think... how on earth can it take anyone SIX MONTHS to write a 1000 words about a 200 page book...).
But the truth is you never know the TRUTH -- or the degrees of anxiety and dissembling that lie behind all those carefully calibrated claims (mine included, I guess).
I'd love to know what other people think is a good daily rate. Fiction vs non fiction... essays vs review...'Fess up people.