|Barbara Cartland dictating a book|
Romance writer, Barbara Cartland, wrote 723 books and became a world record holder when she wrote 23 books in 1983. In her obituary in the New York Times Richard Sevro wrote:
She was frequently able to dictate 7,000 words in an afternoon session, which usually lasted a few hours. She held forth from a sofa, a hot water bottle at her feet, her dog cuddled next to her, asleep. Her secretaries were not permitted to sneeze or cough while she dictated.
Perhaps in part because of her approach to dictating, her prose offers a prodigious number of one-sentence paragraphs, closer in its look to wire-service journalism than to the pages of Faulkner or Fitzgerald.
Multiple secretaries were needed to keep up with her dictation.
On her website she says the following about how she started writing:
My first five books were written longhand and typed into an ancient typewriter. The First Snowdrop was the first book to be written into a computer--an all-in-one dinosaur of a machine that had me in transports of delight. I could actually go back and correct typing errors! I could make wholesale changes without having to rewrite the whole thing. Best of all--and I still have not quite recovered from the novelty of this--when I was finished, I could press a key (no mouse in those days!) and the printer would do the typing for me while I put my feet up and relaxed--or washed another load of dishes, or marked another set of essays...
Currently she says:
I am very organized and very disciplined. I write every day when I am working on a book, and I write a set number of words a day, except when I am revising – 2,000 words.
The origins of my posts on mass production writing came from an article in last week’s New York Times titled My Dad the Pornographer by Chris Offutt. He describes how his father, Andrew Jefferson Offutt V, writing in rural Kentucky, wrote over 400 books, mainly pornography using 17 pseudonyms. While I do not admire his genre I acknowledge being interested in his approach to writing.
His basic method was not complicated:
Dad’s writing process was simple — he’d get an idea, brainstorm a few notes, then write the first chapter. Next he’d develop an outline from one to 10 pages. He followed the outline carefully, relying on it to dictate the narrative. He composed his first drafts longhand, wearing rubber thimbles on finger and thumb. Writing with a felt-tip pen, he produced 20 to 40 pages in a sitting. Upon completion of a full draft, he transcribed the material to his typewriter, revising as he went.
What enabled to go into mass production, often a book per month was:
descriptions and entire scenes on hundreds of pages organized in
three-ring binders. Tabbed index dividers separated the sections
Eighty percent of the notebooks described sexual aspects of women. The longest section focused on their bosoms. Another binder listed descriptions of individual actions, separated by labeling tabs that included: Mouth. Tongue. Face. Legs. Kiss. The heading of Orgasm had subdivisions of Before, During and After. The thickest notebook was designed strictly for B.D.S.M. novels with a list of 150 synonyms for “pain.” Sections included Spanking, Whipping, Degradation, Predegradation, Distress, Screams, Restraints and Tortures. These were further subdivided into specific categories followed by brief descriptions of each.Chris likens his father to a titan of the assembly line:
Dad was like Henry Ford applying principles of assembly-line production with pre-made parts. The methodical technique proved highly efficient. Surrounded by his tabulated notebooks, he could quickly find the appropriate section and transcribe lines directly into his manuscript. Afterward, he blacked them out to prevent plagiarizing himself. Ford hired a team of workers to manufacture a Model-T in hours. Working alone, Dad could write a book in three days.At university four decades ago I was not well organized. When short essays piled up on me I developed a method of writing an essay quickly that let me write a 3-5 page essay in a day. I would try to discuss my intended theme with a professor to get a sense if the topic accorded with the assignment. I would research an essay during the day. That night I would make an outline of the essay I had researched. I would then turn to the research for essay of the previous day. I would write and re-write the opening and closing for that essay. I would then write the body of the essay from the outline. I found waiting a day after research to write the essay let mind work on the subject and wrote a better essay.
As a lawyer I frequently draw upon what I have previously written. If I can copy for a brief from an earlier brief I will cut and paste. It is more efficient than re-writing the same argument. Clients are more interested in submissions being economical than original.
My greatest output came when a series of submissions for 3 separate hearings was needed almost 10 years ago. While working full time on my usual mix of files I wrote submissions totaling 900 pages for the hearings. The writing took place from May through August. I worked with the aid of a researcher. There was some repetition between the submissions but most of what was written was different for each submission. I have no desire to repeat that summer.