Enid Blyton: Prolific Writer

The Guardian reports on a new exhibit on famed British children’s writer Enid Blyton. She produced more than 700 books, mainly for young readers, and was very disciplined both in her writing habits and her bookkeeping and business management:

But grown-up visitors will be intrigued to see how little editing Blyton’s manuscripts needed. She would cross out the odd word, insert an adjective here and there, but what was published was more or less what she battered out with two frantic fingers on the typewriter, also on display in Newcastle.

During a 50-year career, Blyton rattled off an astonishing 700-plus books, as well as 4,500 stories. The exhibition also reveals that she did her own accounts. A pencil-written ledger from 1926 entitled “work paid for” showed Blyton, then 29, earned £189, nine shillings and 11 pence in January alone. “It’s fascinating to see how organised she was,” said Kate Edwards, chief executive of Seven Stories. “She was such a shrewd businesswoman.”

Also on show in Newcastle are diaries Blyton wrote that reveal a woman with a Stakhanovite work ethic before the Russian miner had become the patron saint of grafters the world over. “Worked all day till 4.30,” she notes tersely on 25 October 1927. “Did 6,000 words today, a record for me.” In 1931 she writes: “Did story for my Page [the welcome page she wrote for each edition of her magazine]. Went for long walk with Nurse. Rested till tea. Knitted till bed.” The next day, Seven Stories adds as a postscript, Blyton gave birth to daughter Gillian.

Enid Blyton's Account Book

Enid Blyton’s Account Book

If you’re a perfectionist, you might read the above and chastise yourself for not being similarly dedicated, or you might even aspire to match her productivity. It’s okay to dream big, but make sure you understand how she achieved her productivity. She obviously had a flair for spinning prose that didn’t need a lot of editing; at the same time, however, let’s not forget that she wrote children’s books, which tend to be shorter than adult ones, and also efficiently created series in which she re-used the same characters and settings. It also probably helped that there was a robust market for fiction back then–actually getting paid for one’s work is a huge motivator. But Blyton was also pretty monomaniacal about her work:

“Writing trumped all else in her life, relegating world events to a footnote. “Worked all day,” she wrote on 2 September 1939. “Germany invaded Poland today so I suppose we shall be at war tonight.”

Reminds me of something I read once about Mozart, that in all of his hundreds of letters to his father and others–letters that, in some cases, were filled with minutiae about music– he never once mentions his generation’s major upheaval, the French Revolution.

As for Blyton, if you’re not able or willing to duplicate the conditions for her prolificness, then don’t worry if you’re not able to match it. Instead, figure out what you ARE  able to reasonably achieve, and focus on that. Remember that comparisons are frequently misused in a perfectionistic way.

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