Our Infographic of the Week shows there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to producing a great piece of work

Our Infographic of the Week shows there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to producing a great piece of work

October 5, 2016

I love and respect this infographic for two reasons. First of all, it’s a brilliant demonstration of how visualising information invites you to think about it differently. For me, that’s what this format is all about. Just as importantly, though, it’s a timely reminder that there can never be a simple answer to the question, how long does it take to create great content? Just because something is short in terms of word count doesn’t mean you should always plan on dashing it out quickly.

On the face of it, ‘How long did famous novels take to write?’ doesn’t sound like inspiring subject matter. The fascination comes from the extremes that the print and toner business Printerinks uncovered in their research for this Infographic. Comparing the word length and writing time for great works of literature invites you to imagine yourself at the desks of those different writers as they were going through the creative process: how on earth did John Boyne write The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in just two and a half days? It may be only 50,000 words but there must still have been smoke coming off that keyboard. On the other hand, how did J.R.R. Tolkien remain focused during the 16 years that it took to write The Lord of the Rings? How much did he write in a day? How was he able to produce something that feels so seamless and flowing when it took a fifth of his long life to do it?

It’s not these two books (the quickest and slowest in the Infographic) that fascinate me most though; rather, it’s the books that took a staggering length of time to write even though they are actually quite short. That’s the genius of overlaying the word length of each novel over the graphic showing how long it took – it throws up all sorts of extra questions about what was involved.

We think about Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as an overnight sensation – but forget that it took a painstaking six years for J.K. Rowling to put that relatively short piece of young adult fiction together. The Catcher in the Rye feels like an even more intense piece of literature when you realise that it took J.D. Salinger a decade to write it – and the same applies to the five years it took William Golding to write Lord of the Flies.

With marketers often coming under pressure to treat content as a commodity, this is a timely reminder that great creativity sometimes needs its own time and space. You can’t necessarily afford 16 years – but it’s often worth making time in your content calendar for some genuinely imaginative pieces that can develop at their own pace.