"What the total of my published writings comes to I don't know precisely," Mencken said in 1948, "but certainly it must run well beyond 5,000,000 words." While he liked to throw around numbers with lots of zeroes, this one seems more plausible than most. …
If the 5 million figure is accurate, Mencken averaged 100,000 words a year for 50 years, or about 2,000 words a week.
Is 100,000 words a year anything to brag about? Many journalists write more than 100,000 words a year, including me in 2005. (Note to Nexis jockeys: For reasons beyond my control, Nexis doesn't include all of my Slate columns from last year. I also took a month of paternity leave.)
What makes Mencken's accomplishment memorable is not that he averaged 2,000 words a week, or even that he did it for 50 years, but that he produced brilliant copy in nearly every outing. His final word count would surely have been greater—if not 70 million—had he not also simultaneously edited publications for several decades.
Nobody who wrote better than Mencken wrote faster, and nobody who wrote faster wrote better. Except for maybe A.J. Liebling. Write well and write fast to email@example.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)
TODAY IN SLATE
The Ebola Story
How our minds build narratives out of disaster.
The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola
PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer
The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics
A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers
Welcome to 13th Grade!
Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.
The Actual World
“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.