Wednesday 10 October 2012

How many words a day do you write?

There's a terrifying thread on Kindleboards on this topic calculated to make the average writer feel inadequate. Here are a few sample comments:

"In a half hour session I can do up to 3k but 2,200 is my preferred comfortable pace. If I'm on deadline I get 15 - 20k done in a day. But 10k is my usual daily output if I'm working on something. But I have days where I'm just lazy."

"I tend to write in short bits, most days, say 500-1000 words. But I am a burst writer. My last four novels have had the final 20-25k words all written in one day."

"Under deadline, it can peak at 1k per hour some hours. Without a deadline, 3-4k per day."

"I write generally 1000 to 1400 words per 45 minute writing session.  I aim for at least 4k a day, but 7k is better. My best day ever was about 14,000 words."

I tell myself these writers belong to the majority who forge ahead with a first draft, not rereading or correcting till they get to the end, when they face an equally large task of editing from scratch. I hope so anyway, because my output is tiny compared to these.

With the WIP, Ice Diaries, I've kept track of my daily word total, and it averages just under 400 words a day. I was aiming for 500. But I edit and tweak a great deal as I go, so when I reach The End a book is polished enough to go straight out to the first beta reader. Writing at that rate it's possible to finish a novel in about six months. In theory.

I think there are some lucky prolific writers who are able to write multiple books a year that please their readers - Amanda Hocking is a current example - but they are quite rare. Most of us, if we are honest, take a lot longer to finish a book, and are well advised not to rush the process. But perhaps I'm just making excuses...

What do you think?


  1. I'm so glad you added your score, Lexi, or I might have just given up! When I'm on a roll I can write anywhere between a few hundred to about 2,000 in a day - if I'm not at the day job and have a clear shot at it. But average? Maybe 500 or so. Like you I edit as I'm going along though, so when I get to the end of my current WIP, I know I'll need to edit, but it will hopefully be way beyond first-draft stage.

  2. I can write faster when I know exactly what happens in the story - but that seems to happen more when I'm not forcing the pace. It's not the writing that takes time, it's the thinking.

    The offspring said those writers are lying in their teeth...

  3. My output in words per day:

    January: 0
    February: 0
    March: 0
    April: 0
    May: 300 words the first day, 200 the second, dropping off to 0 after the 15th (It's Story a Day in May and I've yet to complete it.)
    June: 0
    July: 0
    August: 0
    September: 0
    October: up to 500 words a day of frantic planning, with many days of 0
    November: 1690 words a day on average
    December: 0

    Total published works: 0
    Total remotely publishable works: 0

    I can manage 2,000 words in two hours on a good day but as you can see, that doesn't give me anything I want to use later!

  4. FH, I'm totally impressed by November - hang on, that's NaNoWriMo month, isn't it? Well done! If I tried that it would end in failure. And I see from your blog you're about to do it again...

    Go FH!

  5. My normal output is about the same as Debbie says in her second sentence. That's if, like Debbie, I am on a roll. When I return a week later, I have usually forgotten what I wrote and need to reread it and then edit it and, quite frequently, nothing new gets written for many weeks.

    3k in half an hour means that person is typing at 100 words per minute, quite possible for shorter bursts but unlikely to be sustainable over a long period. Furthermore, that sort of speed doesn't allow for composing intelligently unless the guy or gal is a genius.

    I'm too embarrassed to say how long the book I have just finished has taken me.

  6. Barbara Cartland used to dictate from a couch, and completed a (short) novel every three weeks. Maybe we all need personal secretaries :o)

  7. On a couple of occasions I've written about 40,000 in a week, done in an apartment in the alps, mostly snowed or fogged in so skiing was hopeless. That sounds good until you add in probably three to six months thinking before the blitz and another six months of editing and infilling to end up with a book of about 80,000. Oh and then deciding that one of them was crap anyway and ought to be put in a drawer for a year or two before having another go.

  8. So would you recommend writing like that, Rod, or go for the steady plod of a few hundred words a day?

  9. I don't think I can think as fast as some of those numbers much less type that fast.
    If I'm really into the story, I can probably do a couple thousand words on a good day but then there's a lot of tinkering and tweaking to be done.
    I have to fit writing into a very busy work schedule, so I'm doing good if I can do a few hundred a day normally.
    The last couple books have taken me around 6 months to complete but the last one which I'll be publishing soon is a novella. Well, I was aiming for a novella but it is really a short novel.

  10. Methinks someone isn't being entirely honest. 3,000 words in 30 minutes simply ain't plausible, unless they're writing nonsense. If they're telling the truth and are writing coherently at that speed I know many national newspapers that would be willing to give them a job.

  11. Stats like that are scary. Your pace is very similar to mine. In full-on drafting mode I aim to average 400 or 500 words a day. I self-edit a lot as I go, too, it helps me get back into the scene I'm working on.

  12. I'm terribly slow because I like to get a scene to 90% final before moving on, even during the first draft.

    My best day ever, a true anomaly, was 13,000 words or the last 52 pages of the first draft of my first novel. My fingers couldn't keep up with my thoughts.

  13. Jan, you mention your busy work schedule; I'd add that life sometimes gets in the way. I keep meaning to blog about the five years in Bath during which time Jane Austen wrote nothing. Circumstances can be writing-unfriendly.

    Oracle, perhaps those writers are writing nonsense. There are some quite bad books for sale on Amazon.

    Bot and Eric, reassuring stats. (Apart from Eric's 13,000 day which I'm envious of - hey, if I did that my book could be finished by tomorrow!)

  14. Thank you!

    I love Nanowrimo. I always feel I'm like the one in the chicken suit running a Marathon. We do have 'real' (i.e. having a hope of writing something publishable) writers join us, but for most of us it's a hobby.

    I have the feeling it would really not suit you. Your way of writing works so well for you and I wouldn't want anything to get in the way of your next book that I'm waiting so eagerly for!

  15. FH, that is such a good analogy I may be obliged to steal it for a novel. Your 'hobby' may surprise you one day :o)

  16. Lexi, to answer your question, i don't think I could recomend either approach. Writers should do what works for them. One thing that I have found useful is to write the bits that seem clearest in my head and fill in the rest later. Often that is not the beginning, sometimes it may even end up being backstory that ends up on the floor. For me I find it's the best way of getting some momentum, and I do think momentum is important.

  17. I have to admit I've always been vaguely suspicious of any writer who can churn out literally thousands of words a day: surely it's impossible to do and maintain any type of quality (though that does presume they're concerned about quality!).

    Personally I aim for 800-1000 words... though on very good days I've passed 1500.

    So far today: 400. Must get back to work instead of idling away my time on blogger!



  18. Over the last 5 years my co-author and I have written 1.5 million words in our book series. That works out at an average of 822 words a day and 411 each.

  19. Agreed, Rod - the method doesn't matter, just the result. I used to write scenes out of sequence but seem to have stopped doing that now. Not sure why that is...

    Guy, that sounds a reasonable and achievable number of words to aim for (and more than I'm doing, dammit).

    John, word total in the last five years? 'Twere to consider too curiously, to consider so.

  20. Creative writing is not like a production line (or a sausage factory). The words generated have to interest and inspire a reading audience so quality rather than quantity is paramount.

    If the plot is already well thought out, then I can well imagine that a high word count is possible. In that case I would suggest following Barbara Cartland and dictating the story to a computer ..... much cheaper than secretaries! LOL

  21. Q, I've just spent half an hour doing a Speech Recognition tutorial on my PC because of your passing remark...

    After a (late) tea I'm going to have a go at dictating a la Barbara Cartland.

  22. My husband installed a gizmo for taking down what I said.

    Mostly it consisted of 'Scrub that'. Another one it recognized was 'Er...' All the good stuff was misinterpreted. I tried my idea of different accents - to no avail.

    I'm off to feed Whom.

    I expect someone is now saying, 'No wonder it didn't understand her'.

    I do hope Lexi explains.

  23. The tutorial was a snare and a delusion; it pretended to recognize what you said as you read the text, but really it knew already. Off script it was easily confused.

    I've concluded it's not good enough to persist with - I'm sure Dragon Naturally Speaking is better, going by its reviews. But I'm not sure it's worth the effort unless you need it.

  24. Will somebody please feed Whom while I am on holiday before it dies off?

    Whom is here on Lexi's blog - right side of the page and fading away fast. A little click here and there and Whom the hamster is saved from extinction.

  25. Some of these damn people write faster than I can read. Fortunately, an interesting little corner of Hell has been reserved for them. I know about these things.

    But as others have pointed out, it doesn't really matter how fast you work: what counts is the quality of the food, not the speed at which it was cooked.

    I now write at a steady rate of zero words per day, and see no reason ever to accelerate. I challenge anyone to find fault with work written at such a speed.

  26. I think that quality counts more than quantity. I like to recall that Grahame Green wrote 500 words a day, no more, no less, and he published a lot. I think that these were probably pretty polished so he didn't need to do much more.

    I keep a tally of words and find this helps me keep on track, although I never beat myself up for writing too many or too few. I average anything between 400 and 2000 words. More than this and it is like drivel.

    Like Lexi, I start the day by reading what I wrote previously and tweaking it. Then it's down to the new writing.

    I'm editing my recent book now and, to my surprise, find this a slower process than writing. Does anyone else find this.

    Martin Lake

  27. Anna, Whom went off to a corner of his cage in a huff because you referred to him as 'it'. I had to lure him out with food.

    Iain, if you were an actor you'd be resting. But I do think you should carry on blogging as some of your posts made me laugh.

  28. Martin, I didn't know that about Graham Greene and find it rather reassuring. I don't think there is any point beating oneself up over anything :o)

    Editing - it depends what you mean by this. If it involves rewriting chunks, then correcting the ripple effect the rewrite has on the rest of the book, that's slow. I dread a beta reader discovering a big plot hole. Minor improvements and adjustments are relatively quick and easy, I find.

  29. I agree with Lexi that I want to read Iain's posts, but I can't find his blog! Do you have a link for it?

  30. FH, it's on my sidebar, The No-Hoper Blog. I did suggest he used a more upbeat name...

  31. Thanks, Lexi. I'll check it out!

  32. I'm getting 404 File not found :(

  33. It's gone!

    Iain, I do think you should leave it up as a) you may change your mind and b) it was good and people may want to read the archive.

  34. People do want to read the archive!

    (At least one people does anyway!)

  35. Oh God. A number of people have now asked me to resurrect my benighted blog - easily done, since it's been archived, not deleted.

    A good reason for not doing so is that it's been getting almost as many hits in death as it did in life, suggesting that it set no heather on fire, floated no boats, shattered not the earth, moved no mountains.

    However, in response to the hedgehog vote and others, what I will do is to edit it a little, then republish. It might reappear tomorrow.

  36. That's good - will leave sidebar link :o)

  37. Good day equals somewhere between 1 and 2000 words. If the one is a really fine and useful word its a really good day. If most of the 2000 are keepers I check the mirror to see if some other miracle has happened such as having grown a luxurious mustache or developed visible pectoral muscles.

  38. Alan, I doubt a moustache would suit you. But I could be wrong. Do you want one? (If I was a man I'd go for stubble.)

    Philip Pullman writes 1,000 words a day, and stops even if on a roll. He said if he carried on because it was easy, he might stop other days when it was hard.

  39. I think I'm going through my Jane-Austen-in-Bath period. Heigh ho.

  40. Spin, this happens to most of us. Be kind and understanding about it as you would to a friend - buy yourself a few treats.

    (I've always thought it was 'hey ho', but I've seen 'heigh ho' twice this week. Am off to look it up on Google.)

  41. Clearly those numbers are BS. But writers are professional liars, after all...

    NaNoWriMo taught me a very valuable lesson: First drafts should be written quickly with NO EDITING. Plan on writing 50-100% more than your final draft. DO NOT LOOK BACK until you're done.

    Even so, writing more than 750-1000 words/hour results in drivel. Haven't you ever noticed that, by and large, published writers who crank out more than one book/year write very poorly? You can hardly call their books "well-crafted".

    It's not a race, folks. Did anybody put a stopwatch on Michelangelo? "Pick it up, Mike, you're spending too much time on David's hair."

    The most important thing of all (and I'm still working on this) is to write SOMETHING DAILY. It adds up very quickly if you do that.

  42. I know a lot of writers swear by the fast first draft with no editing till you're done, but that method doesn't work for all of us.

    Michelangelo, I learn from Wikipedia, was so fast and prolific his patrons had no need to nag him. Now Landseer was another matter. The famous and popular lions in Trafalgar Square were delivered very late and much criticized at the time.

  43. Had to pop back to say that I've broken my block (or at least chipped a bit off the corner). 679 words in 28 minutes, according to the stats. Haven't dared read it back to see if any of it makes sense, though...

    (Lexi, was it hey ho or heigh ho in the end?)

  44. Strewth, that's fast, Spin! Excellent.

    (It can be either, according to taste.)

  45. I wrote a post on this subject today. I used a Lewis Carroll quote and got it wrong. Thanks for correcting me on the Kindleboards. It WAS the Red Queen. What the White Queen said, besides, "remember who you are" is, "jam tomorrow, jam yesterday and never jam today." In other words, "Keep working till you drop and you might think you've been happy or that you might be happy, but today is always crap."

    I don't think writing should be like that.

    Writing can be bliss. Why cram words on the page as if it's some kind of hot dog-eating contest? Writing is about creating worlds, not one-upping the next word-grinder. Great post. Sorry I'm so late to the party.

  46. Anne, writing can be bliss but I find that I need the impetus of a goal to get me past the plodding stage and into the part where the words flow and the scene unfolds before my eyes as I write. Otherwise I either give up too easily and miss the good bits, or I become so preoccupied with getting the parts I have written perfect that I stall.

    We're all different. Word count goals work for some of us, for others I can see they would be a disaster.

  47. Anne, we're all guilty of trading the moment for the hope of something better in the future. On reflection, I want jam NOW! This delayed gratification thing can be taken altogether too far.

    FH, I hope the writing is flowing well for you this month :o)

  48. Definitely a word count goal can help when you're getting a rough draft on to paper. And I just wrote a novel in 3 months that way--six books in the last 14 months-- but what I object to is the idea that we have to do it month after month, year after year, grinding out 6-12 books a year along with the endless marketing we need to do. I don't think that's the way most creative people do their best work. You need down time to get inspiration. And remember who you are--as the White Queen said.

  49. Ha! try writing science publications. You would be lucky to write a few sentences in a day. If I could make everything up who knows how much I could write. One thing I do know is that intellectual types LOVE to brag and exaggerate about how much they can read or write in a day. I know some people can write perfectly formed sentences first time, a colleague of mine is like that. But the actual content suffers. He has "go to" phrases and sentence structures that he uses a lot, and never seems to try new things. Most people can't and I imagine most of those people writing 10000 words per day are probably writing complete dross. I know I can't do it. Hell I'm even editing this post as I go because I keep deciding things sound stupid after I have read them back. It also depends very much on what you are writing. For example, if you are writing a historical novel and you are trying to research history at the same time as write, and make sure things are accurate etc, then you are going to be seriously slowed down. If you are writing about something you know ALOT about or something that relates to your own life, a drama perhaps that is related to some past experience you had, then you are going to write tonnes more than the history person. Makes sense when you think about it. What you should be worrying about is not the WORDS PER DAY count, but whether you meet your deadlines and the text you write is well received. I mean, this post is around 300 words, it took me literally 5 minutes to write, but would I publish this in a book? Would I F*(*! :)

  50. Darren, I'll pass on your invitation to write science publications :o)

    I agree with you about the bragging and quality issues. I started reading a novel by a successful and prolific author who can turn out a book in a month. The book's not bad, and obviously hits the spot with her market, but I can't help thinking it would have been better had she spent two months on it...