How Many Words a Day Do You Write?

"So, how many words a day do you write?" a friend asked me the other day. And on the surface it seemed quite a simple question. I thought for a moment. "I guess I must write well over five thousand
words a day if you include daily journal, non fiction book, proposal, 
emails, blogs, web articles and letters." (Yes, I actually do put pen to
paper to write to my Mum!)

"I mean for a novel," she said. Ah. Now that is different. "Well, I think I'm comfortable writing between five hundred and a thousand a day, " I said. "On my own stuff." She was shocked. I asked why.

"I thought it would be about ten or twenty thousand or something!"she said.

I think it's a pretty common preconception that novelists churn out thousands of words a day. Some do. Barbara Cartland, that doyenne of the romance genre, used to write beween six and seven thousand  words a day, but she used to dictate her novels to an assistant, which kind of doesn't count.

Steven King says in his book On Writing that he usually manages two thousand words a day and that he even writes on weekends, holidays, Christmas… a true labour of love.

But actually writing a story? When I'm working on my own material, I know from experience that I average about 600 words a day (per novel) and that I only work Monday to Friday. It may not sound a lot, but it means that in eight months I have written 80,000 words, which is an average novel length. For clients, especially those who have already got a plot outline, this
output doubles – even quadruples sometimes. But as I work on several
projects at once, mixing all kinds of writing work, I don't write novels
full time.

Once I'd explained this to my friend, she was relieved. "That seems kind of doable," she said."Maybe I can write a novel after all!"

So to encourage people faced with the daunting task of writing a novel, I'd say this. Take it steady, don't go crazy, stick to your 500 words a day – don't make it a chore – and you'll get there.

Comments

  1. What do you mean ‘stick to YOUR 500 words a day’? As you clearly pointed out, word counts per day can fluctuate and are often personal to the particular novelist. So I am unsure why you feel it is prudent to tell people to write 500 a day.

  2. I think you’ve misunderstood the tone of my comment Jamie! The piece starts with someone expressing surprise at how few words per day it takes to write a novel as she thought it was ten or twenty thousand. My point is that if you take it slow and steady, then even with as few as 500 words a day, you will get there. I’m certainly not suggesting people only write that if they feel the urge to write more! Sorry if that’s how it comes across.

  3. I know this was posted quite awhile ago, but thank you, this is a real inspiration to a novice like myself. Like your friend, I also expected a monolithic amount of words. I think I may need to read Steven King’s On Writing. Again, thank you.

  4. Thank you so much Andrew, I’m really pleased you found it helpful. Five hundred words isn’t so hard to do, I think the more important thing is keeping going, especially on days you don’t feel like writing!

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