How Many Words Should You Be Writing a Day?

 

I could spend a whole blog post (and I probably will in the future) talking about why I love podcasts so much and which ones I recommend for writers.

Currently, I’m catching up on all the archived episodes of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing podcast, which is hosted by three successful indie authors who write everything from steam punk to sci-fi romance. I’ve made it a habit to turn on an episode while I’m driving, cooking, folding laundry, doing my makeup, fixing my hair…any monotonous activity which was previously accompanied by country music on Spotify ;-). This is a much more productive use of my time!

I love hearing from their guests, people like successful hybrid author Beth Revis, Smashwords founder Mark Coker, and scientist turned indie phenom Nick Webb. Every show is full of insight and inspiration tailored to Sci-Fi/Fantasy nerds like me!

There’s just one thing that hasn’t been so inspiring, and that something has to do with word counts.

I once heard Mark Dawson (successful thriller author and Facebook ads guru) say that he hits about 3,000 words a day, which comes out to 12 pages. Considering that at that time I was only writing one page per day, I made up my mind that he was some sort of super evolved, storytelling alien from another galaxy.

A while after that, I heard Rachel Aaron on the Sci-Fi and Fantasy podcast talk about her nonfiction book, 2K to 10K, which, as the title suggests, is all about helping writers hit 10,000 words (40 pages!!!) every day.

It gets better. Just last week, an episode featured Chris Fox who’s written a book titled, 5,000 Words Per Hour. That’s 20 pages per hour. I’m pretty sure my brain would melt out of my ears if I even attempted to write that fast. And the question is, do I even want to?

I mentioned above that there was a time when I was only writing one page (250 words) per day. This was for my first novel, Moonbow. I’d written several screenplays, short stories, and non-fiction books, the words of which seemed to flow relatively easily, yet writing a novel was a whole other story (no pun intended). Knowing there were people out there like Joanna Penn, K.M. Weiland, and Mark Dawson banging out 10 times more words than me was more than a little discouraging. Did I simply not have what it takes to be a novelist?

With every new novel I write (I’m currently on my fourth), I get faster. I wrote my first novel over the course of nine months, my second in seven, and my third in five. As I often find parallels between the writing process and working out, I equated this progress with my dismal beginnings as a CrossFitter.

When I started CrossFit five years ago, I couldn’t run a quarter mile without stopping to catch my breath. Doing ten burpees in a row felt like torture. In a nutshell, any high-intensity activity that surpassed my 20-second happy place made me want to crawl into a hole and die. I was sure that I just wasn’t athletic enough or in shape of enough for this method of training.

But I stuck with it.

And over time, I improved.

After a few weeks, I could run half a mile without stopping. A few months after that, I ran a 5K in less than 25 minutes. Burpees didn’t make me want to vomit like they used to. I realized that progress was indeed possible and that gains would continue to occur as long as I pushed myself past my comfort zone.

On the flipside of that optimism is good ol’ pragmatism. While I know that my fitness will continue to improve – I’ll run faster, lift heavier, etc. – I am also fully aware that I’ll never be a CrossFit Games athlete. For one, I’m pretty sure I don’t have the genetic giftedness to be, and for two, I’m simply not driven to reach that level.

It’s the same with my writing. As with my CrossFit journey, I’m making gradual improvements every time I sit down to write. The simple act of showing up every day and facing a blank page shows Resistance that I’m not messing around; I’m serious about my goals and won’t let doubt, discouragement, or comparison stop me from reaching them. I’ve weathered the awkward beginning stages in which I didn’t seem to get anywhere. I’ve accepted that 250 words is still infinitely better than 0 words.

And I’ve also accepted that I’m probably not ever going to be a literary sprinter and/or word-generating space alien. I enjoy myself much more when I savor the words I write and craft them with care. While some writers prefer to bust out a rough draft as quickly as possible and then edit like a fiend, others, like myself, would much rather take our time with the first draft and make the editing process much easier on ourselves.

No matter who you are, writing is often more of a trudge through the arctic tundra than a walk in the park. If you can make it more pleasurable by figuring out what writing pace suits you best, then by all means do it!

 

How Many Words Should You Be Writing a Day? by Diana Anderson-Tyler

These days, I’m averaging about 800-1,000 words a day, depending on my schedule. If I’m blogging or editing another project (I’m doing both today), then sometimes I hit 500, and I don’t beat myself up about it.

Writing isn’t a race. There isn’t some grand prize for whichever author can write the most books at the end of his or her life. Some of the most celebrated writers only wrote a handful of books in their lives. Gone with the Wind was Margaret Mitchell’s only novel, and Harper Lee’s second book was released just last year, 55 years after her classic work To Kill a Mockingbird was published. Here’s a full list of authors who only wrote one novel; all of these works have been beloved and venerated for decades.

I suppose that if your goal with writing is to make a fortune, then maybe training yourself to write fast and furiously is the way to go. For me, writing is about far more than money.

It’s about exploration and discovery. About respecting the ages-old power of the written word and its ability to transcend intellectual understanding by penetrating the farthest reaches of a person’s soul, the passions and emotions of which no words can articulate. About providing escape, offering answers, elevating goodness, awakening faith, stirring curiosity. In my experience, this cannot be rushed or achieved through any surefire formula.

As with any breathtaking landscape or sublime work of art, one must be awed by writing to appreciate it fully. Not worrying about how many words I write a day frees me to bask in warm yellow rays of creativity, to feel the breeze of a fresh line of dialogue as it brushes past, to smell the sweetness of a surprising plot twist unfolding just perfectly, to look upon the sunset of a day’s work with the utmost satisfaction, knowing that I gave every word my greatest effort.

How Many Words Should You Be Writing a Day? by Diana Anderson-Tyler

 

What are your thoughts on word counts? Leave a comment below or tweet me at @dandersontyler. I would love to hear from you!

 

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2 thoughts on “How Many Words Should You Be Writing a Day?

  • Amanda Ogletree

    I have been struggling with this for a long time. As an eighth grader I decided to start writing down my interesting stories I came up with in my mind. Halfway through my freshman year of high school I was almost finished with my first novel only to have it deleted off of my flash drive at school. Since then I have been working on three different novels at once while struggling with writers block as well as my word count at the end of my ‘session’ with my laptop. This is really helpful and i feel very encouraged by this. Thank you from a young writer. (I am now I senior in high school)

  • Abigail

    It’s so true that 250 words are better than none! Sometimes that’s all I have time for, but it’s still progress and keeps the project moving.

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