How many words a day?

Word Count
How many words a day? 250, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 8000?

Sometimes just squeezing out 50-100 words is a struggle.

Sometimes you’ll sit down, forget to eat; cross your legs and leave it to the last minute to go for a wee and then run back to the writing. Leave the kids standing outside the school gate. Burn the chicken, etc. But at the end of it all you discover that instead of the 1000 words you were aiming at, you’ve topped 5000 words, seemingly without any effort. And you’re buzzing. (kids and wife aren’t too happy though, but hey, you’ve lost weight)

Alexander McCall Smith, the author of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series as well as lots of other books, (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_McCall_Smith) just doesn’t seem to slow down. On a recent interview on the book show, he said that he could comfortably write 1000 words an hour; and he does it full time for 8 hours a day. Little wonder that he is so prolific and successful.

I’ve read just one of his books and it was good. Very good. They sell well and he makes, lets say a fair living. So it’s not as if he just throws the words on a page and hopes for the best.

Some of us struggle to write every day. Sometimes every week. So how should you set your target and what happens if you don’t make your target. Simple. The world ends for you. You’re a failure.

No seriously; some days things get on top of us and we simply don’t have the energy, time, or even the inclination to sit in front of a keyboard. You’ve got to be forgiving of yourself.

I read somewhere that if you wait for the ideal sentence to come to you, you’d never get anything written at all, and of course, sometimes your muse sometimes takes a holiday without notice. (if such a thing exists)

My problem is that I get an idea to write (like this piece) and don’t stop until it’s finished and that takes time away from the serious writing of my novel, but consider this – taking the time to tweet, update your Facebook page, participate in forums about writing, updating your blog, etc., should all go towards your daily targeted word count. Yes, I know we shouldn’t really think like that, but the thoughts you write down, the dialogue, punctuation, sentence formation, the way you delete and revise (even a tweet) are all engaging your brain and constantly improving your writing skills.

And here’s another of my thoughts. Writers block simply doesn’t exist. (Sorry if I offend) Just sit down in front of your computer, typewriter or pen and paper for fifteen minutes and you’ll write something. Reporters don’t have the luxury of writers block as they’re constantly working to a deadline, so why should you? Think about it for a minute.

Still nothing? Try ‘once upon a time’ and go from there if you’re starting, or if you’re in the middle or near the end of your work, summarise what has previously happened in a sentence and then write ‘and then, you’ll never guess what happened’ and go from there. Don’t correct as you go, just get it out of your head. That’s what revision/editing/proofreading is for.

‘My novel just isn’t going in the direction I planned; I don’t know what to do.’
Simple, just go with the flow. The characters in a novel sometimes take you to strange new places that your conscious mind never knew existed. Take a vacation with them and see if they have a better idea of the route than you. Humour them. If they’re lost too, erase everything that’s their fault and call them stupid; then send them in the direction you want. However, from experience, they’re not as stupid as you might think and they do like to have an input in their own story.

When I started I thought 1000 words a day was the ideal target and aimed for that, but I was all over the place. Mostly, more words came out than I had planned, but you don’t stop a one-armed-bandit paying out just because it’s too much. The first chapter in my book was originally over 7400 words and was written in one sitting. Sure, some of it was rubbish, but it was there, it was a tangible effort.

John Grisham took 3 years to write his first book. His target was a page a day and he says that sometimes it took 10 minutes, sometimes an hour and sometimes two hours. If that happened to JG, then why are you worrying?

Wonder if Alexander McCall Smith did the same thing, only with a roll of wallpaper?

How about starting with 250 words a day? See if that’s to hard/easy and then revise up or down. Better to be too low and constantly beating your target than aiming for 10,000 a day and never getting anywhere near it.

Stuck after the first 80-100 words? Take a walk with the dog and a dictation machine and miraculously thoughts come; your arm rises and you’re putting your ideas into it. (the dictation machine, not your arm – Duh) You’ll find yourself speeding up or cutting the walk short to get your ideas down. (put the dog on the treadmill afterwards?)

Anyway, for me 2000 words seems to be the ideal target and if I do less, I don’t worry as the next day or the day after that, I’ll be totally engaged and double the target.

If you’ll forgive me, just this once? I beat cancer 5 times and sometimes people say to me “must have been an awful time, how did you get through it?”. The answer is one day at a time. When you have a bad day with cancer/writing, say to yourself ‘tomorrow will be better’. If it’s not, then you’re just going to have to say it to yourself again and whatyaknow, one of the days you’ll think ‘yesterday was rubbish, but today? Wow’.

Bottom line. No one can tell you how many words to write, not even you. The best we can do is set a realistic target, aim for it, get it some days, don’t get it other days and beat the hell out of it occasionally.

Incidentally this little piece took just over 50 minutes and is 1088 words, not including this line. When it goes well it gushes, when it doesn’t – forgive yourself.

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If you’ve got this far, I’m assuming that you’ve read the whole piece, so if you liked or disliked it, please leave a comment below.
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Copyright Lawrence Wray
Twitter @lawrence_wray
Facebook lawrence.wray.33

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16 thoughts on “How many words a day?

  1. Absolutely, Lawrence! If you want to be a writer, you have to write. Just put it down, don’t worry about making it perfect. You’ve got time, later, to revise, improve, edit and change again.

    I find it helps enormously to have an outline, but keep it flexible, too.

    And re-writing and revising should count toward your daily goal, too.

    Thanks for this!

  2. Pingback: How many words a day? | Art of living, Write to life

  3. Thank you… exactly what I needed!
    LIFE has a way of mucking up the day and at night I berate myself for the failures.
    Today has been particularly tough and this was the medicine my sagging spirit needed.
    Thank you.

  4. Lawrence. Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ series a great favourite. Also watched the TV series. Re Writing. My own approach is that ‘beginning is half done’ but… oh how we procrastinate.
    ~Jonathan

  5. Very good article and can’t aim for writing every day as too tired after work and no time to write before but write when I can. Had a block for a while but then inspiration came and has as you say led me further into the story where it will end I don’t know but I know things that should happen.

  6. I just finished the second draft of my first book and I ended up with about 4,000 words per day. Some days were more, some days less, but I made sure to write something every day. I knew that if I skipped a day then I would skip another.

    I think consistency is the best way to handle any long writing.

  7. Great advice. I need to start doing a word count: 1000 words goes by quickly. I aim for 5 pages a day and skip out on words.

    I also agree completely that writer’sblock doesn’t really exist. It’s just a fancy word for laziness driven by perfectionism.

  8. A daily word count is probably one of the worst things for me. I start looking at the word count and forget that I need to pay attention to the story. It’s also nearly impossible to do word count goals with revision because things are coming around, moving around, and being added. You may spend a lot of effort on the story and be at the same word count at the end of the session.

    • That’s the truth Linda, but even if the word count decreases, the story has moved forward in a better way and is even nearer completion.
      We just have to forgive ourselves when that inevitably happens. All good.

  9. Pingback: How many words a day? | Tea Talks

  10. Pingback: Note to Self | Reading, Writing, Other: Mark Harwood's Blog

  11. Fabulous post and so true, thanks for sharing you have inspired me to get a few words down tonight 🙂

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