How many words a day should you write, and other things I’ve learned in my first week as a full-time writer

It’s Friday night here, In Australia, and Week 1 of this full-time writing experiment is drawing to a close. If you’ve seen my work plan, I was supposed to have written 20,000 words. So, how did I go?

Well, I’ve had five leisurely breakfasts on my balcony.

IMG_2806 (1)

Oh, you want to know about the word count? Well, that’s complicated…

I estimate that I’ve written 15 to 20 thousand words over the last five days. The reason I can’t report the number with my usual precision is that I’ve deleted so much of the already-written text, I’m only 2,739 words ahead. That’s less than my planned daily quota. In fact, today I’ve worked for eight hours and ended up with about 500 words less than I had last night. Blin!

I am, however, very pleased with my current efforts. To start with, I overcame a major writer’s block – Monday was hard, as I went into some kind of shock of “this is it, sit down and produce a masterpiece.” I did sit down at my new desk, but managed to push out only 1K of words, and I could tell they were not gold.

Tuesday morning was a bit better, but my afternoon and evening were taken up by babysitting my niece and a writer’s group. I managed another 1K of pedestrian dribble.

It was Wednesday when I decided to stop forcing myself and to get reacquainted with my own work. I started writing in September, and it’s been so long that the manuscript read as if a stranger wrote it. A dull, tired stranger with a dayjob that sucks all of her creative energy, living nothing for character development, leave alone comedy.

Conventional writing wisdom dictates that you’re not supposed to edit your first draft until it’s finished, but I had no choice. There was every writing faux pas imaginable – from telling instead of showing, to boring filler fluff, to characters that reacted inappropriately and/or inconsistently, to finally (gasp!) a Deus ex Machina.

A magical thing happened on Wednesday, as I mercilessly slashed paragraph after paragraph. I started falling in love with the story again. I finally knew I was on the right path when, after I cleaned up and rearranged a major scene, I had goosebumps reading it. I could not stop working that day, finally forcing myself to go to bed around midnight. I then got up at least twice to turn on the light and write ideas on a huge whiteboard I have in my bedroom, so that I can finally go to sleep. It didn’t work very well – I woke up at 4.30,Β tried the whiteboard trick again, but had to admit defeat and make coffee instead.

The week is technically not over, so I should be able to add to the pile in the next two days, but currently I’m at 36K words. Entertaining, quality words that I would not be ashamed to send to a structural editor or beta-reader. Considering that Shizzle, Inc ended up being only 79K words, I’m almost half-way through Indiot.

I’m not only happy with the current progress, I’m very hopeful that I might have learned something about how I work. Forget all the rules – if editing helps you avoid writer’s block, then edit. If it paralyses you, then don’t even look at the first pages. How many words should you write every day? Well, that’s also up to you. I could not help but google this and found a pretty interesting article detailing average daily word output of famous authors. The morale of the article is that you should find your own pace.

The only thing I can add to that is that you should have fun, too.

102 Comments

Filed under Self-publishing and marketing

102 responses to “How many words a day should you write, and other things I’ve learned in my first week as a full-time writer

  1. Thanks for that absolutely marvelous post. I’m also writing professionally, so sometimes, my WIP for fiction is nill, because I’ve spent so much of my mental energy on pro stuff that I just don’t want to deal with it. How do you suggest that I get out of that slump?

    Like

  2. Reblogged this on Simple Things and commented:
    I have found this amusing and challenging, I never spend enough time being original and getting my thoughts down on ‘paper’. (I’m prevaricating by reflagging this!)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed reading this. I can’t even imagine writing 20k words in a week. Right now I’m just trying to make a writing routine of 20mins a day. A little progress is better than no progress right!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Justine πŸ™‚ I’ve started thinking of writing as fitness – if you are “writing unfit”, like I was after several months of just spurts here and there, you forget what it’s like to be able to sit down and write several pages. 20 minutes a day, like a walk around the block, helps you maintain a degree of fitness. Perhaps try to increase it a little every day, like you would with weights at the gym?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Loving reading about your journey. I was cringing about your slashing through your writing, until you said you were loving your writing after. Ah…. what a relief — and inspiration! Thank you for sharing πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you πŸ™‚ Slashing is an inevitable part of writing, like weeding your garden, and all I could see was weeds…good things was that there were decent seedlings among all that fluff, too. I’m kind of proud of myself for being so ruthless – indie authors are catching so much slack for publishing (as a whole) poorly edited content. I hope to reverse that trend.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Loving your analogy to gardening {as I spent all day yesterday in the garden!} – and agree: it’s easy to love all your words, but ruthlessly *weeding* out the weak to allow the strong to come through. I’ve been writing microfiction through my blog to help my tendency to be unnecessarily verbose – cut to the core. Thank you sharing your experience – and I’m sending lots of good luck your way!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you πŸ™‚ I’m having a weekend away with my sister, lots of ideas floating in my head, can’t wait to put them on paper.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yay – Enjoy your sisterhood πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  5. “A magical thing happened on Wednesday”… I like the way you had your own deus ex machina to overcome the writer’s block. Ha ha

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, good pick up, Tim! Are you an editor, perchance?

      I did, however, establish protagonist’s (I mean, my) motivation and described the development arc of effort resulting in an outcome…

      Like

  6. I’ve been revising for so long that I’ve almost forgotten what new words feel like! :p
    Seriously, though…once this big project’s done, I’m curious to see what my daily word count will be. I used to hit a daily 1k over the course of a few hours, so I’m curious to see if I can still do it, or if I can do more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s the frustration, isn’t it – I’m sure you lay a thousand new words every day of revising, but they get lost as one word here, another sentence there…

      I’m about to go to the gym and visualize myself benchpressing 5K words a day πŸ™‚ Over the next few months, I will test a new theory, that it’s a matter of “writing fitness”…

      Like

  7. Congratulations on such a momentous miracle, by which I mean, figuring out how YOU work best. That’s half the battle.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. When there is such a large time gap between what you first wrote and when you start again, it is a good idea to go back, reread and revise, as you found out. Congrats on the progress.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. That’s so awesome! If it makes you feel any better, I ignored the “don’t revise until you finish” advice with my first book and it turned out great. Honestly, some of us include revision as part of the process and just accept when the word count doesn’t jump ahead every day. You have to find what works for you. Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Sounds like a great start, Ana. However, I know how easy it is to get bogged down with rewriting in the early stages, so maybe you could leave the ‘slashing’ til later? πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Reading your narrative reminds me so much of my writing process that it is spooky. I remember the elation that was he realization that I actually enjoyed the writing process, the flow of words, thoughts and ideas onto a previously blank computer screen. Writing is hell and heaven all at the same time. It’s cool. You’re cool.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Pete πŸ™‚ Isn’t it amazing, that you can find people who “get you” on the internet? I gave my first book to a few friends to read and they simply did not get the humor. Yet people on the other side of the world love it. We may be cool, Pete, but the Internet is the coolest πŸ™‚

      Like

  12. That breakfast looks tasty. You are incredibly talented and you have a drive that I hope to replicate in my own writing life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t think I’m talented – I remember crying hysterically in high school, because I could not write a simple essay. I think I’ve learned to love writing (it’s easy when you’re not forced to do it) and I combined that with determination and work ethic. I do feel that I’m getting better with every thousand words written…

      Liked by 1 person

  13. My own experience is should write as many words a day as you can without actually feeling the mental effort. The words should flow, and if you start forcing that flow, you’ll burn out.

    For me, that’s 1000 words. For others? It’s more or less. I know a writer that can manage five times that a day with no problem… and he makes me all kinds of jealous.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am actually wondering if I can teach myself how to do that, gradually, kind of like going to the gym and trying to lift just a little more each day. Maybe writing more is a matter of getting the writing “muscle” more fit? πŸ˜‰

      Like

  14. Wonderful post, and great article you linked to. I personnal write 2,000 a day. A Facebook friend of mine puts out 6-7,000 a day. Recently I decided I should up my output. So I furiously typed and managed to get 6,000 words in one day. When I sat down to edit it, it was a nightmare! I spent more time than ever with little corrections — spelling errors, grammar, etc. — that I’ve gone back to 2,000. Bottom line: you just have to write at your own pace, otherwise you’re forcing it which is counterproductive.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Hmmm – “Conventional wisdom…” So, who really started the convention? And since when is convention always wise? And, besides, you’re not the boss of me, Convention, so down in front!

    I do appreciate all of the great tips and bits coming from those who have found success. But, good golly, Miss Molly – in the wisdom category, I don’t find any of us on the bottom shelf, topped by all the Conventioneers. And when it comes to editing, I can’t not go back if I find myself steering straight for the ditch.

    Sometimes, we just have to do what we have to do. All of us… You, too.

    All the best as you write away, dear Ana … xoxox

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Nancy. I’m personally allergic to the word “tradition”, too – why do I have to do just because people before me did? I mean, my ancestors tried to cure tuberculosis with bloodletting…;-)

      Like

  16. Sounds great and the eggs and scene on the balcony look terrific. Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Tamara Kulish

    Great article!

    I started writing about my personal experience with a writing plan, and I got so involved with it that I realized I needed to create a blog post about it!

    My writing plan which worked best for me? To have no writing plan! If you’d like to read about my process, go to this article: https://onbecomingalemonademaker.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/what-was-my-writing-plan-when-i-wrote-my-lemonade-book/

    Peace!
    Tamara

    Like

  18. Hey Ana! What a timely post! I’m doing my best to rewrite 2 of my own short stories off my blog for consideration to be published in an upcoming anthology & it’s comforting to know that pushing out 1k words per day isn’t a must! Thinking up a more concrete plot/ideas to incorporate is my main stumbling block.
    Currently I find it doesn’t take long for me to feel the strain!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you πŸ™‚

      If you feel the strain, maybe you should change something? Like when or where you write? Also, the strain for me was from feeling (but not admitting to myself) that there were structural issues in the story, with plot twists and character motivation. Once I fixed those, the words flowed much easier. At some points, I couldn’t type fast enough πŸ™‚

      Like

  19. It sounds like you had a wonderfully productive week. Congratulations! Keep it up; you can do it!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I just want to say that in my humble opinion, the conventional wisdom that you don’t revise till you’ve finished your first draft makes no sense. I suppose it’s primarily motivational—you need to finish something so you can have something. But, as you note, revision (and slashing mercilessly) can be a joyous thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you – I just love working on it, from every angle. Yes, the small touches can come later, but the overall structure has to be solid. I couldn’t keep writing about one of the characters who became a whining mess, had to go to the beginning and reestablish him. He then just started “talking on his own”. Magic πŸ™‚

      Like

  21. It amazes me to think how I wrote tirelessly when my children were small, after a divorce and becoming a single mom. Now my children are grown and I barely write at all. My blogs have been sorely neglected. I have a finished, but unpolished novel, 2 unfinished novels, and several short stories. Procrastination is my soul mate and I really want to change that. So hurrah Ana, and others, who are doing any amount of writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. Perhaps you’re enjoying life too much? πŸ˜‰ I find that I need a certain amount of pain to motivate me – currently it’s the pain of having to return to the morning commute on public transport, office desk, back pain, and boredom. Instead I have a vision in which I do exactly what I want to each day, with the output being books that readers enjoy and a blog that motivates and supports indie authors. Perhaps, instead of thinking “oh, I need to post about something”, take some time to reflect on the purpose of your novels and blog? Or just enjoy life as it is πŸ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

  22. πŸ™‚ Yeah, I tried that too. I figured with 5k a day I could do it, but 5k didn’t come every day so some days were better than others. You may find that you’ll start writing one morning and the story will just come in a way that will surpass your count goal.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I think it takes time to settle into any new routine, so the fact that your magic hit you by Wednesday is pretty remarkable. Well done! I moved to Australia in June last year so my novel writing was interrupted from January until the end of September when I finally picked it up and began writing again. I still don’t know why it took me almost three months to pick it up again, but it’s going a lot better now.

    I also think you are absolutely right to stop and fix things when you realize that you’re going in the wrong direction. The alternative would be to waste a lot of time just because you want to keep to a word count. I no longer stress over word count goals because I think they defeat the purpose of the end product. When it goes well, go with it, but when it doesn’t there’s a reason and something needs fixing. Sounds like you’ve fixed it.

    Your balcony view looks lovely and I find myself wondering which part of Melbourne you live in, and also which writing group you went to on Tuesday, but it would be rude to ask so I won’t. After a rather bizarre false start I have finally found two writing groups in Melbourne that I’m very happy with, and I’ve met some lovely people in them. I hope you have an inspiring writing group as well.

    Best of luck with week 2!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I agree one hundred percent. When I write, I always backtrack. I’ve never found the wisdom of not reading your writing until the first draft is done to be true. But as you pointed out, you’re discovering bit by bit how you write. I believe that thoroughly–that we all have our different processes. Good job and good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  25. I find that when I’m really busy I manage to write, even though it is only a small amount each day.Then when space opens up and I’ve actually got time it’s a bit like blank canvas syndrome and I really struggle.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. I think you make a good point … that there is a lot more to writing than word count.

    Like

  27. So good to be reassured by your experience. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Amazing work Ana! When writers like you post about the writing moving up and down, gives a ray of hope ’cause I’ve been struggling with writing and my day job. Just what I needed. Thanks dear. Best wishes for the days to come!

    Liked by 1 person

  29. What a great post! You sure seemed to find time to write no matter how hard it is! Best of luck! 20k in a week is a ton πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  30. For me the work of writing comes in two main parts – the gathering of raw text, and then the sculpting what you have until the new things emerge and the final form slowly takes shape.

    So good luck, full steam ahead, and when nothing comes reread and rework what’s done. Keep offcuts and otherwise murdered darlings in a file with tags, in case they’re needed later. Use placeholder text when you don’t know what happens, but know something should – an answer may come through later and then you can go back and place Chekhov’s gun. Don’t despair when everything seems loosely written and poorly connected – work will make things better.

    I look forward to following your progress.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I do put placeholders in – short sentences in all caps. The first draft was littered with them…I am also a sculptor, so your metaphor works well for me πŸ™‚

      Like

  31. Ana,
    I loved the comparison of writing and fitness. My son is a bodybuilder and when you compared the two it made sense to me. My son’s explanation is that when you lift weights, it breaks down the muscle and with rest and nutrition in between routines builds the muscle so that you can lift heavier weight. So, like you said write what you can in a day (lift weight) then the next day (in between lifting weights) write more than you did the day before.
    The balcony looked so relaxing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Brenda. Your son probably told you about how important the rest days are? Funny, I could not write a word yesterday – brain crashes after an intense week, so I finally got to do other things.

      Like

  32. Sounds like your venture into writing full-time is off to a great start! I love the white board in the bedroom. I have sheets of paper from my son’s art table tacked up for notes and brain storming. Thanks for sharing; I’ve been enjoying your posts about your experiences as a writer and self-publishing. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog and commented:
    Great post. How many words do you write per day? I go more with weekly goals. Depending on how long my flight is each week, I can be pretty prolific.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Chopping those paras is tough, but essential, the more I write the easier it gets.
    Good luck with the rest of the book πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  35. I too had the luxury of nothing to do but write for four months – only because the contracts that usually fueled my bank account temporarily ran dry. I was out of work and living off savings so I made it a novel-writing vacation.

    But I still had my usual work ethic which meant that novel writing full time was nothing like a holiday. Because my novel is science-based, I had to factor in time for research as well. I tended to vary between writing by hand in a notebook (which had the advantage that I could do it parked somewhere while my grandson napped in his car seat), transcribing those hand written segments, writing directly onto the computer, editing to make sure I was on track, and going for long walks to sort out what was to come next.

    Still, not quite enough walks to make up for the long hours of sitting, the chocolate-covered almonds that powered me through sprees of high productivity, and the naps to make up for the sleepless nights. Now it’s done, I’m left with the poundage to deal with as a follow-up exercise (pun intended). That was the price but I am not sorry I did it.

    I now have a novel I’m proud of, which is a very powerful motivator to try and find a similar block of time to do another. The immersion is critical, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Awesome progress… And I know a few authors that don’t rush through the first draft; they edit as they go. I think conventional wisdom is only as good as “try different things and determine what works for you.”

    I have to write the whole rough draft, or I never finish… I get trapped in a weird edit/re-edit/re-edit/ad nauseum cycle…. (only to cut that entire section later). Do you write in order, or do you jump around writing the scenes that jump out at you?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Jon πŸ™‚ I tend to write progressively from the beginning, but when things jump at me, I note them in the “slush” end of the document. To my amazement, while scenes from book #3 started appearing! Those I’ve been noting on my whiteboard, but it’s probably time I set up a slush document for the #3.

      Like

  37. Well done Anna. I did wonder when you originally set your writing goal if it would bog you down. It’s ideas,inspiration and joy that make us want to write and setting an arbitrary word count can become a huge block.
    I have become very Interested in the “rules” since I started writing. Lots seem to be set by publishers and become rules. Genre length, the formula for a novel, acceptable layout, what it is said readers want. Some of this is about what readers have been given and got used to. As a reader I want escapism, new knowledge, and to be entertained not necessarily in a rigid formula.
    Seems to me when you read the rules for writing , there are rules for every scenario.I think indie authors all have their own ways.
    I am in awe of what you have achieved whilst working, how you have developed your blog come to grips with html etc. How you have kept this blog going, wrestled with publicity, give aways etc.
    Maybe the removal of the pressures slowed you to start you are so used to writing in short bites.and having to be time disciplined.
    I am a pantster rather than a rigid planner so if I am struggling with a particular area I pick up one of the ideas that have come to me and develop it
    You have such drive to succeed you will get there…maybe try setting your goals per day. I prefer saying I want to finish this chapter etc rather than setting a word count. But we all work differently.
    Just keep fitting the blog in its great to follow your progress.
    Make a great couple of books.
    How to subdue your blog.
    Adventures into novel writing….
    Good luck to you. Sam

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aww, thank you so much for letting me know, Sam! First week was drastic surgery, but it had to be done. I’m away with my sister, but managed to find an hour to write 600 words, and they came easily.

      Thank you very much for your support, this blog has become a big part of my life and I love to hear that people enjoy it, never fails to make me smile πŸ™‚

      Like

  38. “Find your own pace” is excellent advice; unless, of course, you have an editor with a deadline breathing down your neck. Enjoyed the article!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Jack! I guess knowing your pace is important in agreeing on reasonable goals – the goal of 20k/week I’ve set for myself is not yet achievable for me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I can average 2k per day when all goes well and I’m working on a murder mystery or short story. Days spent on poetry, however, almost never reach 2k. Agree pace is important but beyond that daily work count becomes less important for me than quality. Keep writing and your pace will likely level out for you and become more comfortable. Best of luck!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you very much, Jack. It will be good to find that number, so that I can plan better. Right now is an exploratory stage.

        Can’t imagine getting even 1k a day of poetry…

        Liked by 1 person

  39. I’m gonna be doing the full-time writer experiment in July, when my long service leave comes through (only one month instead of five, but hey! I’ll take it!) SO looking forward to that!

    And I feel your pain about deleting. I’m at that stage in the MS I’m working on: I’ve deleted more than I’ve written. At least there’s more salvageable material there than I thought there was, and as you discovered, going over it again made me fall in love with it all over again, so yay!

    Liked by 1 person

  40. What a fantastic blog post!

    I completely agree about finding your own pace. I feel you will on really find your true talent when you stop trying to follow everybody else’s rules.

    – B xo

    Liked by 1 person

  41. Well done Ana! Not sure about the whiteboard in the bedroom it would loom down on me and I would never get any sleep. I do have white board envy though, just where would I put it!? I am just about to go back through my first manuscript again and wish I had edited along the way a lot more. My second book is finished and a lot tighter and the third is happening, slowly. I would say don’t delete, save it in another file, you never know perhaps you can use it later?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Frankie – it’s amazing how much you see in hind sight, I think it’s because you evolve as a writer. I made a mistake of randomly reading some of Shizzle, Inc and regret it – all I kept thinking was how I’d change this and that. I just need to concentrate on the next one.

      The whiteboard is great for writing things that won’t let you sleep – at first it was looming, but now I’ve gotten used to it. I might take a pic of it for one of my updates.

      Liked by 1 person

  42. Oh Anna, I wrote 65,000 words for my NaNo books. I’m not a pantzer but outlines paralyzed me. I write is sections hoping at the end I will have something I can cut and paste together.

    In going through and editing the mess I’m having to cut beautiful, pithy passages, whole sections and change character POV. It made me ill till I read what i had left. A tight well written, well if I’m to be the judge, story that didn’t really turn out the way I thought it would. And i wrote the thing!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s