Michael Crichton is my hero. I only just found out. Here’s why:
I get a lot of email from authors asking how many words a day they should be writing.
I confess that the question puzzles me and I’ve hedge and hummed and fumbled to find a useful answer because the real answer is: “Whatever daily word count works best for your business, your life, and what time you have to write.”
And that answer makes me wince, because I find “it depends” answers useless, at best, unless they come along with an explanation on how to figure out the best answer for yourself.
Which is exactly what I’m going to do here.
- You SHOULD be asking what the best hourly word count should be
Let me get this out of the way, first. How many words you write a day depends on how long you leave your ass in the chair and your fingers moving on the keyboard.
So the most effective word rate to use is how many words you can produce in an hour.
But words-per-day seems to be the stat that new writers want to know.
- Determine your hourly word rate.
If you are not yet keeping a work log, start now. It can be a very simple record of the date, how many words you wrote, and how long you wrote.
I keep mine in an Excel spreadsheet, so the calculation to determine how many words per hour I wrote is automatic. So is the average hourly rate for the year.
If you’ve never kept track of your word rate, do it for your next writing session, so you have at least a very general idea of your word rate.
- Determine how many hours you can write per day, on average.
The work log will help you determine how much time you spend actually writing each day.
If you don’t have a log, then cast your mind back over the last week, and jot down how many hours you spent writing each day across that week and average out.
The further back your logs stretch, the more acurate your hours-per-week average will be.
Arrive at the average by adding all the days’ total hours together, then dividing by how many weeks of data you’re using.
- Multiple your average-hours-per-day with your average-hourly rate.
- Now, multiply that amount by 0.75.
This builds in slack — 25% of the time, you won’t write when you’re meant to. I’ve learned the hard way that expecting to write all the scheduled words in all the scheduled hours never happens. Life rolls and other little events will slice away at the time you write, or the rate you write at.
Avoid frustration and build in snag-time.
- Ta-Da. You now know how many words you should write per day.
But is MY daily word count better or worse than other authors?
See, this is where the question really comes from. Authors worry that they’re not writing “enough” or (rarely) “too much”. This worry arises because they think there is some daily word count they should be hitting.
If you plug “Daily word counts of famous authors” into Google, you get pages of results back. Here, I’ll save you typing it in. Click here to see the results.
I tried it myself when I was planning this post, and was staggered by the numbers of lists of author wordcounts out there.
And that is how I discovered that Michael Crichton is my hero. He would write 10,000 words a day.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are some writers who only wrote 500 words per day. But this is where you have to be careful — by looking at a daily word count of an author and sneering, you’re presuming they wrote the same number of hours as you. In fact, there were many famous authors who held onto day jobs throughout their writing careers, and fitted writing around it, which makes 500 words a day look respectable. Anthony Trollope is a perfect example, and there are many others.
Also, when looking at those famous author lists, bear in mind that the numbers are supposed to be an average. The average number always drops considerably below your best rate, and your expected rate.
And also bear in mind that everything you read online is absolutely true, and verified against two original data sources. 🙂
Don’t take the lists too seriously. Especially, do not beat yourself up because your daily word count looks pathetic in comparison.
But if you find the daily word count of another author inspiring, if it makes you want to sit down and write furiously, then frame the list and write your butt off.