Daily Word Count
March 24, 2010 10:30 PM   Subscribe

Professional Writers: How many words per day is average for you?

I am a researcher trying to become a better writer. This week I started a big writing project (a book) and am looking to setup an obtainable but reasonable words-count-per-day target for myself.

To get some idea of where I should set the goal, I wanted to know how many words professional writers put down on paper on a good day.
posted by Spurious to Work & Money (17 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
FYI: I am more interested in nonfiction writing, if that matters.
posted by Spurious at 10:32 PM on March 24, 2010

I'm not a professional but i would label myself as a writer, but more of the fiction/short-story variety. The best advice I know for creating a schedule for creative writing is to focus on the amount of time spent. I will work three hours today on this manuscript, for example. Sometimes words don't flow as easily as we'd like and I for one would go crazy knowing that I needed to get a thousand more words when I can barely scratch out two or three to begin a sentence. Perhaps not the advice you were looking for, but oh well. Good luck on your book!
posted by LokiBear at 11:24 PM on March 24, 2010

750 words.
posted by phaedon at 11:31 PM on March 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

Five tips for writing non-fiction by Tim Harford.
posted by danny31415 at 12:12 AM on March 25, 2010

On days when writing is my day job I aim for 1000 words, but that's when I'm in the first draft stage. Once I'm past that my word count per day is drastically lower because I'm editing, taking time to revise, etc.
posted by shesbookish at 12:13 AM on March 25, 2010

Depends on deadlines, but on average I'd say 500-1,000. Looming deadline, 2,000 or more.

For large projects, i.e. books, sometimes it's best to just divide time by length (word/page count).
posted by gottabefunky at 12:15 AM on March 25, 2010

It varies. I've done 3,000 in a day on deadline. My average is probably more along the lines of 750-800.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:30 AM on March 25, 2010

It varies dramatically for me depending on type of writing (former professional feature writer and reviewer, occasional journal article), if I'm inserting my references etc as I go, how much planning etc, but yeah, I think 750-1000 is a great target. If go too far over that, I personally find that means the quality is getting overlooked for quantity (doesn't mean the quality is bad, just that I'm not concentrating on it. Sometimes, that is appropriate to do.)

Anything under, and I'm putting my priorities somewhere else.
posted by smoke at 1:32 AM on March 25, 2010

500. Sometimes 1000, if I'm really pushing it. There's just a point where your brain won't do it anymore for that day, so you just come back the next day.
posted by medea42 at 3:14 AM on March 25, 2010

One thing that's worth saying: I am almost always baffled by those "How I Write" articles, or by most advice on writing routines, because my (non-fiction) writing is inevitably an endless process of research, reporting, outlining, writing, the writing revealing what further research needs doing, more research, more outlining, etc. Yet all the advice on writing seems to presume that you just sit down one day and write.

Obviously this will depend on your book project and what stage you're at with it, but I guess above all I would not assume that writing any sentences at all is necessarily the best thing you can be doing on any given day. I know this conflicts with the popular advice to "write every day" but I think that should be rephrased as "make concrete progress on your writing project every day". (And you can of course get caught in "infinite research", spinning your wheels, so you need ways to avoid that, too...)
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:41 AM on March 25, 2010

I'm a technical writer, and find that my daily word counts vary dramatically. Much of my time is spent in research mode, where the only writing I do is note-taking.

When I am in content creation mode, I think 500-1500 words a day is pretty typical. I think shooting for 1000 words a day, on average, is a pretty good goal.

However, I also take time away from my writing to create technical illustrations (since we have no illustrator). I rarely have full days of uninterrupted content creation, though. Typically, I find new questions about my material as I'm writing it and then have to go back to my notes, research, and subject matter experts. Because of this, and because I try to only provide as much detail as is really necessary and useful to the readers, I don't feel like word count is a good metric to judge my productivity. It might be different in your case, but don't forget to give yourself credit for being productive even if you have days where you don't write as much as you would like!
posted by tastybrains at 6:41 AM on March 25, 2010

I write fiction and screenplays, so I shoot for either 15 pages a day (screenplay) or 1000 words a day (fiction). If all of my research is done, and I get into the flow of things, I can zoom up to 4000 words a day. That's very rare, though, and nothing I'd ever try to schedule.
posted by headspace at 6:44 AM on March 25, 2010

Nonfiction writer, but around 600- 1000 a day. But it's more a time limit thing - whatever I can do in the morning before heading off to work for 9 hours. Yay full time work you hate!
posted by OrangeDrink at 7:26 AM on March 25, 2010

Oh, one or two good ones, if I'm lucky.

Stephen King says he walks away from his computer after writing 2000 words every day. But he sucks.

It shouldn't be about quantity. It should be about quality.

Here's the best thing I've ever read about writing, by Bill Wheeler, who wrote the Richard Gere film "The Hoax".
posted by Bobby Bittman at 8:18 AM on March 25, 2010 [6 favorites]

Seconding the article by Bobby Bittman.

In theory, I write about 2000 words a day. In reality, I write 0 words 3 out of 5 days and between 4-5K on the other days. I find it provides a more elegant flow and I don't hate it - a key aspect to writing well.
posted by valoius at 10:15 AM on March 25, 2010

Edit - please note, I don't edit while I'm writing at that volume. I put down my thoughts in extreme detail, then edit appropriately.
posted by valoius at 10:17 AM on March 25, 2010

There is no right answer to this. I write a page a day on two separate novels. This is absurdly low for some people. Two big projects at once is too ADD for some people -- which is unsurprising, because I have ADD.

I have tried doing what works for other people before. I have tried working on a single thing and I got bored out of my mind. I have tried to keep up a NaNoWriMo pace before and it was unbearable for me and I wrote utter shit. Other people can't imagine not writing tons of stuff a day and do it fine.

Bottom line: people's brains work differently, they have different dispositions, they have different schedules and responsibilities.

Try writing very little. Try writing a lot more. Try writing for different lengths of time, rather than word counts. Try writing in a number of "chunks" like chapters, pages, paragraphs, or even sentences. Try writing every day. Try writing only certain days. Try writing only when you feel like it. Try alternating writing on different projects. Try writing multiple projects at once. You'll eventually hit on what works for you. But don't think you're not doing it right because it doesn't match someone's prescription; just like medical prescriptions, what's appropriate for one person will be agony for another.

And please take it with a grain of salt whenever someone starts in on how you muuuuuust "write every day" or if you're not writing so many pages or for so many hours you're not a real writer. That really gets my goat. This is why I don't have a goat right now. It's gone. It's gotten. And I can't get another one, because it came from the place "real writers" come from.
posted by Nattie at 11:26 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

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