Monday, April 11, 2011

How Fast is Fast Writing?

My guest this week is Jerry Weinberg, author, lecturer, and raconteur. Jerry's books include a wide range of fiction and nonfiction.

A reader writes: "I am curious about how many words per hour or per day that people write. I once read that Stephen King wrote "an amazing 2,000 words a day." I am a little confused here how they count words. I have been writing short stories this year for practice and enjoyment. I average about 1,500 words per hour. That includes the hours spent revising the words."

What's an Hour?
It's no wonder you're confused. Here are some of the types of "hours" that are sometimes included, sometimes excluded, when people are talking about "words per hour" or "words per day."

- Hours thinking about the content before writing a word.

- Hours typing a first draft.

- Hours thinking about the content after writing some words.

- Hours editing an Nth draft.

- Hours researching a draft or revision or redraft.

- Hours corresponding with reviewers and dealing with their comments.

- Hours trying to sell the manuscript.

- Hours working with editors after a ms. is sold.

- Hours working on promotional material.

- Hours corresponding with readers (including writing blog entries like this one).

- Hours installing hardware/software for your writing tools, and tracking errors in those tools.

- Hours banking all the royalties and dealing with tax issues.

There's also the question of how to count "words." Is it words in the finished ms.? Or maybe all the words you've written in all the above activities, many of which were thrown away?

So, if you add up all these words and divide them by all these hours, you get one number for your rate. But if you're counting different words and hours, you'll get a different rate.

Is 1,500 words per hour an extra amazingly speedy rate?
It might be if you're talking about finished words appearing in print, taking into account all those other hours in a writer's business.

Figure it out. A fairly big novel has 120,000 words, so this rate would be more than 35 novels a year. A few writers do achieve this rate, but they write under different names—because readers won't buy novels from one author at that rate.

There are quite a few other authors who achieve this rate–but only on days they're working, and they don't work every day, or perhaps not eight hours on days they do work.

What Are Typical Words Per Hour Rates?
My reader goes on to ask: "How many words per hour or per day do you write when writing novels?"

When I'm drafting a novel, I can readily type 1,500 words per hour. I have, several times, knocked out a 120,000-word ms. in a solid week. Over 50 years, I've produced roughly one 120,000-word book per year, so I must be doing other things than drafting manuscripts.

Other writers' answers will differ, so don't compare yourself to others–especially don't compare your "rate" with someone's not-clearly-defined rate.

If you compare your own rate today with your own rate yesterday, you may learn things about yourself–and notice ways to improve your writing process. That's what counts, not Stephen King's or Jerry Weinberg's "rate."
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Jerry (Gerald M. Weinberg) writes from experience. He has published more than 60 book, fiction and nonfiction, and has coached hundreds of writers, dozens of whom have published their own books, including several best-sellers. <http://www.geraldmweinberg.com>
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Earth's Endless Effort
The largest living being on Earth, LAFE (Large Aspen Forest Entity) is threatened by industrialization and seeks the aid of Daphne DeFreest. Before she can help, they must heal her broken body, find a way to communicate, and win the love of her life.

7 comments:

Lyn Cote said...

Jerry, I try not to think of this stuff! :-)

Donnell said...

Fascinating interview. I'm curious how Mr. Weinberg coaches writers. Could you share your process, please?

Doug said...

I find that a novel with a complex plot sometimes requires negative words per day as I throw away stuff that doesn't seem to be working.

Rebecca Shelley said...

It's hard to believe, but I can actually write big fat fantasy novels much faster word/hour rate than my 10,000 word chapter books.

One of the reasons is simply the research to word count ratio in my Smartboys Club books. I sometimes spend 8 to 24 hours researching for one or two paragraphs for the Smartboys Club books. Obviously my words per hour on those books is negligible. But if I'm just freewriting the first draft of an epic fantasy, I can write 2500 words an hour.

So for me the rate really depends on the book I'm writing.

Steven said...

I have the same experience as Rebecca. The longer the work, the better the word rate. I think it's because every story, novella, novel requires some set-up time. Once that time is invested the writing goes pretty fast.

My draft rate is 800-1200 w/hr. So only 80 hours or so to draft a full-length novel. And in my experience, I'm not fast. I'm SLOW . Certainly slower than Jerry, who can knock out an 120k ms over a week. VERY impressive.

I agree we writers shouldn't be comparing ourselves to each other, but it's very helpful to get an order of magnitude so we have an idea of what's possible. Thanks for the great blog, Jerry!

Ellis Vidler said...

Geez! Do you all actually key in the words or do you use a voice-to-text program? I can't type that fast even I could think that way. I consider 2 to 3 thousand words in a whole day a major accomplishment.
Jerry, we need to know more about your process.

Polly said...

Me too. I want to know. The most I've ever written in a day, and that's a long day, is 4500 words, and that was very unusual. I can't conceive of writing half of that in an hour.