How Fast Do You Write?

author writing speed stopwatch time-731110_960_720Some of you may remember my post a while back about handwriting my books. It’s a habit that has served me well, and I’ve just finished my fourth book written this way: legal pads and slant-tipped sign pens. I have no way to prove quantitatively that writing this way promotes my creativity, but it would certainly seem to. Never before have I written four books in only thirteen months. But that could be a fluke, right?

When I began this handwriting journey, as soon as I had transcribed the words from the pad to the computer, I tossed the pad into the recycle bin. The text was safely embedded in Word; I didn’t need the handwritten words any more. It was my husband’s idea that I save them. For posterity, he said. Yeah, like anyone’s going to care, I thought, but I did start saving them. Then, with my last book, I got another idea. I wrote down the date I started each pad. I had always taken casual note of how long it took me to write a book, sometimes nine months, sometimes three, but I never clocked it exactly. This time, when I finished the book, I actually figured out the word count of each pad and using the dates, calculated how many words a day I was writing.

words per day spreadsheetThe results surprised me, but then didn’t. It made sense to me that I started out slow: only 543 words per day for the first two weeks. I was finding my way, pulling my main character together slowly, setting the stage for the real action. After that, my word count picked up appreciably, over 1000 words a day, until…

The dreaded midpoint sag. My word count dropped to only 617 words per day. I remember those days. I wasn’t sure where the book was going. I didn’t think I had enough conflict. One of the relationships wasn’t evolving like I thought it would. There were even days when I wondered if I would finish the book at all. We’ve all been there, right?

Then, suddenly, synchronistically, as happens so often with this art form, everything started to come together. The characters took over. I didn’t have to plot out the action; they were doing it for me. All I had to do was record what I could see them doing. The word count picked up to 1111 words a day, then 1833, then 1908. On a roll!

The last push was on. The finale was only pages away. This was the time I could hardly stand to stop writing to cook dinner, to brush my teeth, to sleep. I just wanted to keep writing. I was so close, I couldn’t stand to put the pad down. Obligations? Okay, I’ll meet them, but grudgingly. Resentfully. When those were done, I would fly back to my pad, words tumbling out. I carried the pad around everywhere with me — to my recliner in the TV room, outside to the patio as the sun set, to the doctor’s office so I could write while I waited. And it shows. The word count for the last two pads was over 2000 words a day. I ended up writing over 71,000 words in only 67 days.

It made me wonder; how fast do other authors write? I know many of you out there participate in NaNoWriMo, writing a complete book in just 30 days, and I believe some of you track your words per day. I’d be interested to know how that corresponds to my numbers here. None of this, of course, has anything to do with writing better, it’s just one of those fun, interesting facts of the craft. And you can bet I’m going to be tracking my next book the same way. How about you?

Author: Melissa Bowersock

Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic, award-winning author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres. She has been both traditionally and independently published and lives in a small community in northern Arizona. Learn more about Melissa from her Amazon author page and her blog.

10 thoughts on “How Fast Do You Write?”

  1. Interesting. I think the arc is about the same for me but each book takes roughly two years from idea to publish. Much of my writing happens in the spaces between stints at the keyboard – in my head as I go about the rest of my days. But the pattern does look similar – slow start, pick up as the characters take over, slow down in the middle as I struggle with them and the story tension, and the finale flourish.

  2. I’m a retentive word counter. I track how many words I write each day. It started as a way to keep me positive – any progress is good type of thing. It evolved into a goal of 500 words/day for my Warders series and 1,000/day for the Misaligned series. Why the difference? I’m a bit of a panster (I do have a top level outline when I start) and this pace gives ideas time to bake. The numbers work out to 80-100 days of writing to complete a book. For my first six books these were not continuous days, for my current WIP I’m trying to go straight through. It’s proving tougher than I thought. I also find that my pace quickens as I near the end. I typically write more than 3,000 a day over the last few days. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

    1. Armen, I certainly have trouble writing every single day–life gets in the way, altho it kills me when I can’t get back to my pad and pen. I’m a pantser, too, which I think is why my word count sags in the middle when I’m still trying to figure out where the heck I’m going. Usually I’ll jot down 5 or 10 plot points, but this time I haven’t even done that, just have ideas in my head. My story bibles seem to get shorter and shorter! It’s interesting how we all work, isn’t it? Thanks for sharing.

  3. Great idea and congratulations on achieving such a high word count! I, too, prefer writing by pen and paper. Last night wrote ten hand written pages, but don’t have a word count on it.

    Got some advice from Matt Shaw about writing short stories before leaping into a novel. Have one of each under my belt now. This next one is going to be another short horror story. Hoping to have it done by Thanksgiving.

    It will be called ‘Stuffing’.

    1. Hey, glad to hear there are other handwriters out there, Lance. I think we’re in the vast minority. I’m already starting on my second pad of my latest WIP, already completely dried out one pen. I have to order the pens by the boxfull.
      The short story sounds great–and timely. Good luck! I hope you’ll share your progress with us here at IU.

  4. I am a serious non-counter. I write when I write, and when I’m not writing, I’m editing or formatting another book (I always have three books at various stages). I’ll put a book down for months and never look at it. That gives me a fresh start, and I roll at it again.
    So, the last three months, while getting two books ready for Christmas, I probably haven’t written 10,000 words of new stuff. However, I have twice in my career (and each time I only realized it after I was finished) written 70,000 words in one month.
    My only discipline comes from my blogs. I publish two blogs a week, about 600 – 1000 words each, on Sunday without fail. But that’s driven by consumer demand. If you don’t publish faithfully, you lose readership.
    I think it’s really important to ignore everyone else and figure out how you write, personally, and do everything in your power to organize your life so that you can write that way. Your muse will thank you.

    1. I think you’re absolutely right, Gordon: we each have to find our own best way to do this. Obviously you have, I have, and so have many others. It’s interesting, though, that we all do the same thing (ultimately) and yet we all go about it so differently.

  5. It depends on the project for me. Sometimes, I’m really into it and I can write a huge story in a short period of time. Other times, it takes longer. This month, I started off strong, doing roughly 15,000 words in the first five days. Then, I had some life issues come up and did less the following days.

    My main goal is to try to be consistent. I have a couple of projects I have to get out the door this month, so deadlines help me be more focused at times. It also helps when the book has a decent outline.

    1. I agree; different projects definitely have a different speed. I’ve had some books that were like pulling teeth, others that just flowed like a firehose. Just never know about these things.

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