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The Speed of Type

Peter Muraszewski writes:

I know you’re extremely busy with writing books and designing games, so I’ll try not to take up too much of your time. I loved your novel Marked for Death, and I eagerly await The Road to Death. I would love to become a writer too. I read on your site’s FAQ that you try to write 5,000 words a day. I have two questions. Is this a reasonable and attainable goal for a beginner? My other question would be what’s the average number of words you write in total for a book. (I read that 50, 000 words is a novel.) Any feedback would be appreciated, and thank you very much for your time!

Honestly, 5,000 words a day is a lot for most writers. On some days, it’s a lot for me. Helping care for my kids cuts into a lot of my time now, so I usually shoot for 3,000 a day. At the moment, I’m under a hard deadline, and I’m working for 7,000 a day.

Remember, though, that I write full time. I treat this like a job and work at it at least eight hours a day, five days a week—although I sometimes do more.

As a beginner, I’d try to set a reasonable goal and see how long it takes you to hit it. Most beginners can’t devote a full day to writing, so you might only want to go for 1,000 words a day or even 500. The trick is to find what a good daily pace for you is, something you’re comfortable working with, that keeps you on track for your long-term goals without burning you out. This word count differs for every writer and can change with the circumstances in your life.

Once you find that range in which you’re comfortable, see if you can better it. Try to hit your goal early and keep going. If you manage to do that consistently, move your target up again. Keep doing that until you hit a wall, and then keep at it.

It’s important to know what your average rate of writing is, as it lets you know if you can hit a deadline your editor proposes. If you know it’s going to take you six months to write a novel, there’s no point in agreeing to a deadline only three months away.

As for a novel’s length, they can vary a lot. Some of the genre awards define a novel as any work over 40,000 words, although that doesn’t always reflect the writer or publisher’s intentions.

For instance, my Knights of the Silver Dragon novels run 40,000 to 45,000 words. Of course, these are intended for a younger audience and so need to be shorter. My Blood Bowl novels run about 95,000 words, and my Eberron novels are around 100,000 words.

Comments 6

  1. In my opinion and experience, it’s not particularly difficulty to churn out 5,000 words in a given day, but it’s somewhat difficult to write 5,000 really *good* words in a day, and it’s *very* difficult to do it day in and day out over a long-term assignment.

    When I’m writing full time (as opposed to doing game designs, or editing the work or others, or whatever else), I shoot for 3,000 words a day, which includes time to re-read and revise the previous day’s work product, as well as to make sure tomorrow’s outline is in shape to begin when I sit down. Now, it doesn’t take 8 hours to do that — I can usually do the above in 4-5 — but it’s creatively draining, and there are also plenty of things other than writing that you also have to do as a full-time writer, such as line up future work, correspond with your editor, keep current with the state of whatever genre you write in, and so forth.

  2. In my opinion and experience, it’s not particularly difficulty to churn out 5,000 words in a given day, but it’s somewhat difficult to write 5,000 really *good* words in a day, and it’s *very* difficult to do it day in and day out over a long-term assignment.

    When I’m writing full time (as opposed to doing game designs, or editing the work or others, or whatever else), I shoot for 3,000 words a day, which includes time to re-read and revise the previous day’s work product, as well as to make sure tomorrow’s outline is in shape to begin when I sit down. Now, it doesn’t take 8 hours to do that — I can usually do the above in 4-5 — but it’s creatively draining, and there are also plenty of things other than writing that you also have to do as a full-time writer, such as line up future work, correspond with your editor, keep current with the state of whatever genre you write in, and so forth.

  3. Hi Jeff:

    Each writer’s speed differs. I tend to not revise at all on my first draft. I’d rather just get it all out there and then go back and smooth it over later. This helps with my raw speed, but then those numbers don’t account for revisions.

    I think there’s also a common notion that you can’t have quality writing at speed. I don’t agree with that, especially if you take into consideration the ability to do second and third drafts later as needed. Still, it sometimes keeps me from commenting on how long I take to write a particular novel, as I think some readers will be wary of something created so far.

    In the end, though, the work speaks for itself, no matter if written in a week or over a decade.

  4. Post
    Author

    Hi Jeff:

    Each writer’s speed differs. I tend to not revise at all on my first draft. I’d rather just get it all out there and then go back and smooth it over later. This helps with my raw speed, but then those numbers don’t account for revisions.

    I think there’s also a common notion that you can’t have quality writing at speed. I don’t agree with that, especially if you take into consideration the ability to do second and third drafts later as needed. Still, it sometimes keeps me from commenting on how long I take to write a particular novel, as I think some readers will be wary of something created so far.

    In the end, though, the work speaks for itself, no matter if written in a week or over a decade.

  5. I’ll add that I often take a week or three off between books. I tend to be a sprinter than a marathoner. I like to write as fast as I can while I can and then rest up from it afterward.

  6. Post
    Author

    I’ll add that I often take a week or three off between books. I tend to be a sprinter than a marathoner. I like to write as fast as I can while I can and then rest up from it afterward.

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