The prolific author: how many words per hour can you write?

36
2595

Would you like to be much more productive as a writer? It’s possible, and you don’t have to turn into a machine or ingest huge amounts of caffeine to do it. (Although a bit of coffee might help goose your enthusiasm.)

If you’re like me, you wouldn’t mind increasing your writing output so you can get more books and information products to market.

This aspiration naturally leads to the question, “How much content can I reasonably expect to produce?” The best way to quantify it is to find out how many words you actually crank out per hour.

I wondered the same thing recently.

So I set out to uncover what my real writing speed is. I’m happy to share with you the results and what I learned. And I encourage you to go through this same process to determine your own writing production level.

Last month, over a nine-day period, I did seven separate writing sessions of about an hour each.

I know that some writers can sit for hours on end through marathon writing sessions. While I’ve done that in the past, these days I find I’m more effective when I focus on writing for an hour or so at a time.

The results: My grand total for all seven hours added up to 4,885 words.

That’s an average of nearly 700 words per hour. Not bad. There are people who write a lot faster, but I was pretty happy with that number.

My slowest writing session was just 465 words an hour, while I cranked out more than 1,000 words during my most productive hour.

Here’s what I learned:

  • My lowest word counts came during sessions when I was less prepared and more distracted.
  • When I had a clear outline of the section I was working on, I could get into it faster and make more progress.
  • The more I wrote consistently day after day, the easier it was to get into a state of flow. Of course, I knew this from previous experience (and that’s why I kick myself for not writing on a more regular schedule).
  • The longer the time in between writing sessions on the same book, the more energy you must expend to remind yourself where you left off and get back into the flow.
  • With consistent focus and preparation, I feel confident I could probably up my hourly average to 900 or 1,000 words.

Now let’s translate this into the frequency with which you can publish new books!

To demonstrate, I’ll apply it to my situation…

If my goal is to release more titles, here’s what the math looks like related to my writing time and word count:

Let’s be modest and say I can devote two hours a day, four days a week, to working on a current book project.

That’s eight hours a week of solid writing. If I use 800 words per hour as my average, that equals about 6,500 words per week.

In just three weeks I’d have enough content for a nearly 20,000-word ebook. In five weeks of consistent effort that number would rise to 32,000 words – enough for a small paperback.

If 50,000 words was my goal, that should be easily doable in two months or less.

Of course, I realize that editing can easily reduce these numbers and rewrites can add time to the process. But I hope you agree that measuring where you are with your hourly word count gives you a way to determine your potential output.

Have you measured how many words per hour you write? Do you see the benefit of writing more in less time? What are the drawbacks of this approach?

I welcome your comments below.

How To Guide for Authors

Related Posts
Nine Manuscript Editing Software Programs You Should Consider
How Long Did It Take To Write Your Favorite Book?
Want To Write Full Time? It Takes a Work/Life Balance.
How An Editing App Can Increase Writing Productivity
Seven Writing Tips To Increase Your Productivity

36 COMMENTS

  1. Well, fiction is different; even with an outline, there are periods of thinking and digesting and plotting and changing. Besides, an average novel is 80K words, so yeah…much easier, with fiction, to determine daily output versus hourly typing skill.

      • When you say “write” do you actually mean “write” in the literal sense as in longhand, putting pencil or pen to paper, of do you mean “write” as in on a computer keyboard which, in essence would be “typing.” If you mean “write” in the form of longhand I am indeed impressed!

  2. I quite often have time to ‘free write’ – just to get the content out onto the page without self editing as I go then I review later. I often write word counts and time spent down so I have a fair idea of output although yes like you say it often depends on focus and if the ideas are there.

    I have written 420 words in 10 minutes, but generally I write on average 500 words in half an hour, about 1000 words an hour.

    Output, volume and ideas no worries, my issue is sitting down to write more consistently!!

    • I love free writing, especially to generate ideas for poems. But I so seldom sit down to write that way. I haven’t been able to make a habit of it. Here’s hoping you can make a habit of writing more often. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      @ChrisRobley

  3. To be perfectly honest, I was not thinking along these lines. In my own writing process, all I have been doing is just sitting down and writing leisurely. Now that I have read your post, I guess I have something new to think about. Much respect and appreciation/One Love!

  4. The only times you even hinted at quality were two brief mentions of preparation and one of outline.

    I agree with the fiction and poetry writers that outlines are not always helpful for what they do.

    There are ways that the writing process can be more efficient, and you touched on some of them. But the general tenor of your article is that writing is a race to get “content” out the door so you can be paid. This attitude debases writing into factory labor on the assembly line. I read this and pictured the time and motion expert on the factory floor, stopwatch in hand. Don’t talk about words per minute. You are writing, not just typing!

    Gandhi said it best: “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”

    • Hi Kellia,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. As someone who writes mostly poetry (and web content), I’ve never been super concerned with word counts. I can see those goals being helpful especially for non-fiction writers, though. Also, great Gandhi quote!

      @ChrisRobley

    • I have to agree. I like to write Young Adult Fiction and some of my hours writing are more productive than others. If I can get down on paper a thousand words a day, and like what I’ve written, that’s great. My tendency is to revise while I’m writing; then I move on. I try not to let “plot” override “character development.” Sometimes I’ll start in one direction and then a car will backfire or a dog bark and off I’ll go in another. To each his own I guess. But an assembly line of words—never.

  5. What if I have around 80k? How big would that be in a normal-sized book? I mean, when I write I use font-size 10 with the Arial font on Word. I’ve figured out that books have around 350 words per page, which would be around 14 with Arial. That would make around 230 pages, right?

  6. Hi. This all makes sense and would really be helpful! Just wondering if there’s a way to come up with a word count for the outlining or planning stage of writing? I find it extremely difficult to set goals for the index card/prep stage – any thoughts?

    • Instead of thinking about word count, what if you broke the outlining stage into chapter outlines per day/week. For instance, give yourself 6 weeks to finish the outline; 5 workdays a week X 6 weeks = 30 writing days; 30 chapters? 1 chapter outline a day. 15 chapters? Two days of outlining per chapter. Etc. Word that work for your project?

      @ChrisRobley

  7. I like to keep track of the number of words I am writing per day, and what I’ve noticed is that the larger the window for writing, the higher the average. When working on lighter fictional works, that translates to over 1,000 words an hour when I’m having a good day. But if I’m stopping and starting, I might be lucky to write 400 words in a hour. One of the best days I’ve had netted me 12,000 words, and when I re-read it later, I was pretty pleased with what I’d written. Not perfect by any means, but mostly just how I wanted it.

    So how do I try to achieve a ‘good day’? One of the best ways to keep the flow going is to allocate yourself a chunk of time (sometimes I write through the night – desperate I know, but at least it’s quiet). Then to feel really at home with your characters and their motivations, and also to not let yourself get distracted.

    TOP TRICK
    I’ll let you into a little secret. One of the ways I avoid ‘stalling’ is to substitute a word I can’t think of that moment with ‘xx’, and then come back to it later. That way I don’t interrupt the flow.

    Using ‘xx’ is also useful if I can’t remember something to do with continuity – such as a minor character’s name or place name that I know I’ve referred to before. My trick for that is to keep a separate document where I list all of the characters and places for that book/series, but again, don’t even look at the list when you’re in a flow – use xx for now! It is easier and better for time management to search for ‘xx’es and sort them out all at once at a later date.

    A word of caution though for those of us who delight in counting our words – for every day spent writing freely, you will have several days of painstaking re-reading and editing. So on those days, the word count is more likely to go backwards than forwards. To my mind that’s the hardest bit of becoming an author…

    • Great points. If you’re looking only at word count then you’re creating a lot of revision work later on. Also, I TOTALLY do that XX thing! I even use “XX.” I also sometimes use the recorder on my iPhone to dictate some stuff and I say “something here kinds like (the missing idea).”

      And wow, 12,000 words in a day! Did you sleep for the next week?

      @ChrisRobley

  8. I don’t know… just because you can write 400 or so words per hour doesn’t mean you can write double that in two or triple in three hours. You may be a sprinter. Some days you may writer slower, or after the first burst you may slow down so each subsequent half-hour produces fewer words. You may only be able to give a certain among of time per day before life intrudes. You may need to take a day off every so often to prevent burn-out.

    I have recently figured out how many words I can write in a day by writing every day for a week, after which I ended up with 8,000 words. That gave me a realistic goal for myself, and it told me not only how many words on average I should write in a day, but how much of my day I have to expect to give to other activities. It’s no good saying “I’ll write 4 hours” if in reality, I won’t. And I don’t go by hors anyway, b/c some days I can write 3,000 words in the time I take to write 500 the next day. So my goal is 8,000 a week, and my pace is 1,200 per day. I call the daily one a pace b/c it tells me where I have to be each day to make my weekly goal. If I fall behind, I have to make it up the next day, no waiting till day six and hoping to catch up 6,000 words. So far it’s working.

    • Hi Jane,

      It’s interesting to get a glimpse into different writer’s habits and practice. Thanks for sharing. I generally don’t have the word count pressure weighing on me… because, well, it’s poetry. Often it’s about getting rid of words, but when I do have longer prose projects I tend work best when I can do the hours method. Like, I don’t care how much I write as long as I’m sitting here trying for 2 hours a day, or whatever. But I can definitely see the benefit of putting those word goals out there, and using it as motivation if you fall behind. Thanks again.

      @ChrisRobley

  9. This actually made me realise it’s not going to take forever to write my novel. All I really need to do it get around to sitting down and writing, and from there I’ll be unstoppable (I say that now, but writers block will definitely set it haha).

    🙂

  10. However quickly you might finish … there’s still the editing; the re-editing; the re-re-editing; the re-re-re-editing … and so on, and so forth.

  11. When I’m typing something I’m pretty sure of–like a blog post where I cam babble like I’m talking, I can get off an 800-ish word post in a little over an hour. If I have to stop and check facts or if I’m writing fiction and not real clear about how I’m going to handle a scene, that can drop to less than 200 words per hour. Doesn’t really have anything to to with how “prepared” I am to write.

  12. Writing is an artform. To do it any justice, we as writers make great pains and spend long, thoughtful hours ruminating over our content.

    If one is speaking of writing Copy, then I would agree that your productivity challenge would be effective indeed! Much the same can be said for Text Book Writers, Manual Writers, and Nonfiction Writers. All of these platforms have predetermined facts, directions, and historical facts that can be broken down into a helpful outline. There is very little imagination that goes into predetermined information. Unfortunately, for the less rigid writing platforms, the expression ‘You can’t rush art’ applies.

    As a Fantasy/Fiction writer, I find that attempting an outline is not much different than learning how to skate for the first time. In other words, it’s challenging, more than is necessary. Lists often help me more so than outlines. But I won’t force my mind into a yolk that I can’t bear up under…words per hour isn’t an across the board fix for all writing platforms, and in my opinion, is only beneficial to a specialized few.

  13. I write, on average, 1500 words per hour, though occasionally I can breach the 2000 W/H barrier. However, I generally spend around 5 minutes before I write a scene to outline it excessively, so that I write quicker.

  14. Surprised, I am journaling and find that I pretty consistently write 2200 words per hour, albeit rarely that long at a time, usualy in 20 or 30 minute sessions. However, this is not deeply considered writing. Nonetheless, I thought I was terribly slow. I guess not.

  15. Interesting reflections. I think that word count is really personal, yet it is useful to see what works for other writers. I think that the topics we deal with affect the word count since it´s not the same to write blogs than fiction.

  16. I have published 35 books so far. On average I write about 1000 a day and I am happy as long as I can do that. With a day job, teaching twice a month and selling on ebay, laundry and living life in general, its a fair expectation. Energy is my biggest issue. Its not data entry, you have to create the story, make it up as you go. That takes mind power and energy. 1000 a words a day is not too bad. Like the others say, its not a race. Quality over quantity 🙂

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.