By Lu Anne Stewart
Recently I saw a post on Facebook that listed famous authors and the number of words they wrote, on average, in a day. That set me off on a Google search for more lists and more authors, especially favorites of mine.
For the aspiring writer, there is encouragement to be found on these lists, no matter what kind of output you are currently producing.
I was extremely happy to see that Ernest Hemingway averaged just 500 words a day, preferring to leave a little something in the tank for the next day’s work.
I also took comfort in the fact that a writer I’ve long admired, Tom Wolfe, took 11 years to write the 370,000 words that are found in A Man in Full, which averages out to just 135 words a day. Also inspiring was the anecdote about James Joyce, who, when asked how many words he had written that day, answered “seven,” adding “but I don’t know what order they go in!”
Ah yes. I’ve had that feeling, too.
I’m obsessing over word counts these days because I am approximately 42,543 words along (but who’s counting?) on the novel I’m writing about an idealistic young journalist uncovering a scandal in a small town. I am determined to finish the first draft by the end of this year. Each day, when I call up the document in Word, the title on the folder makes me feel guilty. “Journalism Novel 2014.” That’s when I started writing it in earnest. But since I am not writing full-time, my pace has been Tom Wolfe-like. Actually not quite that good.
Fortunately, as I’m now in the home stretch, I seem to be picking up steam. I can comfortably write about 250 words in an hour. If I put in an eight-hour day, that would be 2,000 words (the same as Stephen King!). I think a realistic pace for me might be somewhere between Hemingway and King.
I admire the colleagues of mine here at Author Lab who are taking part in NaNoWriMo (50,000 words toward a novel in the month of November, which works out to a brisk 1,667 words a day). And I know I will never reach the prodigious output of Michael Crichton (10,000 words a day! Although he does acknowledge lots and lots of editing).
As for me, I’m going to try to recall the wisdom in the fable of the tortoise and the hare, and just focus on producing as many good words as I can, even if it’s only seven. And hope I can put them in the right order.