How Many Words in a Day?

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.


4 thoughts on “How Many Words in a Day?

  1. LuAnne, I loved these stories from famous writers about daily output, and you are right; it doesn’t matter if we’re more of a tortoise or a hare. We have to get there in the best way for us as individuals. I am trying Nanowrimo for the first time because I’d become impatient with my excuses that I never had time to start on a second novel, that the timing, the situation, had to be perfect for me to begin. I know the circumstances will never be perfect and so Nanowrimo, with its wild deadline, doesn’t leave room for the perfectionist in me or the inner critic. But as I crank out the words (now on day 6, over 13,000 words), I have the feeling that much of what I’m churning out will be axed in the revisions. Certainly finely wrought pages don’t occur when you’re moving at breakneck speed–at least not for me. But what I hope I’ll have by the end of the month is 1. Characters somewhat defined and alive on the page; a plot with beginning, middle and end, and 3. A place to start revising towards a much better second draft. And above all, what I hope I’ll have is the habit of daily fiction writing amid all the other daily obligations of my life. If I can find time for it in November, why not December, January, and so on? So, what ever words we’re putting out there, the leap from our imagination to the screen or the page is what it’s really all about.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I feel much better reading some of these daily word counts. I had a super slow start on Nanowrimo and one day my stats said I would finish my current novel in July 2024. Oops. I’ve sent gone up a gear (several, actually) and intend to finish by the end of this month. It isn’t a novel from scratch but it is something I too started in 2014 and I just want to get it finished because I like these characters and I want them to have the ending I have had in mind for them for years. So…onwards and hopefully upwards.


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