Hemingway wrote a consistent and disciplined 400 – 600 words a day. That’s not a lot. However, it was perfect (for Hemingway, that is) when he was done with it—no rewrites, no editing needed. He’d get up each morning, write until he hit his quota, then toddle off to start drinking or fishing or both.
I recently re-read a novel by one of my favorite fun authors, Janet Evanovich. (What? You don’t categorize your favorite authors?) Books in her Stephanie Plum series run about 60,000 words, 30 chapters. Doing the math, that’s 2,000 words per chapter. I suspect Ms. Evanovich has a daily writing quota of 2,000 words. That’s a lot if you’re not used to writing. (It’s also an admirable amount of self-discipline.)
What’s a Typical Writing Pace?
Everyone writes at her own pace. When I’m in mode, I can write 1,000 to 2,000 words per day. (Which is not a full day – it’s several hours.) I have yet to write that much consistently on a daily basis. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is in November. Writers are challenged to complete a novel in a month, averaging about 1,800 words per day.
What about nonfiction (since that’s why we’re here)? Most nonfiction books are about 50,000 to 70,000 words. Unlike fiction, you’re pulling from research and experience, not making up events out of whole cloth. Putting 1,000 to 2,000 words together in a session is definitely “do-able” even for a non-writer. Before you groan, know that you may have to work up to this level. That means discipline. (Ick! I know! And that’s the third time I’ve used the word discipline in this post. Do you see a theme here?)
You may choose to speak your book, recording yourself and having transcriptions done to give you that first draft. I recently recorded about three hours of videos and ended up with 20,000 words. It’s a faster process, but I spent hours putting together the PowerPoints for the videos and organizing what I was going to say. (That’s where it helps considerably to work from an outline.)
Writing involves putting your butt in a chair at some point. Even if you’re only writing in fits and spurts when you start out, keep your butt in that chair for a minimum of an hour (two is better). Eventually, your brain clicks into the idea of “Oh, the body is in the writing spot. It must be time to write” and starts cooperating. (My brain says that with a British accent, somewhat like Mary Poppins organizing the Banks children.)
Your writing pace may also be controlled by a deadline. In that case, you’ll need to get the brain and butt wired together more quickly.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron recommends hand writing three pages every morning when you first wake up. Every day. I did this for years, ending up with notebooks filled with “morning thoughts,” some usable, most of it drivel. Eventually I channeled the randomness of morning thoughts (Seriously, how many times can you write “I need more coffee NOW!”) into actual writing – blog posts, book chapters, outlines of trainings. I had a friend who spent the first month of her morning pages writing the f-word over and over again. Eventually, that broke and she wrote a three-act play. It was the discipline of sitting down each day with a quota of three handwritten pages that opened up the flow of creative juices.
The heart of it is that the more you write, the more you write. You may only turn out hundred or two hundred words in your first few sessions. That’s okay. Writing is an exercise. Think of it as going from couch potato to running a 5k. The first week you’re walking and you may not even go the full distance. But the more you do it, the farther and faster you go.
Set aside a minimum of an hour a day, put your butt in a chair and write. Every day. I guarantee your writing pace will increase. And you won’t even break a sweat.