11

I've got a 40h, full-time job, as many do. Yet I'd like to become a writer someday, or at least, bring a novel through the first draft.

This considered, I'm trying to give myself a daily target of 1000 words to write each day at least. I'm starting to find that I work best under some kind of stress, or commitment. On the days that I reach the goal, I'm usually satisfied and I feel a small boost in motivation, so let's say this method is working for me.

Now, the question for you is this: is writing 1000 words a day a reasonable pace for a part-time writer dealing with his first draft?

The assumption here is to maximize commitment to a single novel in order to finish the first draft sooner (in months, rather than a year or years).

Related, but not overlapping: Time management for part-time writing

Additional information: I'm adding this paragraph after the comments and some of the answers.

  • I commute to work on foot or by bike. It takes me from 15 to 30 min. to get there, but reasonably enough, no writing can be done. On "good" days I use this time to listen to podcasts or maybe outline the next scene as I'm walking.
  • I try to make a stand and not overtime.
  • Sometimes I'm able to squeeze some writing at work during lunch break, but that's a difficult one to pull off.
  • Aside from working, I've got the basic stuff to do (chores, groceries, tending to my house and other off-work matters). I've got a SO that helps out with this.

About the writing itself:

  • I'm a discovery writer. I have an idea of where the story is going, but I can't predict every turn of the page.
  • My actual project is already started and well into its second act. Sometime I have to stop for research certain topics, or take notes about worldbuilding as I go.
  • It takes me around 20 minutes (and a great deal of force of will) to shut off the distractions and get writing at a decent pace.

And lastly,

  • yes, I can think about my writing while I'm doing other stuff. The sad thing is that what I think at other times of the day seldomly gets me inspired when I finaly sit and try to write.

I hope that those additional infos won't make the question too specific about me (I imagine there are other part-time writers out there interested in the topic).

  • 1
    How do you get to work? If you go by bus (as I do) or train, you may find that's the best time to write, if only because you'll be tired when you get home. I've written multiple novels on a phone in that way. – J.G. Jan 5 at 16:23
  • 1
    @J.G. Whether you can be productive during your daily commute will largely depend on whether your are affected by other passengers sitting next to you reading what you write while you write it. – user34178 Jan 5 at 18:58
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    @user57423 You're absolutely right! Any number of variables unique to each of our lives come in to effect, which is why I said "may". I'm lucky neither of my buses is typically crowded. – J.G. Jan 5 at 19:02
  • Relevant, perhaps very relevant: cwhawes.com/anthony-trollope-on-speed-writing – Ethan Bolker Jan 5 at 23:53
  • @J.G. I've answered in my edit. Unluckily unless I start writing as I walk, that won't be possible. – Reinstate Monica. Jan 7 at 9:12
20

Just do the math. Although it varies by genre, from about 80,000 to 120,000 (epic fantasy with lots of world-building), 1000 a day means 80 to 120 days. So about three or four months for a first draft. About the time I take myself.

Personally, I set aside 90 minutes every morning (my best time to write) to write, and use Orson Scott Card's advice: You don't have to write in that time, but you can't do anything else. No surfing the net (but actual research for something you are about to write is fine). No commenting on blogs, no outside reading (though reading what you have written is fine, or reading a writing reference book is fine).

Just sit there and stare at the screen or do writerly duties; new prose or editing or thinking about your story or in some way working on your story. The time commitment is what counts, and eventually the work will get done. You can only stare at the screen for five or ten minutes before boredom forces you to write something.

But I don't commit to a word-count; I can guarantee an amount of time but not an amount of productivity. (As a discovery writer, some days I am stuck on choosing the right next scene, and spend the whole time re-reading and trying to figure that out. I might write notes about what I thought about. But I don't feel bad, I put in my 90.)

  • That's a great advice. I still have to try time-based methods; as a discovery writing myself I do perform poorly when I'm stuck and I have to meet the target 1k words. – Reinstate Monica. Jan 7 at 9:11
  • @Liquid Precisely. I have a problem with critical character scenes: first encounters, first sex, etc. They might be 1000 words (4 pages) but (unlike other scenes) I can't move forward until I feel like they are right, and that can cost me four or five days. Even then on subsequent drafts I may spend my 90 tweaking one critical scene; where I am usually moving about 4x as fast as that for a second draft. I just keep putting in time and not worrying about it. But I do need and suggest some clear criteria or reason to make changes, I don't want to get stuck in an endless loop of revisions. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Jan 15 at 17:57
6

There are many factors that would affect whether 1000 words a day is realistic for you or not. E.g.:

  • Do you do overtime?
  • How long is your commute to/from work?
    • Can you use the commute time for writing?
  • What else do you have to do other than working? Do you have a spouse? Children? Must you do the grocery shopping, the cooking, the cleaning?
  • How long does it take you to clear your head from work, chores etc., and "get in the zone" - be ready to write? Can you jump right in, or do you need some extra time first?

All those would affect how much time you have that is really free for writing.

Next is the writing itself:

  • Do you need to do research for your story, while you're writing it?
  • Is it all plotted out, or do you discover it as you go, sometimes sitting and thinking which one of several choices would be most interesting?
  • Do you always know what your character would say, or do you know your character would make a joke, but spend half a day looking for the right one?
    • related: can you think of your writing while at work / doing chores / etc., or do those things demand your focus?

Which is to say, an average of 1000 words a day might or might not be realistic, depending on many many factors. For myself, some days I do several pages with ease, things just flow, while other days I write and rewrite a single scene, and yet other days I have no time to touch my writing at all. For me, 1000 words a day is not currently realistic. I wish it were. Maybe your circumstances are different, and you can make it happen.

  • Hello Galastel, thanks for your answer. I've answered to what you asked in my latest edits. I see what you mean with "not realistic". I'm already seeing some drawbacks with this method, but it's probably good to me to build an habit. – Reinstate Monica. Jan 7 at 9:06
4

It kind of depends on the quality of your writing. Because if you pump out 365,000 words a year, but they aren't high quality words, then it ultimately doesn't get you closer to publishing (if that is your goal; I'm assuming it is since this site is aimed at professionals). The good news is is that the longer you write, the better you will get; and 1000 words a day is a good stretch; but, I've found that with that word goal target I don't quite get to my best. My actual goal with a 50 hour a week job is 1500, but I usually only hit 700-800. My best writing days see 2-3k words. Otherwise I don't get very deep.

It's generally good advice, as contrary as this may sound, to favor quantity over quality if you're trying get better.

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

  • 1
    The idea of quality vs quantity is interesting. Much like the students of the "quality" group in your example, thought, the idea of writing near-perfect scenes often blocks me. Maybe quantity is good enough for a first draft, and quality gets in the second one. – Reinstate Monica. Jan 7 at 9:09
3

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, NaNo) is an online challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November. If you can add exactly 1,600+ words per day you can meet the goal with time to spare. (I' believe the exact number is 1,667 but to be honest I don't keep track that closely. Sometimes you write more than you set out to do, others you write less). Of my two successful attempts, the goal was reached well before the deadline and before story completion.

My trick was to break it up into three periods of about 500 words (with lunch being the hard goal of five hundred... Morning and Night were softer goals of 500 and to good stopping point, like a scene change or a chapter break, so I don't stop mid-idea, but I also meet my goal and end at a short scene that doesn't contribute the 500 words).

This was certainly doable within about a half hour - hour period of time depending on time constraints and what I had planned. It also helped me focus in on the next scene that I would need to write as I had to focus on my goal for the end of the next major writing session... where was I an where did I need to be...

Certainly 1,000 will take longer, but you'll find it surprising how much you over write when you're getting to the good bits (I've had a few days where I ended up writing 2,400 words just because I had the time AND it was a really juicy bit.). 1,600 words is about the length of a single page in word, in a standard font (Or a school level 5 paragraph paper). It's not a lot... and yet it's really cool to see just how fast it adds up.

2

You're in good company. Ian McEwan writes 600 words a day.

So yes, a thousand words a day is perfectly fine. But of course what is a reasonable pace for you will depend on what you want to achieve. McEwan tortures himself over 600 words of the most refined prose in the same time that Michael Crichton cranks out 10,000 words of bestselling popular fiction. If you consider the daily word counts of some famous authors you may come to the conclusion that maybe

  • literary quality correlates negatively with daily word count, while
  • sales and riches correlated positively with daily word count.

You decide.

2

Yes this is a great exercise. That's exactly what Stephen King advises in his audio book "On writing".

He explains that, in order to improve you have to practice, but also to maintain your level and 1000 words a day is the good level. This way of doing work in other fields, by the way.

Whatever content it produces, you should commit to that.

2

That's about four pages per day, which is ambitious but fully attainable for a part-time writer, and is indeed a good pace to complete a first draft in less than a year. More importantly, it sounds like it's working for you, which is really the more crucial question.

Keep in mind you can adjust your pace later if it ever is NOT working for you. But if you're in a rhythm that is productive, ride it.

2

You're confusing words with time

Different writers have different natural paces. Trying to write slower than your natural pace will make you miserable. Trying to write faster than your natural pace will produce shoddy writing. And make you miserable.

That said, your initial writing speed will probably be slower than your final speed. So it's good to push you limits, in order to find out where they are. But once you hit your stride, don't try to push faster than that in order to hit some arbitrary wordcount limit.

Instead, focus on making time to write.

If can consistently devote a period of time to writing each day, then you're making progress, no matter how many words you write in that period.

That said, some people don't have the luxury of blocking out large chunks of time for writing, or function better writing in short spurts throughout the day. This is where word counts come in handy. Spend some time to figure out your natural pace, and work out the word count equivalent of 1 hour of writing. Now you can set your daily writing time goals as a wordcount, and still measure your pace even with a sporadic writing schedule.

If you're using a wordcount limit, and you're starting to find that you're having an easier time meeting it than you used to, then reevaluate your writing speed. It's possible that you've gotten better at snatching little writing breaks, or that your schedule's eased up. But it's also possible that you've gotten faster at writing, and you need to up your limit.

0

1000 words? That's what 3 pages a day?

On a good day, that's trivially done. You can do that inside an hour.

But every day? Day after day?

That sounds overly ambitious. Where do you even find enough ideas to commit to paper at that rate?

If george r. r. Martin could do 1000 words a day (3 pages?) he would have a new book out every year!

And that guy pretty much writes full time.

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