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Most of us would like to be faster writers. But how do we get there? Today I address the question: How long does it take to write 1000 words…
Do you know how long it takes to write 1,000 words? Or do you know how many words you can write in 30 minutes?
Of course, asking questions like these is a bit like wondering how deep a hole should be or how long a piece of string. The only reasonable answer is: it depends.
But let me give you a tip: Calculate an average speed, because some pieces of writing will always be harder or easier than others.
Whatever you do, figure it out because otherwise, how will you plan your day? And how will you give reasonable quotes to clients or bosses or supervisors?
How long it takes to write 1,000 words was the topic of a blog post by Oxford-based blogger and writer Ali Luke. I agree with her conclusion that,
How quickly you write will depend on a whole range of factors. Experienced writers tend to be faster than first-time novelists; academic writing tends to be slower than other types. Some writers (like me) write fast but rewrite and edit extensively; others write more slowly but don’t need to rework things as much. For some writers, 1,000 words is a great working day. For others, it’s something they can produce in an hour.
But there are also many other reasons why writers show a wide range of speeds in doing their job.
Five reasons for variations in writing speed:
- Research: Are you already familiar with your topic? Depending on your answer to that question, writing 1,000 words may require absolutely no research or buckets of the stuff. If you asked me to write a blog post on writing or editing, for example, I could dash it off quickly because I’ve devoted my entire working life to that subject. But if you asked me to write a blog post on nuclear energy, I’d need to do a lot of research because I know almost nothing about the topic.
- Planning: Some writers like to take the time to plan their writing ahead of time, but many don’t. And while planning can be time-consuming at the front end, it always ends up saving you time at the end. I also find mindmapping helps most people write a whole lot faster.
- Distractions: Writing requires concentration and focus, and many of us let outside factors disrupt the process. These distractions include email, social media, or friends, family and colleagues. All of these distractions — some of them admittedly important — can make us much slower writers.
- Tendency to procrastinate: Sometimes writers feel uncomfortable sitting in their chairs and doing the hard work associated with writing. Fear of failure, perfectionism, feeling overwhelmed, disinterest and burnout all play a role in this tendency. (If you deal with fear of writing, check out my course on how to banish it.)
- Familiarity with editing: Once you’ve completed your first draft, you need to spend more time editing and revising the work to ensure it’s well-written, interesting, and error-free. This can involve multiple rounds of revisions, and writers who have an effective process for editing will do the job a lot faster (and more confidently).
What can experienced writers teach us?
For some reason, many aspiring authors seem to become obsessed with how many words other writers have been able to produce in X amount of time.
See for example, an infographic by Printers Inks, posted on the Writer’s Digest site. It describes the time it took 30 celebrated authors to write their literary masterpieces.
What interested me was the dramatic range: 2 1/2 days (The Boy in Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne) to 16 years (The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien). The chart includes word counts, too.
While most of us would like to become faster writers, I think there is little merit in obsessing over what other writers have done.
You can drive yourself crazy with critical comparisons, wondering why you can’t write as quickly as John Boyne or, for that matter, Stephanie Meyer, who produced her bestseller Twilight in just three months.
And will that self-criticism get you anywhere? No. While you might wish to be faster, the best, most useful, step to take is to truly understand your own speed, warts and all.
How to track your writing speed
If you’d like to get a better handle on your own writing speed, I offer a free tracking form on my blog.
Here is what the five columns contain:
- Your feelings about writing that day
- Word count that day
- Your cumulative word count total for that project
- The number of words you have left to write
Note that I offer two versions of the form: an MS Word one and a PDF. If you choose the latter, of course, you’ll need to recreate it in whatever software you use for word processing (or tracking.)
Keeping this record will not only give you an accurate understanding of exactly how long it takes you to write, it will also reduce your stress. You’ll always know exactly where you are in your writing project and you can both celebrate your achievements or, if things are going badly, change your game-plan quickly.
And it will do more for you than that. It will also improve your motivation. It’s tempting to have a vague idea that you “want to write a book” or “finish the annual report one week before the deadline.” But if you don’t have a plan, you’ll never be able to accomplish either of those tasks.
Seeing what you’ve done every day, however, will help make the project more “real” to you. And when your tracking chart shows lots of activity, that record will give you a big shot in the arm. And when it shows inadequate activity, this finding will help motivate you to make some changes. It’s just like wearing a pedometer — the act of tracking causes you to do more, better.
The tracking chart will alert you to problems ahead of time. If you miss a day of writing because your car broke down or the babysitter was sick, that’s understandable. But if you miss five days of writing, you have a bigger problem. Tracking your word count will force you to be honest with yourself, acknowledge your shortcomings and, most of all, plan for doing better the next day.
The tracking chart will keep you focused. If you’ve developed the habit of working only in “spurts” or binges you likely take off many days, or even weeks, between writing sessions. As a result, you’ll forget at least some of your research or your plans, and you have to spend a good chunk of time catching up every time you resume work on your project.
With tracking, however, you’re more likely to feel comfortable writing for small amounts every day. Bonus: you’ll remember what you’re working on and won’t have to spend any time getting reacquainted with the project.
Last words of advice for more productive hours
If you want one big tip for improving your writing speed, here it is: Stop editing while you write.
I have helped hundreds of writers boost their writing speed by delaying editing until later. Developing this new habit has one other big bonus, too. It makes the writing process a whole lot more fun. See here for my tips on how to break the habit of editing while you write. I know these tricks work because I used to have that (bad) habit too, and I had to break it myself.
One final thought about word count goals: It’s not wise to go for a “big round number” (like 1,000 words!)
Instead, I suggest making your goal modest and reasonable and well within your reach. If you are able to achieve your goal, you’ll feel much better about yourself and much more accomplished.
And those positive feelings will only help you when you go to write the next day.
This is a substantially updated version of a post that first appeared on my blog on May 18/20.
My video podcast last week addressed how to hire an editor. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.
Need some help developing a better writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.
What’s your answer when someone asks: how long does it take to write 1000 words? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by May 31/22 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!