As writers, we count words when we are creating a book or writing an article.
We look at completing a fixed number of words per day—800 words. And yet, that system can be counterproductive to finishing your article. Professional writers seem to follow another method, one that ignores the output and instead focuses on the article writing process. How do they do it? And what have we been doing incorrectly?
Let's find out how to fix this problem and finish our articles.
Have you ever wondered how many words a professional writer writes in a day?
Mark Twain, averaged about 1,800 words a day, then slowed down to about 1,400. And he'd do this for 4-5 hours. Ian McEwan, is a bit on the modest side, averaging 600 words per day, and about 1,000 when he's really in full flow. Others like P.G. Wodehouse and Stephen King would easily output about 2,000 words a day.
Notice what we're all paying attention to, at this point?
We're all hearing the term “words per day”, and we're assuming that's the right way to go. Even National Novel Writing Month (often shortened to NaNoWriMo) talks avidly about the goal of writing 50,000 words between November 1st and 30th. What we're failing to notice, is that many writers talk about “words per day”, but what they're really counting are the hours.
They're focused not on the output, but on the writing process
We hear the term “words per day” is because because authors and writers are often asked the wrong question. An interviewer may ask: what's your output like? How many words do you write per day? And unless a writer is being paid by the word, he or she is unlikely to count the words.
Malcolm Gladwell talks about how writers set themselves up for disappointment
“If I get up in the morning, and do my writing while I'm fresh, I should be able to accomplish what I need to accomplish by lunch time”.”Writing is physically demanding,” he says. “It's tiring. And a few good paragraphs represent a good day's work.” Notice what he's saying? While he does bring in the point of paragraphs, he's really not that focused on the output itself. Instead, he focuses on the duration, which is morning to lunch time.
Dan Brown, author of the Da Vinci Code, talks about how he's at his desk every day, at 4 am. There's no internet connection, no distractions in sight. And like many professional writers, he focuses on the process. The process is about showing up and putting in the hours required.
But why do the hours matter?
Brown says: “Let's assume you say, I'm going to write a page a day. Then you wake up, and you're having a great day, and you're in a great mood, and you write the page in one hour. Ironically, you quit on a day when you're just having a great day.
And then, when you're having a tough day, you may find you go past that deadline. Instead of an hour, you might be frustrated and go past that hour, to an hour and a half. When you finally get up, you may find that the work—that output—is terrible anyway. But it is part of the process—that's the time you're going to write and that's what you do, irrespective of the result.
Brown's process is to write from 4 am to 11 am every day
“And whatever happens, happens,” he says. “Be gentle with yourself on the output, but be tough on the process.” Which means that if you have decided to write your article, or your report, or your book, the word count becomes a deadweight. “If I'm not having fun, guess what, I have to stay there,” says Brown. “Yet, even on the good days, there is a point of diminishing returns. You can't keep writing. You start to get distracted; you begin to slow down.”
We found the diminishing return concept to be true on the Article Writing Course
As you're probably aware, we've been running the Article Writing Course since around 2006. For the writers, it's a gut wrenching course and probably lives up to the slogan, “the toughest writing course in the world”. For three months, a prospective writer has to put in several hours a day on the course, even while living their life and managing their business.
Yet if you look at the assignment for the day, there's something very peculiar about the timing
Every assignment has a fixed amount of time allocated. Writing titles might require about 30 minutes. Outlining the article might need around 30 minutes too. Those are all stages of preparation and it's relatively easier to get through the prep work. But the part where most attention needs to be paid, is when the article itself is being written. The writers get a fixed amount of time, no more than 90 minutes. And they have to stop, even if the article is incomplete.
The reason for this time limit is because of diminishing returns
Let's take a situation where a writer spends two hours or three hours, learning to write. That's between 50% to 100% more than everyone else. Guess who's going to be exhausted the next day? Guess who's going to feel like a limp rag by the end of the week. And yes, guess who's going to hate the task of writing. Past a certain point, all a learner can do is try to edit and make their work better.
They may spend 100% more time and the article may improve by 5 or 10%. Instead, if they rest, their work gets a lot better. The writers that stick to their timelines, rather than word counts are those that turn out to be very proficient. Those that focus on the finish line, or word count, are the ones that seem to run into the most trouble.
You need to allocate a fixed amount of time and then get up when the time is up.
When you read that statement, it sounds almost like you're letting yourself get off the hook, because a fixed time doesn't guarantee quality. However, the reality is different. If you know you're stuck for that hour, or in Brown's case, seven hours, then you realise that you're chained to your writing, no matter what.
But what if you're a writer who lives by “words per day?”
There's no fixed formula for writing, of that we're all sure. However, it depends on your skill level. If you're just starting out to blog or write, the words per day might become a bit of a deadweight. “I think you've set yourself up for disappointment,” says Gladwell. “If I can do a few good hours in the morning, then I've moved the ball, that day.”
If you're struggling with words per day, maybe you should try the method of fitting your writing to a specific time space—not necessarily to a time of day—but to a few hours. Whether you write in the morning or evening, or even both in the morning and evening, doesn't matter. What matters is that you have a fixed time, and you get something down on a consistent basis within that time every single day.
Try it. You might surprise yourself.