A Writer’s Daily Word Count


Curious about the daily word count of other authors compared to my own, I had a look around and found this article on authormagazine.org which takes at the look at the output of some famous authors. Here are a few highlights if you don’t want to read the whole thing.

J.R.R. Tolkein wrote The Lord of the Rings as one novel, which contains about 670,000 words.  It took him eleven years, which is 245 words each working day, or a little less than a typed page.

Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day, “and only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.”

Another English writer, Charles Hamilton—who used twenty-five pseudonyms, the most famous being Frank Richards—was so prolific that George Orwell accused him of being a team of writers. He wrote a million and a half words a year, or about twenty pages each working day (assuming 250 working days in a year).

So it seems that word counts vary wildly from author to author, from a paltry couple of hundred to a headache-inducing tens of thousands. I do wonder how accurate some of those numbers are. I’m not accusing anyone, but you know. . . people lie. . . a lot.

There’s something to be said for quality as well. I would value writing a thousand good words over ten thousand bad ones. Within two days of NaNoWriMo starting, I saw intimidating word counts of over twenty thousand, and I had to wonder how much of that was actual coherent writing and not just mashing of the keyboard.

At the end of the day, I suppose it’s unimportant how much you write, as long as you keep writing. As Bukowski said, ‘the secret is writing one simple line after another.’ Some days you’ll write more, others less. But the moment you stop is the moment you’re finished being a writer.

NaNoWriMo update – Six days in now, and I’m averaging 2,666 words per day (I took a day off to celebrate hitting 10k). The stat tracking on nanowrimo.org tells me that at my current rate I’ll be finished by November 19th. So not bad going although I constantly feel like I should be writing more. I’m relatively happy with my progress though, and feel reassured having seen some of the outputs of established writers. Also, my hand is starting to yell at me after deciding to write it all longhand.

© 2015, Gavin Zanker. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Photo by Stephen Train licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic.

9 thoughts on “A Writer’s Daily Word Count”

  1. I’ve been averaging 1811 words. I feel good about the number, I have a full time job and am pregnant (so I’m blasted exhausted.) I’m happy with the quality of the work as well, so there is that as well. Good luck with your writing!

  2. One reason I do my first-drafting in longhand is that it makes counting words way too much work. The computer makes it way too easy. It’s like not knowing how you feel till you step on a scale and find out what you weigh. With numbers it’s so easy to compare yourself with others. The quality of the output, the satisfaction you get from it, the thrill of solving a plot problem that’s been bugging you forever — these things can’t be quantified. I’m with Bukowski: keep writing. It’s your writing that will show you where you’re going and teach you what you need to know.

    1. That’s sounds like a healthy approach. I find myself getting caught up on word counts a lot of the time, and I’d probably be happier if I ignored them completely. Maybe after nano finishes I’ll try ignoring my word count entirely for a while.

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