Daily Word Count Output of My Favorite Writers

I’ve noticed a lot of writers posting their daily word output on social media. The single common denominator of these posts, unfortunately, has been word counts that exceed my own. In hope of feeling better, I compiled some data on the typical daily productivity of writers I admire. What follows is a selection that provides a representative sample. Bear in mind that no heed is given to the relative merits of such numbers, and, as Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

Speaking of Twain, every morning he would get up and eat a hearty breakfast, then go to his study to write, staying there until about five, except in case of emergency—if anyone needed him, they had to sound a horn. The result was 1,000 words per day.

In his book On Writing, Stephen King says that he writes 2,000 words a day without fail, even on holidays. And that’s with no adverbs.

plane

If only I could add pictures, and they were worth 1,000 words…

Lee Child uses word counts as mile markers. His record is 4000 words in a single day. His low is 600. His average: 1800. It takes him 80-85 working days to complete a book, but not 80-85 consecutive days, because he tends to write for no more than four days in a row.

Trollope, too, wrote by volume. He put his pocket watch on his desk next and produced 500 words every thirty minutes for three hours—a daily total of 3,000 words.

In contrast, Hemingway clocked in at just 500.

Tolkein wrote The Lord of the Rings trilogy—670,000 words—in eleven years. That’s about 250 words per working day.

Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full is 370,000 words long. Writing it took him eleven years, of which he says, “My children grew up thinking that was all I did: write, and never finish, a book called A Man in Full.”  The average: 135 words per day.

Jack London: 1500 words per day, every day. Before breakfast. Norman Mailer and Arthur Conan Doyle were both 3,000-words-per-day guys. Anne Rice hits 5,000. Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the Perry Mason novels, pounded out 1,000,000 words a year. The Babe Ruth of this category is Michael Crichton, who routinely hit the daily ten grand mark.

Thankfully we also have Graham Greene, who counted each word, and would stop for the day at 500, even if he were in the middle of a sentence. Maya Angelou, who each day writes about nine pages, but saves just three. James Joyce, who proudly considered the completion of two perfect sentences a full day of work. And Dorothy Parker, who frequently wrote as few as five words—of which, she said, she changed seven.

How about you?

turbine

This picture is here for no particular reason


19 thoughts on “Daily Word Count Output of My Favorite Writers

  • Carla Norton

    Dang! Y’all are so competitive. I’m chagrined that, on a good day, my word count is negative. No kidding. I go through and cut all the extraneous verbage from the previous day, which tightens the prose and improves the pacing…. Sigh.

    • Mark Greaney

      I have a lot of those negative days, too. I hate that. For me they usually come after a day or two of big number days, when I go back and read what I wrote and think better of it. I just tell myself the book is better at the end of the day of cutting than it was at the beginning, but it’s disheartening nonetheless.

  • Mark Greaney

    Great article, Keith- I have good days and bad days, and I bet a lot of writers on social media are so happy when they have a good day of output that they talk about it- on those days where they write little to nothing they might just cry in their beer and keep their misery to themselves.

  • Thomas Kaufman

    Keith, nice post. The average for me is 1400 words per day, the low end dipping down to 700, the high end around 3000. Since I work a day job in the film biz, I often skip days, which makes the whole enterprise that much harder. Donald Westlake said you should write every day. Good advice.

    • Keith Thomson Post author

      So let’s assign a word count for your day job—24 pictures per second. If each is worth 1,000 words, you’re over 1,000,000 every day.

  • Pamela Callow

    My experience has been that word count — or in my case, page count — fluctuates depending on where I am in my manuscript. I write like a steam engine – it takes time to build up the steam (Act I of the book), but once I reach a critical point in the story, I can barely keep up. It seems like Doug and Michael Connolly have similar experiences. I do keep track of overall page count, and I do try to ensure that I am writing at least 30 pages/week. I try to average 5 pages/day, but if that day has not produced many written pages, I’ll make sure the next one does.

    • Keith Thomson Post author

      I feel better now. Because, actually, I average 10,000 per day, while working as a neurosurgeon (I write during the times the other surgeons sleep, those babies).

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  • Douglas Corleone

    Michael Connelly kind of spoke to Donna’s point a few years ago. An interviewer asked him if he thought his work suffered because he had two books come out within 9-month (or thereabouts) period. He said when he’s working on a book he’s really into, the writing goes faster and the book in the end is usually much better. That’s been my experience as well. I wrote 52,000 words one month and it was by far the best stuff I’d written to that point. Conversely, another project dragged on for more than two years and it’s the only book I’ve written that was never published (and it wasn’t the first book I’d written, or even the second or third).

    • Keith Thomson Post author

      I like your thinking. Also, if you didn’t have all those little kids, I suspect you could write a book a day.

  • Donna Galanti

    Keith, I often wonder about folks that post word counts each day on social media. I feel lowly in my own efforts at someone writing 10,000 word in one day (maybe if they don’t count the adverbs it’s far less). Then a good friend asked ‘”But are any of them good words?” Hmm..which made me realize that I used to be a speed-writer aiming for that word count. Now I indulge in writing slower – aiming to write better, tighter the first draft. i do think, though, that keeping track of word count is key to knowing your ability as an author to work on a deadline and discipline yourself to meet your commitments. Dorothy Parker is a hoot – and where can I get Mark Twain’s horn?

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