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.
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?