East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Seventeen per hour


30422_monk-writingOK, for a laugh.
I was reading an award-winning novelist‘s interview the other day.
I like reading writers talking about their work flow, their methods, their quirks.
Turns out the guy worked on his latest, award-winning novel

six hours a day, every day for four years, without pause

And being the sort of person I am, coming to this statement I started thinking in numbers.

Now, four years makes

(365 x 4) + 1 = 1461 days

working six hours a day, every frigging day of the week for four years makes

1461 x 6 = 8766 hours

Now comes the hard part – according to Amazon, the guy’s award-winning novel is 411 pages long in hardback. Let’s place it at around 150.000 words.

150.000 / 8766 = 17 words per hour

That’s when I started laughing.
And in case you are wondering…

seventeen words per hour does look exactly like this paragraph here, all in all about one sentence.

Our award winning author supposedly produced 102/103 words per day, every day, for four years solid.
And at the end of the day, he knew he had a winner.

Now, one of my editors, that is also one hell of a writing teacher, usually tells his students to put their bums on the chair and write for two hours solid every day – that’s the way to go to be a novelist.
I guess he does not mean writing 35 words.

I like writing fast.
I wrote the first draft of my first novel in 8 days – it was admittedly only 48.000 words1, but that means that Fast, for me, is roughly 6000 words per day – say 1000 words per hour.
My all-time record is 15.000 words in one day, but I cheated: I was writing in Italian, I was writing non fiction, and I was having lots of fun.

5000-words-per-hour-300x200-200x300I read and greatly enjoyed Rachel Aaron’s 2000 to 10000, to me one of the best books about writing and productivity available out there, and recently I was pointed in the direction of Chris Fox’s 5000 Words Per Hour – that turned out to be a blast of a little book – full of very interesting suggestions and exercises, using the concept of “writing sprints”.
Looks like I found another function for my boiled eggs timer – the one I normally use for meditation sessions and writing practice.

Will I get to that staggering number? – 5000 words per hour is a lot of writing.
Probably not – but I can try, and improve.
And yes – I’m, picking up speed.
I don’t know if I’ll ever achieve the speed of pulp described by Dean Wesley Smith, but what the heck, it’s surely fun trying to write better and faster.
Because faster alone is not enough.

With all of this, mind you, I am not dissing the award-winning writer and his 17 words per hour.
If that’s the way he rolls, who am I to criticize.
Granted, making a living writing with a rhythm like that gets pretty hard – goodness knows it’s hard enough when you’re writing a lot and hitting all the markets.
What I feel less than comfortable with is the idea that speed is inversely proportional to quality – write fast and you’re a hack, write slowly and you’re an artist.
That’s just plain rubbish – and it’s a toxic way of thinking about writing.

  1. it expanded to over 72.000 words for the final edit 

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “Seventeen per hour

  1. Perhaps he writes forty or fifty drafts…


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