Thursday, December 22, 2011

Word Counts and The Speed of Writing

"Hey man, I heard you're writing a book."

"Oh yeah, I'm thinking it'll be close to 80,000 words."

"Really, many pages is that?"

I'm sure some of you have had a conversation like that with people who don't make their living thinking in terms of word counts. I know I've had the conversation more times than I can count--the last one being only a couple of  days ago. More than likely you do the quick mental math to give your "non-writer' friend or family member a clue to what the heck you're talking about. 

"Oh, right, that would make it a 320-page book. Now remember that's double-spaced pages."

"Wow, that's impressive."

It seems strange doesn't it? After all, who thinks about the words before they think about the number of pages? Um, writers do, silly. Sometimes it seems like our whole world revolves around word counts. We've spent a lot of time thinking about the various articles, stories, and books we've written in terms of their word counts. Maybe it was because we were required to at first. We had an assignment from an editor who needed a 3,000 word article, or we took a web content gig that required us to write ten 500-word articles for a website.

Somewhere along the way, the word count became the common terminology we used when talking about what we do. It makes sense doesn't it? Words are our tools, they are the building blocks of our craft. The word count is also the way we gauge our progress. Most writers have a certain number of words they can produce during a given time period. For me, that number is 1,000 to 1,200 words an hour in most cases. (This is between 4 and 5 pages an hour if based on a standard, double-spaced manuscript page, which is 250 words.) That last statement is worth expanding on when discussing the idea of the speed of writing.


In the previous post I mentioned bestselling author Dean Wesley Smith. I first gained the insights and information about the speed of writing through reading a few posts he wrote in which he talked about speed as one of the myths of publishing as well as a factor of some significance in the emerging new world of publishing.

Consider a single manuscript page: It's 250 words. How long does it take you to write those 250 words? Ten minutes? Fifteen? Really, if like me, you can write about 1,000 words in an hours time, then consider the total word count of an average-sized book. Let's say 80,000 words, for this instances. What if you only wrote 1,000 words a day? That's just an hour of writing. You could have that book done in eighty days. Just under three months. You could conceivably do that two or three times during a year's time.

From a writer's perspective, at least one who understands their own writing speed and is willing to trust their voice, this is very doable. Those outside the profession would be astonished if you said you had written three books in a year. They would you say you must be a very fast writer. They'd call you prolific. (Unfortunately, some would call you hack; how dare you write three books in just a year!) Why? Well there are some more myths involved there and if you want to know more then you need to head over to Dean Wesley Smith's website and read his blog series--both the Sacred Cows and the New World of Publishing while you're at it.

For me, Dean's willingness to break things down to the word counts and combine them with an evaluation of one's own writing speed (i.e. the amount of words that can be produced in an hour) really revitalized my thinking as a writer and my aspirations as an indie publisher too.

With my schedule as a writer, I can do a lot of writing if I set my mind to it. There are so many opportunities to tell all sorts of stories and then publish them myself. 

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