Have you ever looked at the bibliographies of prolific writers and wondered how on earth they write so many books?
Do they just have an incredible amount of time to devote to writing?
A motor inside their hands that keeps them typing away?
A writing refuge where they can hide to block out all distractions from the world?
Actually, the answer is much simpler.
These prolific writers usually don’t lead unconventional lives nor do they possess any superhuman powers. Rather they have developed a single habit that anyone can master: setting a daily word count goal and following through every day.
Read on to discover the daily word counts of several prolific authors (some of these may surprise you!), and the best way to set your own daily word count goal.
You Don’t Need to Set an Insane Word Count Goal
Just because someone is a prolific writer doesn’t mean that they are hammering out 5,000+ words a day.
Graham Greene wrote 24 novels as well as travel books, children’s books, plays, screenplays, and short stories. His daily writing goal was only 500 words.
In The End of the Affair, he described his own writing process:
Over twenty years I have probably averaged five hundred words a day for five days a week. I can produce a novel in a year, and that allows time for revision and the correction of the typescript. I have always been very methodical, and when my quota of work is done I break off, even in the middle of a scene. Every now and then during the morning’s work I count what I have done and mark off the hundreds on my manuscript.
Later on when Greene was 66, he admitted in an interview that his word count had actually dropped to 300 words: “In the old days, at the beginning of a book, I’d set myself 500 words a day, but now I’d put the mark to about 300 words.”
Of course, there are writers like Stephen King (the author of 54 novels and nearly 200 short stories) who set the bar much higher.
In his memoir On Writing, Stephen King notes,
I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words… On some days those ten pages come easily; I’m up and out and doing errands by eleven-thirty in the morning… More frequently, as I grow older, I find myself eating lunch at my desk and finishing the day’s work around one-thirty in the afternoon. Sometimes, when the words come hard, I’m still fiddling around at teatime. Either way is fine with me, but only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.
Here is an inspiring list that shows the daily word counts of thirty-nine different writers.
Don’t Skip Step Two: Write Away
You might be a Stephen King or a Graham Greene. Perhaps you might even start out with a 500-word goal and gradually work your way up to 2,000 words.
The important thing is to set a manageable goal that you know you can easily reach, and then make sure you show up at your computer to type out those words every single day.
Neil Gaiman (author of 11 novels as well as many more graphic novels and short stories) writes,
If you’re only going to write when you’re inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you will never be a novelist — because you’re going to have to make your word count today, and those words aren’t going to wait for you, whether you’re inspired or not. So you have to write when you’re not “inspired.” … And the weird thing is that six months later, or a year later, you’re going to look back and you’re not going to remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you wrote because they had to be written.
Gaiman is specifically addressing novelists but his words apply to any kind of aspiring writer.
If we want to improve our craft, we have to practice day in and day out.
Whatever our writing dreams may be (perhaps writing a nonfiction book or a novel), we need to break them down into easy, actionable steps. By setting ourselves a word count goal, we make our dreams attainable.
My Method For Reaching A Daily Word Count Goal
As we have seen, each writer needs to determine the minimum word count goal that is best for him or her. Though we should never shy away from challenging ourselves, we do need to be sure we are not demanding the impossible.
Personally, I am not yet at the stage where I can hammer out 2,000 words every day like Stephen King does. Sure, there are days where I reach that goal just fine, but that is not true for every single day.
So I have decided to set my goal to a minimum of 500 words like Graham Greene. Once that has become a daily habit where I am easily breezing through those 500 words each morning, I will push myself to aim a little higher.
Determining a realistic goal is the easy part. Following through is much harder.
To get myself into the habit of writing at least 500 words every morning, I’ve begun keeping a journal on my computer. I used to love keeping a physical journal, but my days are much busier now, and I find that I can write much faster when I am typing.
I use an app called Day One that has a simple and elegant interface. The app for the computer doesn’t currently have a word count calculator, but I do not mind as it means I can write without pressure and tally up my word count afterwards (I find that I often end up writing more than 500 words).
You could probably journal in a Word Document if you like. The trick is to just start writing.
Usually, I write about my day or I may start fleshing out ideas for blog posts or for my novel. However, here’s the key: nothing that I write in the journal will be published.
This means that I don’t need to stress out about each sentence. It helps me to just spill words out on the screen and not be bothered with perfectionism.
After I complete my 500 words in the journal, I can move on to my other writing projects. My writing muscle is warmed up, and I feel confident and happy that I’ve already ticked off 500 words.
Maybe you decide to try journaling or perhaps you prefer jumping into your other writing projects right away. Regardless of which method you choose, if you follow through every single morning or afternoon or evening, despite the distractions and the craziness of your everyday life, you will gradually develop a daily writing habit.
And that means that you will also have developed an incredible amount of focus and determination and passion for your craft.
That is the secret to becoming a truly prolific and successful writer.
As Ray Bradbury observed, “Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”
What is your daily word count goal? If you enjoyed this post, be sure to leave a comment and share with someone you would like to inspire.