Writing Speed

There’s a persistent myth that fast writing equals crap writing.

Those who believe in this myth fail to realize a few things:

  1. It doesn’t take into account the fact that traditional publishing, with its 1 book per year, per author schedule to prevent “over saturation” or “dilution” of an author’s brand has forced many authors to write under pen names because they can and do write in more than one genre or write more than one book per year. “Slow” writing is an outdated traditional publishing marketing gimmick.
  2. It doesn’t take into account how long one has been writing, and what sort of skill they’ve developed during that time.
  3. It doesn’t take into account whether an author is writing in a series, where each successive book is easier to write because all of the world-building/research has already been done.
  4. It doesn’t take into account either age or life experience of the writer.
  5. It doesn’t take into account length of each work. Not all works are novel length.

Let’s take three writers and consider the number of words they can write per hour. That will not include things like revisions and research, only the actual number of words they can produce in an hour.

Writer A – 250 words per hour

Writer B – 500 words per hour

Writer C – 1,000 words per hour

Here’s a table showing how many words they can write based on how many hours per day they devote to writing:

Hours Per Day Writer A Writer B Writer C
1 250 500 1,000
2 500 1,000 2,000
3 750 1,500 3,000
4 1,000 2,000 4,000
5 1,250 2,500 5,000
6 1,500 3,000 6,000

Now let’s say that each of those writers can only write on weekends during the year (52 weeks x 2 days = 104 days of writing time). Here’s their yearly output:

Hours Per Day Writer A Writer B Writer C
1 26,000 52,000 104,000
2 52,000 104,000 208,000
3 78,000 156,000 312,000
4 104,000 208,000 416,000
5 130,000 260,000 520,000
6 156,000 312,000 624,000

Even the slowest writer, Writer A, can complete an epic novel in a year, writing 6 hours per day, two days weekly. Or Writer A could complete two 78k word novels.

Let’s say each of them is a full-time writer, and can write every single day of each year.

Hours Per Day Writer A Writer B Writer C
1 91,250 182,500 365,000
2 182,500 365,000 730,000
3 273,750 547,500 1,095,000
4 365,000 730,000 1,460,000
5 456,250 912,500 1,825,000
6 547,500 1,095,000 2,190,000

I’m going to use Writer A’s lowest output as the standard novel length for the next two paragraphs.

At just 1 hour per day, Writer A would complete at least one novel. Writer B would complete two, and Writer C would complete four.

At the highest output for each writer (6 hours per day, which equals 42 hours of writing per week), Writer A would complete 6 novels, Writer B would complete 12 novels, and Writer C would finish 24 novels.

Basically, if a writer is treating writing as a full-time job, and devoting 42 hours per week to actual writing (not research/plotting/brainstorming/etc prep work), your “average” author could write anywhere from 1 to 24 complete novels per year.

And there are a lot of people who think that’s way too fast. I personally don’t think that’s too fast at all, not when you’re putting in full-time hours every week.

I have yet to get into the habit of devoting full-time hours to writing. Thus far this year, I’ve written on 129 days for an average of 1,552 words per day. My average word per hour output is 1,100, which means I’ve not spent more than about 1.4 hours per day actually writing.

I’m a slacker, y’all. :)

My goal is to set the habit of writing for roughly 92% of the days per year. 52 weeks – 4 weeks for off days/holidays/whatever = 48 weeks x 7 days per week = 336 days.

Here’s my daily output based on how many hours per day I write:

Hours Per Day Writer Me
1 1,100
2 2,200
3 3,300
4 4,400
5 5,500
6 6,600

Now, here’s my potential yearly output writing only on weekends (104 days per year) versus writing full-time (336 days per year) at each number of hours:

Hours Per Day 104 Days Per Year 336 Days Per Year
1 114,400 369,600
2 228,800 739,200
3 343,200 1,108,800
4 457,600 1,478,400
5 572,000 1,848,000
6 686,400 2,217,600

If I became more of a slacker than I currently am, I could still finish at least 1 novel per year, plus a 20k or so novella. On the other hand, if I set the habit of writing 6 hours daily (and life didn’t constantly interrupt those hours), I could finish as many as 9.8 novels per year writing only 12 hours per week.

Of course, my average novel length isn’t 91,250 words. Mine is about 70k words, which would be 31.7 novel length titles per year for me if I wrote full-time (6 hours per day, 336 days of the year).

Or 63.4 novellas, or 147.8 novelettes—I don’t only write novel length works.

What I’m saying is, you can’t judge what’s good or crap simply by assuming the speed of its production is the major factor in quality.

It’s like any other job: Someone who has been doing it for years will have the experience, knowledge, and skill to do the job faster than someone who just started training for the same position. A person who can devote more time to it will produce more words than someone who can’t spend as much time doing it.

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What Writing has Done for Me

Passive Guy has a post up, inviting indie authors to share their experiences if they’ve been able to quit their day jobs to write full time.

I did comment on there, but not as fully as some others have, hence this post. :)

I didn’t have a full time job to quit, but I did quit my part time job at the first of this month. My last full time job was in late 2010, managing a small box retail store (a “dollar store”), where I worked from 58-72 hours per week, always running behind because the store was in bad shape when I got it. Also because things had changed a lot since the first time I worked for that company, to where they were micromanaging and doing POG changes more frequently. I swear I spent more time calling in completed tasks than I did doing tasks.

That job was also the one that I injured my back doing, and I still have a lot of issues with my back even now. Such as, I can’t walk/stand on hard surfaces for long periods of time, I don’t bend as well as I used to, and I can no longer reliably lift anything over about 30 lbs more than once or twice.

Once upon a time, I could throw around 50-70 lbs bales of hay for a few hours per day without being out of commission for days afterward. Now, forget it, and due to the lingering repercussions of that injury, it’d be damn hard for me to find a job in retail I’d be able to work long hours in.

I began writing “for realz” in mid-to-late 2006, and after some encouragement from fellow writers, published my first ebook in December 2007. My first sale was in January 2008. I wrote, learned, and kept going over the next 5 years, but never quite managed to hit the level of having “good” sales. My best year prior to 2013 was 2011, when I sold 377 copies total.

My sales dropped a bit in 2012 (319 copies total), though my royalty earnings didn’t drop a lot due to more of my higher-priced titles being purchased.

But in 2013, I saw a giant downturn in my already low monthly sales over the summer, and due to life stuff, began to realize I’d probably have to quit trying to be a writer, because it just wasn’t going to work out. I’d already been working my part time job delivering our local newspaper for over two years by that time.

Then in September and October 2013, my sales picked up again, to pre-summer levels (meaning, not much, but way better than those summer months). In November, they jumped, and for the first time, I sold over 100 copies in a single month—142 to be exact. And in December, they more than doubled.

Beginning in January, I’ve earned a full-time paycheck every month. For April and this month, I’ve earned more than I did in my last full-time job. In fact, May’s been my best month so far this year, as well as ever since first hitting the publish button way back in December 2007.

I’m now earning a living as a writer, and as I mentioned above, quit my part time job at the first of May. I may not being doing as well as many people who commented on the post I linked to at the first, but I’m certainly doing well enough. This is where I say “THANK YOU!” to readers for the thousandth or so time. :)

I would like to mention a few things to aspiring writers. First, there’s no guarantee you’re going to sell at all, much less start selling right off the bat. It doesn’t matter how many people you see who say they released their first book 1-5 months ago, and are now earning really good money as indie authors. That doesn’t happen for all of us.

It can take years, and it can also never happen at all. The main ingredient to success as an indie author isn’t writing well and having your work edited (though both certainly help better your odds!), but something no one can control: LUCK.

I don’t consider myself a “good” writer. I do think I’ve learned enough to be on par with several popular authors technically, as in, I can construct sentences that make sense and don’t require major changes during edits. Basically, I consider myself a relatively competent writer who produces stories that entertain some people.

That’s not how I started out. I sucked when I started writing, and I still have plenty of moments of suck. But on the other hand, I’ve had a few years to assemble a team of beta readers and pro editors to cut down on those moments.

Yet even with over 4 million words under my belt, the help of more knowledgeable people, working hard to improve my skills as a writer and storyteller, AND following every bit of marketing/promotional advice there is, I DID NOT SELL A LOT OF BOOKS UNTIL LUCK STRUCK.

That’s something to keep in mind.

On the other hand, luck is striking for more indie authors more often, which means it could happen for you too. :)

You may not become rich and famous, but you just might end up selling enough books to earn a living, or at least supplement your income. It just may not occur overnight, or in a few months’ time. Or it may never happen. There are thousands of books on Amazon.com with no rankings, meaning they’ve never sold a copy, or with rankings over 100k, which means they only sell 1 to a few copies per month/year.

My average before luck struck was about a tank of gas or a dinner out for the family once a month.

Be inspired by the success stories, but be aware that writing takes a lot of time and effort, especially at first. You will spend way more hours writing than you likely have at any day job. It’s more fun than any day job I’ve had, but it’s still work. You have to plant your butt in a chair and produce words. One book isn’t going to keep you in coffee for years and years, so you have to build a backlist.

I had 17 titles available when luck struck on one that had been out for nearly two years. I’d published 33 or so, but retired several of my earlier works because they weren’t up to snuff after I revisited them later on. I’ve spent thousands of hours writing, and thus, honing my skills. I took a loss on my writing biz for 5 years straight, spending more money than I earned (even though costs can be pretty low if you learn to do some things yourself).

Earning a living as a writer did not happen overnight, or in a few months, for me. Nor has it for the majority of indie authors. You need to be prepared to be in it for the long haul.

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