Two Measures of Writing Speed

fa27be64f382815f6d47f597cb56b43eYou may believe your writing speed is unbearably slow compared to that of other people, but it may be that you’re looking at it the wrong way. You may be comparing your overall (finished) speed to their drafting speed. When calculating your own writing speed, it’s important to understand the difference between drafting speed and finished speed, and to have a sense of what’s normal for each.

Writers trying to increase their writing speed typically aim for numbers like 1,000-2,000 words a day. That’s fast, but it’s an attainable goal. It’s said to be the speed professional writers working full time typically achieve. It’s important to understand what the numbers mean.

inputlog - draft vs overall

These graphs were generated using Inputlog,  copyright Marielle Leijten and Luuk Van Waes, University of Antwerp.

Drafting Speed

As a benchmark, consider NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month contest held in November, in which contestants try to write an entire novel in a single month. To complete NaNoWriMo, a contestant must produce 50,000 words in 30 days, or an average of 1667 words a day.

The rules allow participants to plan beforehand, and writers often revise their work after the contest closes. Presumably most of the text submitted for NaNoWriMo is draft.

Draft means putting words on paper as quickly as possible. When you’re drafting, you’re allowed to write badly. Narrative exposition is fine. Omniscient POV is fine. Info dumps, awkward sentence structure, and stilted dialogue are all fine. Clichés are great because they convey a lot of information in just a few words.

Things you aren’t allowed to do in polished writing are welcome in draft, where your only mission is to get the story down as fast as you can.

Even when writing draft, 1667 words a day is a difficult goal. Not everyone can do it.

Finished Speed

What about the writing speed for finished work? A professional novelist can usually produce a novel in a year. A typical novel has 90,000 words. If the novelist worked six days a week for a year, that would be 287 days, or 312 words per day.

words per day

Why so slow? Because drafting accounts for only around 18% of all the time spent writing. Finished writing consists of a number of phases, plan, draft, revise, and polish. For skilled writers, drafting takes up less than a fifth of overall writing time.

histogram

This profile is highly individual and varies from one writer to another. Planners spend more doing formal planning, while Pantsers spend more time in revision. Time spent in different phases of writing also varies by genre. For example, science fiction requires more worldbuilding, and historical fiction more research, than is required for a romance novel. They don’t need as much emotion in the dialogue.



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