Once in a while, someone will tell me they wish they could write as fast as I do. Over the years it’s occurred quite a few times, but I’m still a little surprised when it happens because I think of myself as a very slow writer. Of course, I’ve told other writers that I wished I could write as fast as they. That got me thinking about how exactly to define ‘fast’ writing.
Something that confounds the issue, of course, is the difference between writing and publishing. The last time someone made a comment to me about being a fast writer was right after Days of Beer and In the Language of Scorpions came out, and after I mentioned that Under the Ember Star would likely be published this year. That’s not fast writing, though. That’s fast publishing. A third of Days of Beer was completed a couple of years ago, and I wrote the rest throughout November and December of 2011. That’s probably close to 15,000 new words in two months, which is actually kind of fast for me. As for “Scorpions,” the majority of the stories in there were reprinted from earlier magazine publications. I did write a couple of new pieces for that book, and I completed a number of stories that had been in rough draft form, but the total number of new words in that book was fairly small. “Ember Star” was written mostly last summer, 30,000 words over several months. I didn’t even average 500 words a day.
In order to try and understand more about my own productivity, I decided this year to keep word count records. I know many writers who do this routinely but I’ve never really made an effort to do so before. Well, the first month’s data is in and here are the results:
I produced 8033 new words of material that I hope to get published. This counts stories, introductions to stories, and material about stories that might go into a publication. It doesn’t count blog posts or letters of recommendation or other writing that I do as part of my job and life, but which isn’t going to be put on any bibliography of my publications. Although I don’t know exactly what my average monthly output is, I feel comfortable saying that this was actually an above average month for me.
January has 31 days so my average daily output was 259 words a day. That’s a little misleading because I didn’t write every day. I didn’t keep “exact” notes on when I wrote or didn’t, but looking back over my journal it looks like I wrote material that I hoped to publish on about 20 days of the month. That would bring my average daily production count up to a whopping 402 words a day. According to my journal, on my best day in January I did “about a thousand words.” None of that suggests to me that I am a fast writer.
I also realized, though, that word count is only a partial record of writing activity. I do a lot of revising and rewriting on my stuff. In other words, on the days I wrote I tended to work a lot harder than a new word count of 402 would suggest.
So if I’m not a fast writer, who is? Stephen King? King says he writes about 2,000 words a day. Considering that he’s a full time writer while I’m not, even two thousand doesn’t seem all that fast. But if he writes six days a week, that would give him a production of 634,000 words a year, or one and a half books considering the size of his novels. To average a million words a year would require around 2740 words a day, every day. Since I don’t imagine anyone writers 365 days a year, we’re probably talking about million word a year folks averaging 3,000 words a day or better. Now that seems pretty fast to me, but I’d like to know how many hours a day this writer works, and how much revision they do.
So. Is Stephen King a fast writer? What does it take to be considered a fast writer? Is fast even about word count? Or it about an attitude? Is it about a writer wanting to churn out the biggest word count possible in the least amount of time necessary, without worrying about achieving anything more than the lowest level of quality needed to get it published? What do you think?