Stephen King once said that a writer should write 2,000 words per day, if he’s a serious writer.
I scoffed at that. It seemed like such a small number, such an underwhelming goal. After all, I can amass 10,000 words in one day.
When I feel like it, that is. I don’t often feel like it. That word count burns me out after about two weeks. Then, I go for months without typing a single word. It also leaves no room for other important things in my life, such as eating lunch. Novels are not written in such a way.
Novels are written through steady and deliberate progress. It may not look like much on any given day, but slow and measured is how some writers become prolific authors. Ian Fleming wrote the thirteen James Bond novels (as well as a collection of short stories, a travelogue, and Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang) in as many years by writing only one hour every morning, but doing so every day. Kim Harrison wrote the thirteen book Rachel Hunter series within ten years, by writing a little bit each day. It’s how Charlaine Harris wrote not only the thirteen books of the Sookie Stackhouse series, but also the eight in the Aurora Teagarden series, the five Lily Bards, and the four Harper Connelly mysteries. That is a total of thirty novels, all since 1990. George R. R. Martin is not known as the world’s fastest writer, but he writes tomes — tomes, I tell you, tomes — all while advising a major television show, serving as editor for various anthologies, and appearing at most major conventions. He does it all by writing something every day. There is no denying that Stephen King is one of the most famous and most published writers alive. He reached that level by following his own advice, writing 2,000 words in the morning on new Novel C, revising older Novel A in the afternoon, and leaving completed Novel B “baking” in a drawer for six months.
I’ve been writing as a hare, when it’s the tortoises who do all the publishing.
I am taking another hard look at Stephen King’s guideline. It seems to be the cure for my troubles.
There is much to recommend it. Two thousand words per day is about two to three hours of work. That leaves plenty of time during the day for meditation, yoga, weight lifting, going for long walks, and doing other important things like eating lunch. It allows time to revise the writing from yesterday. It also leaves time to work on my 3D art. All before my wife comes home, when I can spend time with her or read instead of working on art or revisions. I can have a life and a healthy one at that.
When one looks at averages, 2,000 words is a considerable amount. It’s eight pages, double spaced, twelve point type; the typical format most writers use for drafts. The average blog post is 1,000 words (this one measures 1,100). The typical short story is 5,000, while novel chapters usually number around 7,500 words. So, in one day, I could write two blog posts, almost half a short story, or a fifth of a chapter.
With five work days in one week, that’s 10,000 words per week. In terms of ink, that’s forty pages, ten blog posts, two short stories, or a chapter and a piece.
Let’s go further. There are 52 weeks in one year. Assuming a few weeks off for holidays and vacations, plus days when depression strikes or the brick factory next door reminds me that I have sinuses, I’ll give an average of 46 weeks for writing.
At the rate of 2,000 words per day, and 10,000 words per week, that’s 460,000 words in one calendar year.
You just arched an eyebrow.
How does that compare into books?
J.R.R. Tolkien’s entire Lord of the Rings trilogy averages 455,000 words. Itty bitty The Hobbit is only 95,000.
A Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin, is 248,000 words.
The Sword of Shannara, by Terry Brooks, stands at 265,000 words.
Pawn of Prophecy, the beginning book in David Edding’s Belgariad (itself part of a much larger multi-series epic narrative), measures a tidy 104,000 words.
Terry Pratchett was somewhat Hemingwayesque. His first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic, comes in at only 73,000 words.
Robert Jordan’s Lord of Chaos, the longest of the Wheel of Time novels, is 389,000 words.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling, the longest in that series, is 257,000 words, while The Philosopher’s Stone, the shortest, is 77,000.
Wizard’s First Rule, the opening book in Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth saga, is 315,000 words.
That’s the fantasy genre, known for its bloated volumes. What about mainstream literature? Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is the gargantuan chart topper at 587,000. Margaret Mitchell came close, but no cigar for Rhett, with the 418,000 word length Gone with the Wind. Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove measures 365,000 words. Herman Melville averaged 206,000 with Moby Dick, while John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath seems puny at 165,000 words. Harper Lee filled To Kill a Mockingbird with 100,000 words, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tiny The Great Gatsby contains a mere 47,000. Ernest Hemingway’s spare The Old Man and the Sea is technically a novella at 26,000 words.
At the pace of 2,000 words per day, the only novel I named that could not theoretically be written within one year is War and Peace, but a tremendous dent could be put into it.
That changes things, doesn’t it.
I like novels in the 110,000 word range. In hardback form, that’s easy to hold. In paperback form, the print is larger. So, using Stephen King’s method, with my preferred novel length, I could write four novels in one year. I don’t know of any writer who is that prolific, including Mr. King. Given my penchant for heavy revisions, at that pace, two novels per year is not unreasonable. That’s a heck of a lot better than what I’ve been accomplishing.
I’m going to experiment with the remainder of 2015. We have 18 weeks remaining to us. Give time off for the various holidays, that’s 15 weeks. Or, in Stephen King’s word count plan, 150,000 words. At that rate, I can finish the first draft of the already started A Path of Stones, and plunge well into the first draft of The Fires of Tallenburgh Hall. Considering that The Valley of the Mystic Moon (book one) is already finished, the opening trilogy of The Chronicles of Aura Lockhaven should be nearing completion by January 1.
That would be a wonderful way to greet 2016.