A Thousand Words a Day

When I was a beginner, the common advice was to write a thousand words a day. If you wrote for eight hours, that would be only 125 words an hour. Easy. If you wrote for only four houers, that would still be on 250 words an hour. That’s not bad, and quite doable. If you wrote for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening, that was still just 500 words an hour. Not so easy, but not so hard either. And if you wrote 1000 words a day, five days a week, at the end of the year you’d have a very long novel. Or two long novels. Or three normal novels.

And so it goes. It’s easy, it says here… But who can keep that up? At my very best I’ve written 1000 words an hour. For about two hours. That day. And not so many the next.

But there’s something that the people who suggest 1,000 words a day don’t explain. Is that 1000 words the first draft? Or final polish? Because there’s an awful lot of work in between those two states. What about research time, does that count? Or, more importantly, revision, correction, development, tightening, enough proofreading for a clean draft, and so on. If you can do all that and still have 1,000 finished words at the end of the day, from first word to last, you are a phenomenon. I don’t think it’s possible.

So, “write a thousand words a day” doesn’t really mean anything. A thousand words of what?


Two hundred fifty words a day is doable. Sometimes. Sometimes that 250 words comes easily and superfast. Sometimes you struggle to find the words, to fix the problems, to discover that you’re going in the wrong direction, and you’ve actually typed over 1000 words but none of them work. So you stop. Do those words count. Or only finished words.

So, go ahead, write as quickly as you can, but by the time you finish your story or novel and go back to re-read it, it will look like crap. Because you’ve learned a lot about your story since you started. And because all first drafts are crap, by definition, and you haven’t done a second draft yet.

A second draft may not take as long as a first, but it may take longer. How many drafts do you need? When you read the story, can you honestly say it’s the best you can do? Or is it just good enough? Think about it.

My point is, writing a story of any length includes not just that 250 words/hour/day/week/year. It also includes all that other stuff — research or creation, revisions and corrections, notes and outlines and rough sketches. You have to take all these into consideration, and probably a lot more.

I know some writers who can do two books a year. I know a couple who have done six books a year, and published them all. And I know some writers, Joyce Carol Oates for example, who’s every story is as close to perfect as possible (I don’t know how many drafts she writes). Literary critics can’t understand how she can write so much so quickly, and still write so well. I can’t either. You may not like what she writes, but you can’t deny her quality.

But I’m not any of these people.

My second point here, is that comparing yourself to other writers is not good. Every writer works their own way (‘their’ not ‘his or her’). Every writer has different strenghts, and very different weaknesses. Comparing your first draft to someone elses published work will destroy you. You have to discover your own work methods, your best time and location, your own progress one scene at a time or the whole story at once.

So, again, “one thousand words a day” doesn’t mean anything.


Sometimes, as you grow as a writer, you learn how to work more quickly. It’s true, sometimes, and it’s great. Or sometimes, as you grow as a writer, you set higher standards for yourself, and it takes longer to achieve those standards. Or you can just hack.

Jack Woodford wrote a book on How to Write for Money. And if you follow his methods, you can do it too. Really, he’s not telling you a theory, he’s telling you how he really did it. Look him up. He wrote other writing books as well, which I don’t have.

How to Write for Money is out of print and costs a couple hundred dollars second hand. But Woodford was a self-admitted hack writer, and proud of it, and wrote bad but marketable books constantly, which all got published by publishers who wanted fast turnover. He made a living. If you can get a copy of his book, read it. You’ll learn a lot. And then decide, what do you want, quantity or quality. It’s not easy to have both. Unless you’re Joyce Carol Oates.

1 Comment

  1. I’ve told fellow writers not to stress about the “thousand words a day” thing. Unless you’re writing something that doesn’t require research or is bibliographical, a thousand words a day may not be achievable. You’ll only cause yourself anxiety trying to achieve it. Heck, some days, I celebrate when I have an idea sketched out in my head and it ACTUALLY makes it to paper.
    For me, writing comes in spurts. I can write three or four short stories in one week (sometimes a day depending on flow, lack of interruptions, and word count) but then, I’ll go a month or four where I can’t write a single thing. I don’t stress about it because I’ve long since accepted that that was how my brain worked.
    if you can write a thousand words a day, every day, and still manage to write a good story, cudos to you. I only know of one writer who can, but all her books are maybe a hundred pages, so I’m guessing she includes edits and research writing in those thousand words.

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