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Assessing Your Writing Productivity

Having grown up with an analytical mind, I have a ceaseless passion for statistics and for measuring things. As I write my novels, I find myself tracking my progress in various ways. Some of those tracking tools may be simply curiosity-filling. But one in particular leaves me wondering how I compare with other writers when it comes my productivity. Roughly speaking, I find myself writing my first drafts at a rate of 400 to 500 words per hour. On average. Yet I have no perspective on whether that’s:

•    Atrocious

•    Not horrible

•    So-so

•    Good

•    Great, or even,

•    Too hurried

Does anyone else have a sense of how they’re doing on this metric? I’d be interested in your feedback. No judgment to be made here; we’re all unique. Just looking for some perspective.

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Comments (13)
  •  Hi Reidr, I have no idea as to a comparison rating. Are you a plotter? I write in such a vacuum that day turns to night without me noticing. My husband finds me sitting in full blackout, clattering away at the laptop with just the glow of the screen to show where I am. It's only during the current world events that I am finding it harder to settle in.

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    • Hi Trudi. Not sure what a plotter is. I may be a plodder. I'm definitely not all-in like you are...my wife would kick my butt! :-)

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    • Hi Reidr, 

      It hugely depends on the environment for me. When I have the house to myself, no interruptions from other work and the dogs are behaving themselves, I can write 1000 decent words an hour. 

      When the house is noisy, I have other things on my mind, the dogs are barking at each other/the wind/nothing at all, I can creak out maybe 300 words through gritted teeth. 

      Whether I write 300 or 3000 words a session though, they always need a close eye edit and are never 'perfect'. Not sure if that helps or not! I just think we're all so different that whatever works is fine! 

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      • Hi Holly, 

        Thanks for your thoughts. I get what you mean by distractions. I'm often writing with the TV on (news junkie). I'm writing historical fiction so I frequently find myself googling something for my writing. And yes, just talking first draft stuff here. Which makes me wonder -- do you polish as you go? I frequently edit in real time.

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        • I polish a bit as I go, and I tend to start a writing session by reading and tweaking the previous session's writing. I write fairly clean first drafts but they still need several edits (by me and with my agent's guidance) before I send them to my publisher! 


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          • Good to know. I do the same. So maybe that's pretty common. Then once my novel is finished, I go back and do a full-on edit several times. It keeps getting better but without my knowing whether it's really good enough to go live. 

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          • For me, it depends where I am in a book, how into the flow I have gotten. (It doesn't actually matter if I have been plotting or am pantsing, interestingly enough.) I don't have any of Holly's distractions, so it's only the long-term flow that matters, not day-to-day variance. (Though, saying that, being sick can knock the amount of writing I can get done on the head.)

            So… As I begin the ramp-up, I'll be on about 800wph. In my latest deep write, I had days where I managed over 1200wph. In the past, I believe I even had sustained bursts in excess of 1500. By the ned of a book, my average speed will have been in the region of 1100.

            And, yes, I have graphs…

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            • Thanks Rick. Good to know. I'm not sure what my peak flow is. I'll have to measure that. :-)

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            • I have a system called level five, though it was first employed in gauging music, because I was in a few bands, in my punk days. There is no level five, but for example, I wrote 15,000 words once, when I suspect there were speed in my cigarette, and that would be level five.

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              • 😀 Let's see...15,000 words at 500/hour = 30 hours for me. Holy crap!

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                • I’ve never really been past one hundred pages before, but reading has become an art form rather than an occupation, and that is level five.

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                • My first job (which began as a summer intern) was as a newspaper reporter, and I became an investigative reporter fairly early on.

                  I was trained by a legend, who would get up and yell at me across a newsroom things like:

                  “Dammit Snyder!!!  The writer’s best friend is a period!!”

                  The stories I was working on each day were somewhere between 900 and 1000 words. They had to be RIGHT. There was no taking them back once they were on the front page.  Too late for apologies then.

                  So I learned to get to 900 or 1000 good words (or more if there were several stories) but shied away from cranking out anything that would be embarrassing later on.

                  I still have that guy’s head over my shoulder when I type and I am glad. I don’t want to have to go back later and kill 200 pages of sloppy, verbose junk that has no real point to it just to hit some word count.  Some stuff will always have to go, sure, but I am way more interested in quality than quantity.

                  If I get to 1000 words of good stuff in a sitting I am really happy.

                  On draft two, I could slow down to 250 words on a pivotal edit.

                  I could also be happy with 50 words in one sitting if those are the fifty words that are going to make someone cry.


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                  • Great stuff, David. Thanks for the insight. Spot on.

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