Writing 1,000 Words a Day: Finding Better Ways to Measure Productivity & Finish Your Book

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Do you lose heart when you see fellow indie authors crowing about 2000, 5000, or 10000 words a day, or launching a new book every quarter, every month, or even every week?

You’re not alone. But don’t waste valuable writing time and energy comparing your word count with that of other authors. There are too many variables involved to make this exercise meaningful:

  • A historical novel, for example, will require more research time than a contemporary one so take longer to write—hence fewer words per day.
  • A writer with no day job will have more writing time than one whose writing time is restricted to their daily commute—hence more words per day.

Besides, quantity is meaningless without quality. The success of your book will depend on its quality, not on how long it took you to write it.

However, it makes sense to optimise your own productivity, both to help you meet marketing goals and for your personal fulfillment. The following checklist of ideas will help you audit your current writing practice and identify room for improvement.

But remember, there are no universal rights and wrongs about productivity. Just try whichever methods resonate with you—and keep writing!

1. Choose the Best Medium

Let’s consider the nuts and bolts of your writing habit. What do you use to write with? Pen and paper? Keyboard? Dictation? There are arguments in favour of each:

  • pen and paper connects with the subsconscious like no other medium
  • your manuscript will have to be typed eventually, so doing it from the start will save time later on
  • dictation makes your words flow more naturally and your prose sound better on the page and in audiobook

Try any of the above that you don’t usually practise and see what happens—you may be pleasantly surprised. Oh, and if you haven’t yet learned to touch-type yet, do it now! It can only speed things up for you at every stage of your self-publishing journey.

2. Kickstart With a Pledge

Committing to write a certain amount in a specific timeframe is a great way to kickstart or finish off a project. It also fosters good writing habits long term. NaNoWriMo (short for National Novel Writing Month) invites writers to pen 50,000 words in the month of November—an average of 1,666 words a day—and facilitates social sharing of word counts and progress reports to spur you on. If you haven’t tried it, it’s worth a shot, and participation costs nothing. Whether or not you achieve the 50K words goal, you’ll learn a lot about yourself as a writer along the way—and it’s also good fun!

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3. Make Space and Keep it Neat

Create a dedicated writing space. It doesn’t need to be fancy. You don’t even need a desk. If your workhorse is a laptop, you can set it up anywhere. But being able to work in the same place each time will help you build consistent, more efficient writing habits.

If you can run to a desk or even “a room of one’s own”, as Virginia Woolf famously advocated, personalise it with items that will help you get into the writing frame of mind. On my desk is a vase of fabric forget-me-nots, a motif for the heroine in one of my series of novels, which instantly transports me into her world.

Wherever your writing space, keep it clean and tidy. If my heart sinks as I sit down at my desk, it’s usually because it’s a mess and a muddle. A quick declutter and a spray of furniture polish gets me back on track.

4. Cultivate a Regular Writing Habit

Got a great workspace but can’t get going on your intended book project? Try writing anything else for a while to loosen up your writing muscles and break down resistance. Keep a journal, write a blog, or write the “morning pages” advocated by creative guru Julia Cameron. It’s simple. On waking each morning, write three pages on whatever comes into your head, quickly and without stopping. Any regular writing habit like this will programme you to write comfortably, fluently, and without hesitation on demand.

What time of day does writing come easiest to you? First thing in the morning before the issues of the day intrude, your commuting time, your lunch break, or after the rest of the household has gone to bed? Ring-fence it, tell the rest of the household it’s sacrosanct, and do nothing but write during that time.

5. Give Your Writing Priority

Avoid distractions in your writing space. Switch off the internet, switch on your answerphone. If you need to look up a spelling or research a detail, don’t Google it—just make a note to come back to it outside your writing time.

Give priority to your writing, wherever it falls in the day. The laundry can wait. And the dusting, and the vacuuming, and sorting your sock drawer… Know an excuse for procrastination when you see it, and resist!

6. Recharge Your Writing Batteries

Outside of your protected time slot, rest the writing part of your brain. Orna Ross’s recommendation of a weekly “create-date” with self is one effective way of refilling the creative well. Doing mundane things on your own—driving, taking a shower, weeding the garden—will also refresh your creative brain and unleash new ideas without any conscious effort on your part.

7. Go With the Flow

Got stuck part way with your manuscript? Don’t blame writers’ block. (I don’t think it exists.) Ask yourself whether you are trying to write the wrong thing—a story that doesn’t come from the heart, or one that’s not ready to be written yet? Set it aside and write something else.

Or has your work-in-progress been going well till you stalled at a particular point in the story? Skip forward to the next bit that comes easily, and fill in the blanks later. Just because readers read books in a linear fashion doesn’t mean you have to write them that way.

Equally, don’t get held up by perfecting a passage in mid-flow, or your writing time will turn to editing time. Writing and editing involve two completely different parts of the brain. Trying to do both at once can really slow you down. Some authors prefer to edit as they go along, but for me writing the first draft non-stop and only editing on completion really accelerates my progress.

8. Plan Enough—And No More

More detailed planning might help your words flow faster. Some writers take planning to an extreme, their outline running to tens of thousands of words, detailed paragraph by paragraph. If you’re wondering how that works, check out Randy Ingermanson’s snowflake method. (For me, an overall plot arc with a sentence or two per chapter suffices.)

Conversely, if you’ve planned your book down to the last detail but the words won’t come, ask yourself whether you have inadvertently put yourself in a straitjacket. If so, take it off and allow yourself to stray from your preconceived ideas. Let your story lead you where it wants to go—the subconscious knows best.

9. Value Down Time

Remember, your writing time is not only the hours spent at your desk. You can be thinking, plotting and fine-tuning all the time, even while you sleep. Whenever I get stuck with a plot point, I try to make it the last thing I think about when I go to bed, and I almost always wake in the morning with the solution clear in my mind.

10. Measure Your Productivity in Other Ways

Finally, coming back to the issue of word count—is that really the best way to measure productivity? Do more words really mean more progress? Bestselling British novelist Graham Greene aimed at only 500 words a day, which he later reduced to 300—but he did it every day, enough to complete a new novel every year.

If you agree that word count alone is too crude a measure of progress to be meaningful in isolation, judge your progress in the way that makes most sense to you. This may not be round numbers of words, but chapters or sections or acts, or hours spent at your desk. My own goal is to write a chapter a day (my chapters are quite short) so that I’ve passed a clear milestone in the story, but I write for only about one month in three—the rest of the year my protected writing time goes on planning and editing, and I’m happy with that.

Then reward yourself when you reach your daily goal, with coffee, social media time, or an old-fashioned star chart. There are plenty of widgets and apps available offering a high-tech approach to recognising achievement. Celebrate key milestones. You deserve it!

Only if you think sharing your word count in public will motivate you, go for it. Share with a group of author friends, or with your readers via your author website or social media—it’ll whet their appetite for your next book. But don’t feel compelled. You’ve no reason to.

You will most likely still be conscious of word count, because it’s so tangible, with our word processing software displaying it as a matter of course. Just keep it in perspective, and don’t get hung up on it.

Take Heart

I hope this checklist helps you boost your productivity and build a consistent, steady writing output that over time adds up to an impressive body of work that is true to you. If you find other productivity boosts that work for you, I’d love to hear about them!


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Debbie Young

Debbie Young is the UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors and the author of fiction and non-fiction. Her Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series, which currently stands at five novels, begins with Best Murder in Show, and the first in her new Staffroom at St Bride’s series, Secrets at St Bride’s, was published in August 2019. Debbie’s author website is authordebbieyoung.com, and you can find her on Twitter at @DebbieYoungBN and on Facebook at facebook.com/AuthorDebbieYoung. Headshot Credit: Angela Fitch Photography