This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Welcome to our writing advice column, where you’ll find bestselling author Julie Cohen answering reader questions! Hit a roadblock or have a writing-related query? Drop them in the comments and keep your eyes peeled for Julie’s response in later columns.
Even when I put a full day of writing in, I only ever seem to be able to get a max of 1000 words down. Do you have any advice for upping my daily word count?
Eat more chocolate.
…No, wait. That is BAD ADVICE. Let me start again:
For word-oriented people, writers seem obsessed with numbers! We compare ourselves to each other all the time. We look at how many words others write per day, how many books others sell, how many books others have written, how many hours a day other writers work, how long it takes other writers to write a book, how many pages other writers’ chapters have, how many words are in other writers’ books, how many main characters other writers have…
The truth is, that writing is not a science. It is an art, and a craft. There is no exact formula for any of it. Every single thing varies, according to author, according to book, according to the direction of the wind. In my opinion, 1000 words a day is a very respectable amount. 1000 words is 1% of an entire normal-sized novel. If you wrote 1000 words a day every day, you would have a novel draft finished in less than four months! And different writers just write differently. I find, personally, that 1000 to 2000 words a day is a good goal for me. Some days I can write more…but those days are few and far between.
It’s much more common for me to write less. On the other hand, I have writer friends who can write something absolutely crazy like 8000 words a day. If I tried to do that, my prose would start to make very little sense. My fingers would seize up and my back would ache. My brain is just not that big and my body is not that strong. My brain and body are comfortable with 1000 to 2000 words a day. If you find that you are working well and steadily, and that you can produce 1000 words or something like it more or less consistently, then maybe that is just your normal pace of writing. Be proud of it! However, there are a few things you can try, if you want to see if you can up the word count.
The first one is DON’T EDIT. Just write. Don’t spend any time allowing yourself to look back over your work—just push on. There’s a rather horrible website called Write or Die which starts deleting your work if you pause for too long. I don’t recommend this because it is sort of evil but you get the principle. I used to have a neat little tool called an Alphasmart which was like a typewriter with a tiny screen, so you could only see about 10 lines of text at once. It was terrible for editing on, but great for writing, so I tended to get a lot written on it. I’m sure you could do something similar, if you were strong-willed, just by making your word document window really small.
Writing by hand can also help in the same way, because it’s harder to go back and cross out stuff than it is to change it on a screen. Especially if you write on really small pieces of paper and don’t look back at what you’ve written. Sometimes, really planning what you are going to do before writing can help you write more quickly. I used to use my commute to and from work to think through my book, so when I came to write, I was raring to go.
Another idea is to set a higher goal—say 1200 words—and make a pact with yourself not to allow yourself to stop at all until you get there, even if you have to write utter rubbish to do so. You might get to 800 words and think, ‘I have no idea what the next 400 words should be’, and then just write ‘Who knows who knows who knows’ over and over 200 times.
Or maybe, just maybe, after 100 iterations of ‘who knows’, you might suddenly come up with the most brilliant sentence which you were not expecting at all! And that might unlock a whole new idea which means you write another 500 words without even noticing. Of course, you should try to remove distractions, give yourself frequent breaks, and try to build some sort of exercise into your day.
If all else fails: eat more chocolate.
Love, Julie x
Julie Cohen has had 20 books published under her own name and pseudonyms, selling nearly a million copies and being translated into 15 languages. Several have won or been shortlisted for awards, including the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Award and the National Readers’ Choice Award. Her novel Dear Thing was a summer 2014 Richard and Judy Book Club pick.
Julie is also a popular speaker and teacher of creative writing, tutoring courses for Penguin Random House Academy, The Guardian, Literature Wales, The Victoria and Albert Museum, and Writers’ Workshop. She runs a fiction consultancy business, with several of her clients having gone on to publication. Her latest book is Where Love Lies.