And Now, An Insight Into One Writer’s Brain

So, here’s what my brain says to me when I write a certain amount of words of fiction in a day.

500 words (or less): YOU DO NOT GET TO EAT YOU WORTHLESS TOAD.

1,000 words: You’re a slacker. Do better tomorrow.

2,000 words: You’ve hit quota! Have a donut.

3,000 words: ZOMG TODAY SIR YOU WERE ON FIRE.

4,000 words: Whoa, dude. Nice run, but you keep doing this, you’ll collapse a brain lobe.

5,000 words (or above): UUUUNNNGH FLOOOOBA GUNNA UNGH *THUNK*.

The most I’ve ever written in a single day: About 14,000 words. I pretty much slept for three days straight afterwards.

Today I wrote about 5,000 words. Flooooba gunna, dudes. Flooooba gunna, indeed.

66 thoughts on “And Now, An Insight Into One Writer’s Brain

  1. When I was unemployed, I wrote commercial copy on spec for some business web sites. 800 words usually took me about 4 hours, including revisions. But that’s commercial copy. Fiction seems a hell of a lot harder

  2. Out of curiosity, when you have a 5000-word day (or anything above 2000), do you subtract that from the next day (or two)’s quota? When I was working on my dissertation, if I had a good writing day it was really hard to not just totally slack off the next day as I felt that I’d “bought” a day or two of less writing.

  3. Tavern Master, a bushel of donuts and broach a keg of Coke Zero for Scazi for he has done yeoman’s work today!

  4. A point of “nerdy” clarification. How do you count your words? Do you let Microsoft do it for you, or do you type your work in standard manuscript format, count the pages, and then multiply by 250?

  5. Writing 5,000 words in day seems like a very hard task. Writing 5,000 words that meant to be read for leisure seems much, much harder. My hat is off to you!

  6. Wow. Slack indeed. I once wrote a document about 6000 words long. It took me 8 months. I can’t imagine writing that many words in a day.

  7. Man, your brain says roughly the same things mine does, at about the same thresholds too. My record is a little over 7k in a single day, but I also sat down and wrote 4k per day for the next three days after that, so I guess I didn’t blow that gasket too badly :)

  8. Funny: I started using Google Docs for the first time on Saturday. It’s the installed word processor for the operating system I was reviewing. A netbook focused one that avoids the main issue that CR-48 had.

  9. I hope this is not a stupid question but, when you say you wrote 14,000 words are they all good? I mean did you write 25,000 and only 14k of them stayed in the work or you wrote 14,000 and -with a tiny editing job – they all stay or you wrote 14,000 and with some luck 5k will see the light of day? Could you wake up tomorrow and look at the day & say “WTF was I thinking?” toss it all & have to start again?

  10. We are very close in word count compulsion.

    1,369,450 words of prose fiction ago, 6 July 2010, I doubled my daily quota to 2,000 words/day. A dozen novel manuscripts ago, and twice as many shorter fitcions. I don’t count my daily Math and nonfiction Science in that. nor poetry, nor blogs and Facebook.

    13,000 words was the most of any of those days.

    I don’t know my maximum word count of any day ever. There was 84 pages of finished internally published polished technical writing on a day at the Boeing Kent Space Center,, somewhere between 1979 and 1983, when I dictated to typists by phone, who opertaed Ta Xerox Star, courired me laserprint, and I courired back redlines.

    Thw women could type 100-120 wpm, double my best, and they had tghe state-of-the-art stand-alone word processor.

    Felt like I’d choppered in and out of a combat mission. Useless for two or three days after.

  11. Call me a complete idiot, but when I was a student in the days before computers and word processing software, I never did get the hang of “write x thousand words” vs “write ten pages”. I always preferred having the page count for a writing assignment, because I never had the first damn clue how many words I was putting to paper. Kids these days with their fancy computer software that counts the words for you! You don’t know how good you have it!

    :-)

  12. Clarence Rutherford:

    “when you say you wrote 14,000 words are they all good?”

    You can read the last couple of chapters of The Android’s Dream and tell me.

  13. Pardon my typos. I’m using my wife’s laptop. My son got the replacement motherboard working for the in-progress new PC. In a day or two he’ll install the OS, and transfer several thousand Word and PDF files from the old PC, which power-offs as many as 7 times per 5 hours.

  14. @Jennifer: page count needs more information to be meaningful. Single spaced 7 point Cordia with a 5mm margin is quite different to double spaced 12pt Courier with an editors margin. I print the former in two columns when I have to print stuff to read or refer to.

    At school with handwriting especially, there was a gulf between the beautiful near-copperplate writing of some of the girls who could fill a page with 250 words, and the tiny laborious scrawl that I eventually produced that took a couple of thousand words to fill a page. Which hurt when teachers blithely said “I want one page on ‘what I did in my holiday’ by lunchtime”. I recall my record was something over 10k words on “both sides of an A4″ but that included two diagrams and a map (I was actually trying to cram stuff in then, though).

  15. Xopher @8:22

    I LOLed! I sang it to my wife who just gave me a LOOK like you and me both sprouted extra heads. Sigh.

  16. I can put out a 500 word essay rather easily. 1,200 to 1,500 takes some thinking. Once I hit 2,000 words my efficiency starts to drops off and my spelling suffers.
    Then again, I don’t write pay copy every day like most of you commenting. I imagine that if I did so, I would get better and more fluid.
    I should just write everyday, good or bad, and see what happens. I might have a story or two in here somewhere but we’ll never know unless I give it a shot.

  17. Now has boom de yadda stuck in my head. Aarrgghhh.
    On topic – I knocked out the last (30-odd page) chapter of my thesis in a few days. The subsequent brain-fade was considerable.
    I find that I can write in 500 word chunks without too much effort, so when I’m writing, I try to write in several 500 word bursts per day. I get more done that way than if I settle in for one long session.

  18. Gah! Just thinking about this, a vein behind my right eye started throbbing. I mean, today I knocked out 30-40 words of scriping on my web comic (Victorian Chicks in Space; hoping to have first page up before I hit 20 years of development) but that’s just notes for myself. After that I was only good for going outside and digging post holes.

  19. I’m generally a slacker, but I once did 50,000 words in one week. That was when I saw the light at the end of the tunnel on my first book, and I just couldn’t stop until it was done!

  20. Interesting. I reckon on producing around 250 (edited, final text) words an hour;
    the difference between the amateur and the professional. (Those are 2-10 page
    semi-technical papers, not books; I’d expect writing a book to be a lot harder.)

    Will

  21. Is it selfish of me to hope these were 14K fictiony words that I will like rather than some other, no doubt lucrative but otherwise of no interest to the masses words?

    Yeah I know I just read Redshirts but I need more goddamit!

  22. As a translator, I’d say that those numbers apply to my field too. Depending on the project, 3000 may be a necessity, but more than a week of that means burnout. Content matters, too. Turgid managerese or legal, or something super technical where I have to look up a lot of terms is more demanding than video game dialog, where I get paid for “oof” and “aarrgh”.

  23. @Xopher: Thanks a lot for getting that song stuck in my head AGAIN. With a more caveman-like chorus, of course.

    *boom de yada, flooba gunna, boom de yada, flooba gunna…*

  24. Out of curiosity, how many words are there in a novel the size of Old Man’s War? It’d be interesting to break it down into a rough percentage of the finished work.

  25. I am going to print this post and pin it to the wall behind and just above my monitor.
    BTW, I scored 8256 words today. Flooooba gunna to me too !

  26. Wow, that’s a lot of words. For certain thousands of words of output, I just think like the rabbits in “Watership Down”: 1K, 2K, 3K, ‘a lot’. My personal quota is set at 500 words a day (enough to make your brain snort in derision, sadly), but I usually exceed it. I’ve found it a lot easier to maintain the momentum since I started up a spreadsheet in which I track my daily output. Seeing it right there on the screen really drives it home!

    (If it’s not too much of a thread derail, may I ask what your impressions of Google Docs are, and why you’re using that instead of [insert word processor here]? I’ve considered using it, but I tend to be a little wary of ‘cloud’ type stuff. Apologies if you wrote a post answering precisely these questions at some recent point and I missed it….)

  27. So you are saying you knocked out 14,000 words and kept them all!? Now I have something else to feel inadiquate about 8-{(

  28. When I attempt to write a novel, I always aim for 2,000 words a day. My most was 7,000 (which pales in comparison to 14,000), but I also managed to get 5,000 the next day. One of these days I will hit the 10k mark!

  29. Gazziza, Dave!

    (I think just hearing about 5,000 words a day turned my brain into Flubber. And I didn’t write any of them.)

  30. Tsauro’s boss said, “If you can do it today, you can do it everyday.”

    Yeah. If he believes that, he’s never talked to somebody who finished a marathon for the first time.

  31. I swear if those 5000 wiords were not part of chapter 9 —– “The Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book Four – Rock of Martyrdom” I am going to weep kittens.

  32. As a translator, I’d say that these numbers are pretty good for our field, too. Oh, I see I’m not the first to make this observation. Ditto to everything @demetriosx said above. The hardest type of text to translate is the kind where the thoughts being expressed are very tightly wrapped up in the unique style of the source language, different from the target language, and the ideas have to be unraveled as with a tangled, knotted ball of yarn before they can be re-expressed. This can apply equally to very good or very bad writing, and highly technical or non-technincal writing. The easiest type of text to translate is when the writer is highly influenced by the target language, and there is not much to do in terms of changing the style. Again, this can apply to good or bad, technical or literary.

    In the former case, a day spent at high output has to be followed by a day—or at least several hours—self-editing, correcting and refining. So the rates above apply to production days, not total days (production + editing). I guess the same can be said of fiction writing.

  33. A third translator here (hello demetriosx and Margaret Schroeder). I have, on rare and extremely unpleasant occasion, translated 10,000 or more words in a day. It takes a few days to recover from that, it’s exhausting and I am downright stupid (terrible short term memory, inability to understand complex ideas) for a day or so afterwards.

    5,000 words in a day leaves me tired, but I’ll recover with a good night’s sleep and time away from the screen.

  34. I can type 14,000 words in under a minute.

    Step 1: Open Word (Yes, I know it sucks)

    Step 2: Write “Words”.

    Step 3: Copy “Words”.

    Step 4: Paste “Words” to next space.

    Step 5: Goto Step 3 14,000 times.

    Step 6: When that loop is over study Math Stats.

    Aaaaaaaand DONE!

  35. @scorpius: Good plan, here’s a shortcut. For Step 5, hit the F4 key (MS Office generic shortcut for “repeat last command”, extremely useful), confirm that it’s working, then put something heavy (a stapler works really well) on your F4 key. In mere seconds you’ve written a novel, albeit a somewhat boring one.

  36. Step 5: should have said “Goto step 4″ 13,999 times.

    Or just put into basic.

    10 Print “words ”
    20 goto 10

    run.

    I told that joke to a stats class and they didn’t get it. Apparently Public school students these days don’t learn to program in basic, if they learn to program. What’s the world coming to? (no, I don’t teach HSers I help the bad products of our failed public school system understand basic math and statistics at the college level.)

  37. So. Do you count only your fiction words per day or all of your words including your blogs and such?
    If I get 500 per day on my fiction I’m stoked but then again I’m not paying the bills with it either.

  38. One of the advantages of not having any part of my revenue stream depend on writing is my brain doesn’t talk back to me.

    I write about 1,500 words per hour when I’m writing story, but I takes about twice as long again to edit the same amount. Generally I’ll have two evenings a week I devote to writing, where I’ll type in the ballpark of 2,000 to 2,500 words and then edit the last session’s output. This takes about 4 to 5 hours and is by far my biggest time sink outside of school and other work. It doesn’t actually matter how much I write, but OpenOffice Writer tells me anyway.

    Writing is one of the few activities on which I don’t place a stringent time limit; I get too wrapped up in it to hold myself to a cutoff time. Why would anyone spend eight to ten hours a week writing stories solely for his or her own enjoyment? Because I’d be climbing the walls if I didn’t have that creative outlet. Plus, I get manifestly dumber if I don’t write fiction.

    That said, the only writing I’ve done professionally was a few of non-fiction books, and those took way longer to get done and were work (as opposed to play). Also, deadlines are a real mood killer. Fiction is a helluva lot easier, especially when it’s not for anyone else.

    Oh, and when I have a new story idea I like enough to write down, I’ll generally write a few thousand words of character and setting development so that, when I sit down to write it, I have my bearings. This “set building” is a process I do in the nooks and crannies of my day on my tablet (or PDA before I bought a tablet), so I actually have no idea how long it takes as it’s usually scattered over several months. I probably type those notes pretty quickly, but then there’s getting them organized.

    Writing a thesis on nonlinear quantum algorithms is a whole other kind of effort since most of the work is logic and math with a few short paragraphs here and there to explain myself. I’m fueled by caffeine and the hope that some future quantum CS student will suffer through it like I suffered through my undergrad Algorithms class.

    @ scorpius

    Apparently Public school students these days don’t learn to program in basic, if they learn to program. What’s the world coming to?

    I thought BASIC was the bee’s knees when my dad taught it to me as a kid. Then I found out about (the then still new) C++ and realize almost every other language was superior. Of course, nowadays kids think Java is a replacement for C++, and I’m firmly convinced this is Skynet’s way of making sure no one can reprogram it when it comes online.

    (no, I don’t teach HSers I help the bad products of our failed public school system understand basic math and statistics at the college level.)

    At least it hasn’t left you cynical :-)

  39. The highest I have ever done is 18,000 words in one day. It took 15 hours of almost non-stop writing to achieve and was the catalyst for my current bout of Carpal Tunnel / Golfer’s Elbow (much better now thanks). I used to aim for 10,000 words a day, but now I settle for 5,000 to ensure I don’t break my hands any more than they are right now. Of those 18,000 words I added around 2,000 and cut 1,000 (misspellings, poor phrasing, trash writing). I don’t edit down much compared to others.

    (In regards to what I’ve seen online. Very few have produced more than 15,000 words in a day. Most are in the low 1,000s [1,000-3,000] per day. It can also be mentioned that with my style I do not edit much more than fixing typos, so everything I write is sellable, and I do it as I write, so when I say 5,000 words I mean finished words – double checked and corrected. I use Dragon Naturally Speaking to draft and my hands to rewrite. Accuracy is 90% as I am not American [accent recognition], so I work around 5 hours a day at writing, plus 2 or 3 making covers, blurbs, publishing and so on. I write about 130,000 words a month [sometimes I'm dead tired as I work part time at a company as well and have family]. I sell well on all stores.)

    # I have made this response here as I have been unable to find much on this subject online. I want people to see this response, so they can find the answer to this question. Feel free to copy and paste this response anywhere you wish. I have provided a link to my Amazon page and if you order by publication then do the math on the product pages you can note how much I write in one month. (Note: The story I wrote the 18,000 words into is called UltraViolent.) If you would like to see my Amazon Rankings via a list try searching on http://www.salesrankexpress.com/

  40. As an aside, I wrote 2,000 words a day after the big stint, but had had a 15,000 day two days before. Usually I’m consistent at 5,000 without fail now-a-days. No extra rest required.

  41. Flooooba Gunna is my new mantra. My best writing day ever was just under 15k, and the next three days were spent in a gelatin-eating daze. I kept writing, but I’m not sure I kept any of those words from the dazed days. It’s best not to turn your brain into pudding. I try to keep it between 2-5k now when I’m in writing mode. Right now, it’s editing. Next week, editing a different novel. Then, it’s back to writing, and Flooooba Gunna time!

  42. That is crazy town how similar my brain-to-words ratio matches yours. I’ve pulled a few 10k days and 12k days near the end of NaNoWriMo, but I always feel like someone scooped my skull clean with a putty knife for a few days. Mental fatigue affecting the body is always a strange feeling.

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