Writing Output by the Numbers
Something that comes up a lot when I do interviews or Q&A’s is the amount I write per-year. This is not me making overtures of being the most productive writer out there, trust me I know some folks are living at their computer putting up numbers I’ll never touch. But, I’ve released 3 full-length books per year, and some whose word-counts would have made them 2 – 4 books under a normal publisher, which isn’t nothing. There’s no big trick to it, although I think once we break down some time and output equations you might be surprised by what’s achievable. As always, the methods detailed are my own, what works for me, and should be tossed aside if they don’t click with your style.
We’ve talked before about the different management styles, and how I work best under a daily quota system. That simply means I write a certain amount of words/chapters per weekday. I’ve covered that bit in general before, so what makes today different is we’re digging into specifics.
Currently, my daily quota is 2,000 – 2,500 words, or about one chapter in one of my books. Back when I started, it was around 3,500 – 4,000, but after a year or so I had to scale-back, that wasn’t a sustainable pace. Now, 2k words per day might not sound like much, which is part of the problem. Writing a book is intangible, you can work for months and feel like you’ve made no progress.
Let’s really break that down, though. An average year has roughly 260 weekdays in it. There’s also federal holidays and what-not that you’ll probably get swept up in, so let’s take it down to an even 250 to work with. 2,000 words per day multiplied by 250 working days equals out to 500,000 words. For those not used to looking at books in terms of wordcounts, the minimum for a novel is 50k, most (in my comparable genres) clock in at 80k – 120k, with some of the heavy fantasy stuff breaking past that. Or, to relate it directly to my own works, the Fred books average 80k, the SS&S series has been landing around 120k – 140k in later books, and The SP books were in the 200k – 300k range, with Year 4 coming in at about 450,000 words.
What that all comes out to mean is that by writing that 2k per day, you would be able to pen five average-sized novels, three or four if you went for the meatier tales, or all the way to nine or ten small books. Now, obviously that model has some flaws, there’s no time blocked off for illness or vacation, it doesn’t address the other work you’ll need to do like editing, marketing, and design, all of which takes time on top of the writing. The point here is to stop thinking of your books as these impossible mountain climbs, and more as different sized jars you’re slowly filling with your words.
This whole system isn’t entirely hypothetical either. For the past year or so, I’ve been using similar methodologies to plan out books and releases. When I know how much I produce, and can take a rough estimate of how many words a book will need, it makes it easier to figure out how to arrange the schedule for maximum productivity.
Take 2019, the year we’re in as of this writing. Some folks might notice that the books getting released are either part of smaller style series, such as Fred #6 and 5-Minute Sherlock, or utilize some existing material, like Underqualified Advice. That’s because when I broke down the year, I knew the vast majority of my words had to go to Villains’ Code #2. With the last one clocking in at 275k, I have to account for the sequel potential to hit 300k, which takes up a big chunk of my year. Had I attempted something bigger, like another Spells, Swords, & Stealth, both probably would have run over, resulting in fewer-to-no releases this year.
A lot of this will take time, and one of the most important features is figuring out your optimal production. And please note that I used “optimal” not “maximum” here. It’s not about finding the max you can do, it has to be something you can keep up with as the years wear on. For me, right now, it’s 2k per weekday. Some folks do 1k every day, rain or shine. Some do days and days of 5k sprints then stop for a week. The shape of your best method doesn’t matter, only that you find it. Once you have an idea of what you can produce consistently, over a long period of time, then you gain the ability to start actually predicting your book output with reasonable accuracy.
Now don’t forget to pad your schedule as you go about this process. While my output would theoretically hit 500k per year, I never actually book that much writing in my plan. Things go wrong, books run long, life gets in the way. Give yourself wiggle room, block out some time for vacation, don’t think that you can do this job without rest simply because it doesn’t require wearing a tie or working in a cubicle. Just like you would with your body, plan time for recovery, and to go have new experiences.
Whatever pace you settle on, just remember to keep aware of how it’s going, and adjust as needed. You get the most productivity by lasting the long haul in this gig, so don’t overload yourself in the early years and burn out. Find your pace, write your words, and you’ll be surprised how fast those metaphorical word count jars fill up.