Here’s a fun little experiment to try. Open up that word processor and just go for it, I mean go until you can’t write anymore. What are you writing about? Anything you want, just don’t get stuck on details, authenticity, perfection, story, or character arc. Just type for at least an hour or so.
Ok, what’s your word count? Did you get a solid 500 out without staring into space? Did you fly by the 1,000 mark? Impressive. This gives you a good idea of your daily word count. The number of words you can type without a ton of stops or distractions.
Now, is this going to be the number of words you type every day? Well, no, writing is a creative process like any other, it comes and goes in waves. But once you have a daily word count to at least shoot for, you’ll be able to really maximize your productivity. Check these numbers out:
2,000 a day = 60,000 in a month
1,000 a day = 60,000 in two months
500 a day = 60,000 in 4-5 months
300 a day = 60,000 in 7 months
And if the average novel is 60,000-80,000 words. 60,000 is a great goal to shoot for a first draft.
Outside of fiction, there are other reasons to know your Daily Word Count.
Many freelance writing jobs ask for how many articles you could produce in a day or week. Or the requirements entail being able to produce 3-5 articles a week. Before you start applying for gigs, it’s important to know how much you can write, what your strengths are, what articles would take more of time, etc.
The first draft of my first novel took five years to complete. I know, that’s a long time. I had this vision of the novel being an arduous process. But then I read something by the best of them, Stephen King. In his book On Writing, he talked about how a first draft should never take longer than 3 months. 3 months! I had spent a lot of time thinking that good meant a really long time to create. Now with Stephen King’s advice, that was turned completely upside down.
How many words would I have to get onto the page to actually get a draft done in 3 months? I opened my laptop and just decided to go for it. I whizzed past 700 like a Nascar driver careening past the first curve. To my surprise at the end of my experiment I had 2,000 words. So, that’s how they do it, those NaNoWriMo geniuses. And sure, let’s be honest, 75% of those 2,000 words might be slop. At the end of the month, you won’t have a shiny jewel fit for the Nobel. Instead, you have a finished first draft. And that’s something.
Getting past the first draft hump can be quite the production. I am guilty of just putting the first draft aside and starting another project because it seemed like more fun. But that was because it had taken me so long to finish that first draft. Instead, thanks to completely reworking my writing routine, the editing and rewrite stages aren’t so grueling. I haven’t exhausted all my oomph on the first draft.
Why does the number matter in freelance terms? If you’re trying to freelance full time, part time or just as your side hustle, you spend most of your time networking, pitching articles, sending queries and updating social media. I know, you had visions of sitting in your lakeside cottage, crafting perfect prose while the rain patters against your window. Staring wistfully while holding a steaming cup of coffee. But the reality isn’t nearly so romantic. That’s why the word count matters. When your pitch is finally accepted, when the research is done and it’s time to write, when you actually have three hours to just focus on your novel, you want to get the most of your output. Having the stamina to churn out more words a day will only help. Help get your manuscript past the first draft hump, help keep your daily writing goals, and help monetize your writing.
When I found out that Stephen King could get a draft done in 3 months, it was the kick in the pants I needed. No more stalling under the guise of “doing research” or “letting the story marinate”. Yes, I’ve actually said that as an excuse for why I was watching Stranger Things on Netflix instead of writing. It’s all about having more to work with earlier in the process and keeping those juices churning. You can polish it like a rock tumbler for hours later.