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Writing Speed
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Michael Allen, at Grumpy Old Bookman, has an interesting entry about National Novel Writing Month. In addition to giving some information about the contest, including some participants who subsequently sold their novels, he talks about writing speed:
"'s certainly possible to write 50,000 words in a month. Thomas Wolfe, it is said, used to stand outside the homes of other writers and chant 'I wrote ten thousand words today!' At least he did until they took to emptying buckets over him. And Gore Vidal claims to have written his Edgar Box detective novels (60,000 words) in a week: 10,000 a day for six days, and then one day to 'tidy it up.' But then he is a frightfully clever chap.

"Closer to home, I once wrote a 75,000 word novel in a total of 125 hours, but my working average for time/words is about 3 hours per 1,000 words. Roughly 1 hour per 1,000 words in planning, 1 hour to write, and 1 hour to revise. So a 100,000 novel can be expected to take 300 hours, or 6 hours a week (3 evenings at 2 hours a time) for a year. You have to be keen."

Christopher Garcia, editor of the zine The Drink Tank, reports that he finished his 50,000 words in 35 hours of actual writing. That's over 1400 words per hour -- practically as fast as I can type.

I've never attempted to time my fiction writing, and it wouldn't be very instructive at any rate because Mary and I co-write. Once one of us takes first whack at a scene, we trade the file back and forth until it's nicely finished or we're tired of arguing about it.

Since I do most of my "rewriting" as I write (thanks to the wonders of word processors), I end up initially with something quite a bit sounder than the traditional "first draft." What's needed, in most cases, is polishing. I've found I usually manage a single short chapter or scene in a full working day. The average is around 1500 words, but I tend to produce more or less depending on the length of the section involved.

During the past few years I've managed to arrange my work so that I can devote full days to nothing but fiction. I find that more interesting ideas occur to me when I'm able to concentrate on a story for hours on end. I can sit down and write from my outline for an hour, but at the end I'm not likely to have added anything that wasn't in the outline.

Typically, I compose a scene by first expanding the few sentences in the outline into a more detailed course of action, noting down a progression of events and where I want to add certain information. Then I write. Almost always, despite that I will have gathered up pertinent historical notes, I need to stop to look something up. This morning I thought I was about to start writing when I realized I had to find out where the brake was on a 19th century steam powered automobile.

No matter how you look at it, though, 1500 words for a full day is slow, particularly considering that those 1500 words are far from the final version (only my own contribution), and that a large amount of research and outlining has to be done before the actual writing begins.

Exactly how many hours I spend putting words to screen on a given day, I couldn't tell you, so there's no way I can estimate my words per hour. One thing I do know is that my words of fiction per hour while I'm writing a blog is zero.

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