Last week I succumbed to a dose of bacterial conjunctivitis, or “Pink Eye” as everyone calls it here. Our daughter Keira suffered badly the previous week and was unable to open her eyes at all for two and half days. I was immediately quarantined (as Keira had been) by Nurse Titi Nightingale and confined to the bedroom with strict instructions as to what I could touch (not a lot) and what I couldn’t (mostly everything), and to wash my hands and face every 4 minutes. I did as I was told, and administered eye drops every few hours to speed along the recovery. As it turned out I suffered a great deal less than Keira and I avoided temporary blindness.
What to do though – stuck in a room patiently waiting for the infection to run its course?
Sitting down to write, maybe?
A Bit of warm-up Reading
The previous week I read Rachel Aaron’s article on how she increased her written output to an incredible 10,000 words per day. Browsing around Amazon I came across a huge selection of potential titles tempting me to part with a few dollars: “Write Your Novel In 2 Weeks !!” and “Become A Publishing Gazillionaire in 7 Days” type of stuff.
The week before I read Write. Publish. Repeat. – definitely worth the money and firmly along the lines of if you don’t do the work you ain’t gonna get anywhere. The authors themselves have a prodigious level of output, hence my interest in what it’s possible to write in one day, or one week, or one month. Can you really write a book in 2 weeks? I’m always wary of books with titles offering instant success at anything, so I did a bit more searching.
I played it safe and got a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing, completing it the day before I came down with the Pink Eye. Kings states his output as around 2,000 words per day. As a hugely experienced author his words are likely infinitely more polished in first draft than the scribblings of us mere mortals. He suggested a starting target of 1,000 words a day – that’s 1,000 words of decent copy for a novel or a short story. He referenced the words-per-day output of other well-known authors, ranging from 500 to 12,000. This poked my intrigue again – is it possible to write this many words in one day?
So, with not a lot to do, and with permission from Nurse Titi to touch pen and paper, I set myself down for a challenge:
10,000 words, handwritten, one day…..
The 10,000 Word Challenge
When I write my Morning Pages it’s 2 or 3 pages of A4, takes 20-30 minutes, and results in 650-1000 words. A rough calculation told me I needed to fill 30 pages to complete 10,000 words, and 5 hours of pen on paper, broken into sessions since the hand muscles (mine anyway) are not capable of 5 hours of straight handwriting.
No problem – plenty of time today.
I began at 9:35am, and recorded each session start and end time. The following day I performed a word-count. Here are the results:
After 5 hours and 43 minutes of actual writing time I was a shade shy of the 10,000 word target. Another 16 minutes would have taken me past the 10k.
The words-per-minute for the first two sessions were below the overall average, then a spike, and the remaining sessions settled around 27-28 words per minute. The spike I put down to two things: a massive caffeine boost after 4 cups of coffee during the morning, and very interesting writing content resulting in a speedy flow of words.
Coming up short of the 10,000 word target is no big deal – proving whether I could do it was the primary purpose of the exercise, and the answer to that is yes. 10,000 words a day every day is a different matter – until my bionic thumb and forefinger arrive by special delivery, or I learn a few new tricks.
The Need for Speed
Prior to taking up this challenge I’d set myself a target of 10,000 words a week, roughly in line with Kings 2,000 words a day, Monday through Friday. Any words – good or bad. At stream-of-consciousness speed this amounts to around an hour a day of writing. When writing, proofing, formatting and polishing a piece for this blog, or an article for someone else, my effective output (ie number of words vs total time) drops to around 250-350 words per hour, say 3-4 hours for a reasonable length post suitable for publication. Achieving 2,000 good quality words a day at current rate is a full days work.
Increasing the rate of quality output is the goal, and achieving that goal (I think) is primarily down to firming up the writing habit, writing in the right environment, and with the right preparation. Dictation is an option, and I’ve put GoogleDocs voice typing through a few test cases. At present I find it tricky to dictate words in a similar voice as the handwritten words put directly to paper, or typed directly into a document. The slower flow when typing or handwriting allows my brain to keep up, and the result is reasonably sensible and readable. With more practice the potential increase in output through voice typing is significant – say 150-200 words per minute of first draft vs 30 words per minute handwriting or typing.
Going back to Rachel’s article, she illustrates a triangle of effectiveness with three key factors – Time, Enthusiasm, and Knowledge: enough time to achieve a state of flow, commencing in the right state of mind, and prior knowledge (or an outline) of the content. The job is nigh on impossible with of any one of these factors absent. Get all three in place and the words fly onto the page.
Before I sat down and actually wrote 10,000 words in one day (well – 9,549) the sheer number seemed ridiculous. One hundred keepy-uppies with a football also seems ridiculous – about 3 would be the upper limit on that for me. Achieving any given standard of any activity – piano playing or weightlifting, ballet dancing or boxing, computer programming or crochet – they all require practice, and practice transforms into habit, or muscle memory, or some (seemingly) magical intuition. So, as recommended by a few of the successful authors mentioned here, I guess I’d better get on and Do The Work !!
Stephen Kings’ On Writing and Write. Publish. Repeat. by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant both come highly recommended by me and many others – just check out the customer reviews! Click on an image to visit and purchase through Amazon UK, US, Spain or Canada – you will be automatically directed to the most appropriate store. As an Amazon affiliate I will receive a commission on purchases through these links. Thank you!
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