This is topic Breaking in: word rate and lifetime wordcount in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by Brad R Torgersen (Member # 8211) on :
Just because I think this is its own thread...

KayTi, sorry, didn't mean to give the world a heart attack. I agree with you that any writing of any sort can count towards the "homework," as long as the person doing the writing is paying at least a little attention to structure, flow, re-reading before they click SEND to see if the message is coherent, etc.

For instance, I would not consider texting and text-ish language as effective practice because it's often a garbled mess done in little bursts while the person is already distracted doing something else. Even twitter doesn't seem like a good format for practice. I think e-mail works, as do message boards like this one, because you have to type in paragraph structure with more or less proper sentences, etc.

But -- and get ready for the heart attack! -- if I were to factor in all of my e-mail and bulletin board activity going all the way back to about 1990, combined with a lot of early "dabbler" writing I did as pseudo-fanfic going back to 1985, then I am sure I've got many millions of words under my hood. Many millions.

Having said that, I hope people don't think there is a set benchmark and that once you crest half a million or a million words of fiction, the light magically goes on and suddenly you have this dramatic jump. My experience is that it's been a very slow process and things improve gradually, and will liably keep improving (I hope) for the rest of my life, as I just keep coming back to the keyboard and doing the work.

Now, having said THAT, I would argue that 1,000 words per month is simply too slow for fiction. That sounds more like a poet's rate. I'd encourage anyone clocking 1,000 a month on fiction -- commercial style prose -- to punch it up to at least 1,000 words a week, with an end goal of eventually getting to 1,000 words a day, or at least several thousand words per week at the end of every week.

That's ***IF*** they have an objective of becoming a regularly-selling writer at pro level.

If the goal is NOT to become a regularly selling writer, but something else, then whatever word rate you want, works. It's your goals and your time, and maybe a much slower pace is what you have to keep in order to produce things that you like?

Me, on a good day -- good meaning no interruptions and I can write for about 7 or 8 hours straight, with bathroom and snack breaks -- I can clock about 10,000 words. That's my tippy-top rate, with a deadline of some sort staring me in the face. Ideally, I prefer a more reasonable 2,000 to 3,000 daily word rate, with a couple of days off during the week for other "life" stuff and down time for projects and family. So if I can log 10K to 15K a week, I think I've had a good week. And 10K to 15K a week is what I've been striving for in 2010, and I've already written more in the last 3-1/2 months than I wrote in the previous 3-1/2 years combined.

Bottom line is, I think there is almost no way to avoid this kind of "exercise" for writers. Once in a great while some talented freak -- and I do mean freak in the best sense of that word -- can come right in, and be golden from word one. I decided long ago I was not that freak, and never would be. I am just ordinary, perhaps to a fault, so I have no choice but to slog away.

[This message has been edited by Brad R Torgersen (edited March 18, 2010).]

Posted by Brad R Torgersen (Member # 8211) on :
Oh, one more thing. Sometimes I think early success hampered me. First time I really sat down and did fiction for the purpose of being published in any form by an outside entity, I did scripting for a spoken-word SF serial on the radio. It was enormously good fun, I had a great time, and the episodes were -- if phone calls and early e-mail from fans is any indication -- well received.

That was 1992-1993, and my immediate thought was, "Wow, this is actually easy, I ought to be able to jump over to short stories and novels without any problem!"

Heh. I am glad nobody told me in autumn of 1993 that it would be autumn of 2009 before I won Writers of the Future, and then winter of 2010 before I actually sold my first novelette at professional pay to a venerable print market. I'd have either said they were nuts, or were shamming me, or I'd have run away in horror at how looooooooooooooooooong it would take me.

Now, having said this, I want people to understand that Brad R. Torgersen is the world's biggest f***ing slacker. I repeat, Brad R. Torgersen has the worst writing work ethic in the universe. No discipline. None at all.

By 1997 I'd accrued a healthy pile of rejection slips, some of which had personal notes saying, "This almost made it!"

And my biggest mistake -- I can see the mistake clear as a bell -- is that I SLOWED DOWN in my writing. I took the wrong lesson. I thought, wow, I am getting close, I need to polish! I need to really take my time and get it right! And suddenly the hopeful rejections stopped, and I got fewer rejections overall because I had much less work going out. So of course what did I do, me who is already a slacker with no work ethic? I slowed down EVEN MORE....

Well, the end result of that colosal blunder in thinking, was production that dragged to a crawl. Eventually I ceased doing short fiction altogether, switched over to writing RPG pencil and dice game stuff, combined with some abortive novel projects -- none of which saw the light of day or were ever finished -- and by the time my daughter was born in 2003 I wasn't writing hardly anything at all -- yes, that's an intentional double negative. (smirk)

It wasn't until 2005-2006 when my wife kicked me in the butt that I started to crawl back into the fiction game. In 2007 after moving states, and staring at middle age coming fast, I knew I had to either crap, or get off the crapper. Enough with this dream of being published, how could I justify spending any time on something that never got me results I wanted? I knew I'd be getting nowhere with my slacker pace and slacker attitude, so I pretty much started over and began to set goals and get back into it.


What might have happened, if in 1997 when I was getting those personal notes on form rejections, had I **UPPED** my production? Hit it hard. Tried to do what I actually did do ten years later?

Probably, I suspect, I'd be appearing in Writers of the Future vol. XVI instead of XXVI, and I could have sold to one of the digests before the year 2000, and maybe the last ten years could have been spent pounding away at more novel "practice" with, perhaps, a couple of novel sales before 2010?

Hard to say. My point is, I hope everyone who reads this understands that there is no way to run from the work. The work has to get done. It won't do itself. Sometimes, it takes a LOT of work to get even a little bit of a result. Most people won't be able to justify that, for themselves, and they will walk away. Unless they're like me and have a spouse who won't let them walk away. (wink)

Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
The last time I compiled a running word count total for my writing lifetime, it came out at one hundred eighty nine stories and a total of a million three hundred sixty three words. That was in 2000.

I haven't updated it since (for one thing, the disk I kept this list on scrambled last year and I haven't taken the time to update it) and am uncertain of how many stories or how many words I've added to my total.

Some of my list is uncertain...generally it's finished work, but some of it was never completed or rewritten but were substantial accumulations, and there are all sorts of oddities on the list. There's some stuff I haven't counted, either.

At a rough guess, I've added another four hundred thousand words to the total since then, depending on what I count. Took me from 1975 till 1983, eight years, to reach the one million mark, but I haven't gotten close to two million in twenty-seven years.

Posted by Bent Tree (Member # 7777) on :
I wrote my first short story in January 2008. Oddly enough it was published. Since then I have 47 short stories in varying degrees of doneness. Before that I have about two hundred thousand words in volumes of poetry journals which I began in highschool about seventeen years ago. In addition to the short stories I have one novel in rough draft at 87k and two others not complete 27k and 33k. I also have about 16k invested into a screenplay.

I estimate that I have written nearly half a million words in the last two years.

On a daily basis, I write anywhere from 2k to 8k even up to 12k when you factor in my daily journal and creative journal, which I write abstracts, Situations, and other story Ideas.

As for breaking in, I got a bunch of token pubs, but this year is going to be the year I make a name for myself. I was just waiting for Brad to win so I could enter WOTF again and win. After I do that, I will be able to sell my novel, which is based from the same milieu as my upcoming entry. That and I have about six top-notch stories that are going to hit the Pro Markets in the next few months. This is going to be my year!


Posted by shimiqua (Member # 7760) on :
I hope so Bent Tree.

I've noticed in my own writing that the more I write, the less important every single word is. That's the lesson for me. The more words I write the more I learn that it is the story that counts, not the prose or the grammar, or even a killer first thirteen. (although these things do help.) The more words I put in the bank, the less precious a story idea becomes. Just one story idea in a net of hundreds. And the more I write, the less scared I am to actually put that story out there to try to be published.

That's why for me, word count does matter. Because the more words I write, the more likely that one day I will see my name in print.


Posted by sholar (Member # 3280) on :
I think that life experience in general is also a factor. More words means you have lived longer. I am much more confident in my writing and as such, much more willing to rip it apart to make it better. Somewhat embarrassing (but also some element of brag in it) story- in college, I took a short story writing class. My teacher said, reading the flash fiction assignments, there is one that really emphasizes everything we were looking for and really, with minimal editing it would be up to submission standards. Tami, will you read your story?

My face turned bright read and I kinda fumbled and pulled out the story and whispered the first line. Teacher said, ok, will you allow someone else to read your short story. I nodded and put my head on the desk while someone else read it. Now, with that setup, I would have been grabbing my story and shouting it on the rooftops. And no, I did not edit or try to submit that story ever. And when I recently went to look for it, I can't find a copy anywhere (we've had a few computers that have met untimely ends).

I think that for me, at least, I needed to gain some maturity and confidence for my work to grow. When I couldn't even handle reading a story to a room that was primed to like it, I wasn't going to be able to write effectively. I also took every comment from crit group and tried to make them all happy, which ruined my stories.

Posted by tchernabyelo (Member # 2651) on :
The most I've ever written in a day was 12,000 words. That was a complete story, literally from idea to first draft completion, in fifteen hours, and it burnt me out for three or four days - not just from writing, but from pretty much anything involving a brain.

I can, however, write 5k or so a day without too much trouble if and when I am in the groove. Rarely more than that.

Over my lifeime - well, just on the stuff I have records of (incomplete WIPs and completed stories), dating back to the early nineties, I have well over 1,000,000 words - I think it's probably about 1.3 million but don't have the precise data handy (I've actually stopped keeping rack as it was proving irrelevant). I certainly wrote a lot even before then, though most of it was really bad and thankfully predates my owning a coputer so no longer exists. That's purely fiction out put, too. I've also run games magazines, and run postal FRP games that used to involve updates of anything up to 20k a time for a single player - that was when I was just cranking it out on a typewriter with a carbon paper so that the player got one copy and I got the other; indeed, the early ones were done on a manual, not even electric, typewriter. I ended up with nine folders of output, each with a couple hundred pages in, so that's probably a million more words right there.

Posted by MrsBrown (Member # 5195) on :
So why are we reading this? Get going! (This means me.)
Posted by KayTi (Member # 5137) on :
Hmm...I don't want to do the math (I type 90 wpm, I've kept journals or that sort of thing for years and years and years and years, I write ridiculously long chatty emails to friends and family all the time, and am already known by my fb friends as the one who replies with a paragraph instead of some pithy but hard to interpret or insider-jokey one-liner. Oh, and add in day job writing for a few eons, I started working at 19 while still in school, and I think it's loads...but I don't want to do the math!)

But thanks for not getting annoyed, Brad.

I think you're right that any kind of writing that isn't text or intended to be short-form is good practice. I'd say that some twitter/facebooking could be useful practice when you're trying to craft just the write sentence to communicate a specific point - not unlike writing poetry. Haikus in particular, lol. But for the most part, regular writing where there's meant to be several paragraphs, logical flow, etc. is the practice that contributes toward improving our skills as writers.

There's a woman I encounter in a volunteer group I work with, I mostly know her online but have met her in person as well. Her emails are COMPLETELY incomprehensible to me. There are run-on sentences, fragments (like she started a thought but forgot to) and misspellings and other major issues affecting readability. It's painful. But in person, she's completely intelligible. It's very odd to me how someone could have so much difficulty communicating in written form when she's perfectly find orally. The worst part? She has no idea she's so incomprehensible. She really doesn't. A bit shocking, truthfully.

At any rate - good discussion! Thanks for starting its own thread. What do the rest of you guys think? Is there a certain amount of "time in grade" necessary to get that next promotion to Writer? Or are some people born with it?

Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
I'm uncertain of my best day's one week, I produced fifty thousand words, an attempt to write a Harlequin Romance. That was, according to my notes, December of 1982. (It didn't sell, thank God, it was lousy.) As I recall, I wrote it in one draft...according to my notes, I did a little more work over the Christmas holiday through the middle of January 1983 to make the MS presentable.

I've seldom had a free week since, where I didn't have anything more pressing to do than writing...besides, over the years, my stamina for sitting and typing has gone down considerably, what with this online stuff sharing that time...

Posted by shimiqua (Member # 7760) on :
Is there a certain amount of "time in grade" necessary to get that next promotion to Writer? Or are some people born with it?

Yes for both. I think people who can become writers are born with a bit of talent. Some more than others. But the only thing that really matters is persistence and spell check.

I remember learning in one of my theatre classes that most actors who star on Broadway were not the leads in their High school productions. They were the ones who got shut down, but loved it anyway. They were the ones who didn't quit. They were the ones who moved to New York, and WORKED and improved, and knocked peoples socks off.

Because the work necessary to become good is in itself a filtering process. Some people can only write 20,000 words before they discover it's not worth the work for them, others make it to a million and then, finally, start seeing success.

I think the work is necessary to earn respect. Some find a way to become successful (i.e. Stephanie Meyers, Eragon dude, etc.) but what lacks in their stories is what WORK would have given them.

I think success too early on can hamper growth, but failure and not giving up, is what makes literary greatness.

[This message has been edited by shimiqua (edited March 19, 2010).]

Posted by Brad R Torgersen (Member # 8211) on :
Opinions among professional writers usually vary, depending on topic.

But the one area where I have seen all professional writers agree 98.9% of the time, is when it comes to stubborn persistence.

Never quitting. Never giving up.

No matter what happens.

Granted, some people simply do not have it in them to be fiction writers. God or the universe or biology or whatever, did not grant them that gift. They are 'fiction deaf' or 'fiction mute' and have no natural aptitude for writing fiction at all.

In these cases, no amount of persistence will help because their writing is liable to not ever reach publishable level. Or, if they are published, it might happen once or twice, and then poof, they're gone forever. Never to return.

I think such people probably should get out of fiction writing and devote their time to something they do have a talent for, because they're just engaging in an endless, closed-loop exercise in frustration. They don't ever really get better, they don't sell, they just get rejections up the yin-yang.

How does someone determine that they're 'fiction deaf' or 'fiction mute?' I have no idea. I would guess that at some point if you're simply getting no emotional satisfaction or joy out of any of it, at all, and the rejections pile up high enough, you finally just say, this isn't worth it and I am done. And you walk away.

For everyone else -- those with some degree of natural-born ability -- it's persistence. Persistence is king. Talented writers give up all the time. I can think of one person I know who has recently walked away, and I thought he was terrifically talented and I liked some of his stories very much. But he felt like the grind of writing and rejections wasn't giving him much "value" right now, and he wanted to spend time on stuff that meant more to him, so he left.

I suspect -- I hope? -- when his life is different and he has more time, he comes back. Again, a very talented fellow. But his desire at the moment isn't there, so he's not in the game.

To stay in the game and win you have to want it. Sports stars talk about that all the time, and it's true in writing too. You have to shoot the basketball 10,000 times a month and ignore the misses. You have to ignore the numbers -- the huge pile of people working up through junior high and high school and college, hoping to make the draft or maybe get signed out of a tertiary round or a development league. You have to want it, and keep wanting it, and never let any kind of setback get in your way or stop you.

That's what distinguishes the long-term pros, from everyone else.

Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
I've mentioned it before, but...has anybody read "Outliers"? The theory is that being a success in certain professions, like hockey player or compter gazillionaire, is not so much a byproduct of talent or ability, but when you were born and what you had access to. (In the case of hockey players, a lot of the "greats" were born at the beginning of the year...because of rules of age eligibility in the junior leagues, the players born at the beginning of the year are bigger than those born at the end of the same year and get the attention and things progress from there.)

Is success at writing subject to some factors?

When I was starting out, and, come to think of it, right now, the SF publishing industry basically centered along the upper East Coast of the USA, mostly in New York. I was never in personal touch with anyone at these markets when I was younger---I was close enough early on to maybe drop in and visit, but by the time I might've tried it I had been moved much further away. There were fan letters, some published, but they, along with my manuscripts, went in "over the transom and through the mail." I never went to conventions or anything, either.

Some of the successful SF writers talk of meeting with and seeing the editors of this or that quite a bit. But it was never an option with me. Would my luck have been different if I'd made personal contact with them?

Besides, it might be some other factor...

The SF writer James Blish had a theory (I read of it in Frederick Pohl's memoir "The Way the Future Was"---check out his website if you've got time) SF writing, the theory went, was the result of some historical event, like World War One or the influenza pandemic immediately after. It has some merit, seems to me, though the function of SF writing has moved on from their generation.

I can't help but notice that the big SF writers of, say, the late 1940s through maybe the mid 1960s, did all seem to be born within a few years of 1920, would seem a majority of them lived or worked in-or-near New York at some period in this time frame. Did this access-to-market make a difference? Did you have to be there?

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