Time & Writing Speed
What is considered writing “fast”? How about writing “slow”? Fast/slow is a false dichotomy. I know you don’t believe that, but I hope to demonstrate how you too can be considered a fast writer and a slow typist at the same time.
There will be math ahead, so be warned. I promise to keep the numbers simple, don’t worry.
So first, how many words per day do you need to accomplish NaNo? Divide 50,000 words by 30 days, round up, and you’ll get 1,667 words per day. What does this mean? How long does it take to produce that?
I’ll make this personal—just like much of this book—and tell you my number: two hours a day. Not necessarily two hours in one massive block. In fact, I have a hard time doing that. My attention span is too short, and I’m too fidgety to sit still that long. Usually I write in shorter blocks… fifteen minutes here, half hour there, an hour before I go to bed.
Let me back up a moment, and note that I can type about forty or so words per minutes and maintain some degree of accuracy. If I typed at that rate, I could theoretically write 2,400 words per hour. But I don’t.
My wrists would hurt like crazy and I’d probably make excuses to not return to the keyboard pretty soon. And I flat just don’t need to type that fast. No reason to injure myself. And I can’t think that quickly. My brain doesn’t allow me.
Here’s a secret: Most writers don’t write as fast as they can type. The brain can’t come up with a story fast enough to match the finger movements. We’re used to telling stories as fast as we can talk. I certainly can’t say 2,400 words per hour. I’d die, maybe figuratively if not literally.
I tend to average a typing speed of 1,000 words per hour, ranging from 700 to a blazing speed of 1,400, depending on where I’m at in the story. Beginnings are a bit slower for me as I figure out who the character is, what the setting looks like, etc. When I see where I’m going, I can create faster.
But I figure 1,000 words per hour (or 250 words per fifteen minute block), and I’ve recorded this pace enough times to know for fact that’s what I do. I also know from experience I spend a lot of time leaning back in the chair, thumb under chin, eyes scrunched up as I figure out what the next sentence is.
So I’m typing less than 20 words per minute on average, when I’m being creative, and much of the creativity is happening between my ears instead of on the page.
At that rate, on average, I can complete my Nano goal in about two hours. Just a steady rhythm of output, like a drum beat. Or like a normal walking speed. I’m not sprinting or even jogging. Meandering to my goal, more like it.
This glacial speed allows my voice to come through. I give myself time to think about what comes next, and allow my subconscious to work in tandem with my fingers. Any faster, and I’d be just typing random crap, which would be crap that’d ultimately get deleted later.
What Is Considered Fast?
Let’s do a thought experiment.
How long does it take to write a novel? A month? A year? Five years?
If you’re normal, you have a life, with all the trappings that come with it. A job, a family to care for, pets, house cleaning to do, chores to run, a commute. Not to mention entertainment… books, TV shows, movies, music, video games. Everybody has their responsibilities and vices.
What if you were so busy you could only write fifteen minutes a day? How much would you accomplish?
If you write as fast as me, you could get around 250 words in those fifteen minutes. Let’s say you write seven days a week, because you don’t take weekends off. And at that strenuous pace, you need a two week vacation, so you have fifty weeks in a year.
250 words x 7 days x 50 weeks = 87,500 words per year
That’s a decent sized novel. In a mass market paperback, it’d be a little under 400 pages. Not bad at all.
Think of it this way: in one year, you’ll have accomplished something many people only dream of doing in their lifetime, because you sat in a chair and wrote for fifteen minutes a day.
And if you wrote half an hour a day, you’d have two novels a year and many folks would consider you prolific.
So, to answer the question to our thought experiment, how long does it take to write a novel? As little as fifteen minutes a day, added up over time like water from a leaky faucet being collected in a bucket. You’ll get a full bucket with enough persistence and patience.
Ten to fifteen minutes here, 250 words there, all adds up faster than you can believe. Now, in NaNo, the challenge is to find more than fifteen minutes a day. Maybe you have some time in the morning before heading to the day job. Good, use it, even it’s only a few minutes and you only type a page. It’s a start.
You can get more on your lunch break. Perhaps another fifteen minutes when you get home, before the kids get home, after dinner, somewhere. And instead of watching Xena: Warrior Princess reruns, you spend a full hour before bed and get a huge number of words added to your story.
By the end of the day, you’ll be stunned how you got 1,667 (or more!) words with a leaky faucet drip here, drip there. I’m certain you’ll have fun, and that fun will simply encourage you to get to the chair sooner and more often. When you’re in the chair more, you’ll be writing faster even when it looks like you’re doing nothing but daydreaming while typing a sentence now and then.
Enjoy being a “fast” writer!
Copyright 2015 David Anthony Brown
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