How much should we write in a day? The debate is a true evergreen among novelists, both in public and private. Claims of books such as 10K a Day–The Secret of Quality Speed Writing help–if in no other way–by stating the question in crazed hypotheticals: could authors routinely finish full-length novels in just over a month? A week? And if so, should they?
Stephen King once said of his daily 2,000-word pace: “If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind—they begin to seem like characters instead of real people…. The excitement of spinning something new begins to fade.” Yet again, 2,000 words a day represents a scorching pace for some, and not exactly the recipe for quality writing.
We’ve searched the tubes for the daily output of two dozen writers. Some sources may be questionable, and in almost half of the cases we have had to rely on averages. If you see a red flag, let us know. It’s not like we hooked William Faulkner up to a word counter and fired a starting gun, although that certainly gives us an idea for future posts.
James Joyce, 36 (average for Finnegans Wake)
J.K. Rowling, 58 (average for the first Harry Potter book, handwritten)
Cassandra King, 100
J.R.R. Tolkein, 245
Pearl Buck, 246 (average for China Sky)
Edmund Morris, 300
Graham Greene, 500
J.G. Ballard, 1,000
Earnest Hemingway, 450 to 1,250
Muriel Spark, 1,257 (average for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie)
Jack London, 1,500
Amy Chua, 1,509 (average for Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother)
Aldous Huxley, 1,639 (average for Antic Hay)
Zora Neale Hurston, 1,724 (average for Their Eyes Were Watching God)
Zelda Fitzgerald, 1,791 (average for Save Me the Waltz)
Ian Fleming, 2,000
Toni Morrison, 2,370 (average for Song of Solomon)
John Steinbeck, 2,400
William Faulkner, 3,000
Mark Twain, 3,000 (average for Innocents Abroad, handwritten)
Louisa May Alcott 4,400 (average for Little Women)
Victor Hugo, 6,000
Henry Miller, 8,000
Max Brand, 20,000
C.E. Alexander lives in Collin County, Texas with his wife and two unpaid comedians. His typing speed is about 35 words a minute, so we won’t discuss his daily writing output. His latest novella My Wounded Specular is available now through Zidi Publishing.