Five Things: how to up your daily word count

Typewriter desk
Category: Writing

When I tell people I once wrote almost 15,000 words in a single day, they invariably think I’m a filthy liar. And, well, they’re right. I didn’t write 15,000 words in a single day. It actually took nine hours.

Don’t get me wrong, 15,000 words is not the norm for my writing day, but with other pressures meaning my dedicated writing days are becoming fewer and harder to come by, my daily word counts have to be pretty high for me to hit my deadlines.

If I hit less than four or five thousand words on a full day of writing, I'm disappointed. Ten thousand is rare, but far from unheard of, and I sort of thought this was the same for all writers until I started mentioning my word counts on Twitter and was inundated with replies ranging from the amazed to the positively threatening.

Contrary to some of the comments, though, I haven’t sold my soul to Satan. Anyone can hit similar daily word counts, and these here tips should help.

1. Silence Your Inner Critic

Writing 15,000 words in a day is not the same as writing 15,000 great words in a day. Stop stressing about using just the right verb. Don’t waste time pondering whether your protagonist should be wearing the green coat or the blue one. At this stage you are not laser targeting your manuscript, you’re pointing it in roughly the right direction. Just get the words down as best as you can and you can sort them out later.

2. Know What You’re Writing

To be able to write huge chunks of your story in a single sitting, you need to know what that story is. You need to know your characters and how they’d behave. You need to know where the plot is leading. You need to know what you’re trying to say, and why you’re trying to say it. Lots of times I figure this stuff out while sitting in front of a blank page, but those aren’t the days I rack up the big numbers. The high word counts come when I’ve figured out in advance exactly what’s going to happen in the story that day.

3. Stop Mucking About on Facebook

Cut it out. It’s really not helping. Likewise, don’t use Twitter, check your email, keep an eye on the news, make up a new Spotify playlist, look at your Amazon rankings or Google your name for any new reviews. Forget all that stuff. Switch off the internet (not all of it, just your bit) and tune out any and all distractions. Social media is a great way to promote your book, but it’s a good idea to finish writing it first.

4. Change Your Scene

Some of my most productive writing days have come when I’ve escaped my home office and ventured out into the world. I once wrote 8,000 words on a 4 hour train journey between Fort William and Glasgow. The fabled 15,000 words in 9 hours was in a café around the corner from my house, where I ordered another cup of tea between every chapter. Again, though, pick places that won’t be distracting. Quiet train carriages and empty cafés would be good places to go. Blackpool Pleasure Beach in early August, or Edinburgh Castle at 11.55 on December 31st would be less so.

5. Set a Realistic and Achievable Target. Then Quadruple It.

Think you can comfortably hit a thousand words in a day? Make your target four thousand, and be disappointed and angry at yourself if you fail to reach it. Sure, you’ll probably spend most of the writing process believing yourself to be a miserable failure, but although you may miss those four thousand words, you might hit three thousand. You’ll almost certainly write a lot more than if you rested on your laurels and aimed for a comfortable target. Set your sights high, and if you miss, try again tomorrow.

Barry Hutchison

Barry Hutchison is a children's author, screenwriter and director. His latest book, The Book of Doom is shortlisted for the Scottish Children's Book Awards. Find out more about Barry on his website.