Professor Wu's Rulebook

On writing: the daily word counts of famous authors


Scott Fitzgerald once wrote to a close family friend and aspiring young writer: “nobody ever became a writer just by wanting to be one”. It takes time, and effort. You have to put the hours in. You have to actually, well, write (surprising, huh?).

We’ve previously asked whether there is such a thing as the ‘perfect’ daily routine for writing. But if there is no such thing as an average writing day, is there any guidance on how much you should be at least aiming to write as you start to pen that epic poem or finally look to finish that novel you’ve been working on?

R.F. Delderfield, the English author of family sagas, wrote 33 pages each day, and he wrote until four o’clock in the afternoon. If he finished a novel at three o’clock, he rolled a clean sheet of paper into his typewriter, and began the next novel, and worked until quitting time.  He credited a daily swim in the English Channel for his prodigious output.

Of course, not all of us are R.F. Delderfield. Not all of us write family sagas. And not all of us have ready access to the English Channel for our regular swimming sessions. Indeed, with author’s incomes collapsing to near ‘abject’ levels, many writers are increasingly facing more challenging difficulties in finding the time to meet their word output targets.

So what about other writers? How many words do they (or did they, in some cases) write each day? We’ve put together a list of the daily word counts of 20 famous authors, which you can check out here below.

Word counts 1.png


Hemingway etc.png

Mcewan etc.png

Of course, there’s a problem with just taking a writer’s word counts and trying to deduce too much insight from them. The authors in the above list all write in different styles and genres – using different tools and in different conditions from one another. Not all writers monitor their word count – and others would advise against it; after all, the adage ‘quality, not quantity’ is surely rarely more applicable than when used in relation to writing.

Indeed, some writers – who write very well – will produce a great quantity of work that is then stripped back so much that to try and say how many words were actually produced per day over the course of any writing project is nigh impossible. Consider Philip Roth, for example, who said in his interview with the Paris Review that “I often have to write a hundred pages or more before there’s a paragraph that’s alive.”

Or there’s James Joyce, who took seventeen years to write Finnegan’s Wake.

On the point of Joyce, there’s a good Stephen King joke on the subject of his word count:

“A friend came to visit James Joyce one day and found the great man sprawled across his writing desk in a posture of utter despair.

James, what’s wrong?’ the friend asked. ‘Is it the work?’

Joyce indicated assent without even raising his head to look at his friend. Of course it was the work; isn’t it always?

How many words did you get today?’ the friend pursued.

Joyce (still in despair, still sprawled facedown on his desk): ‘Seven.’

Seven? But James… that’s good, at least for you.’

Yes,’ Joyce said, finally looking up. ‘I suppose it is… but I don’t know what order they go in!”

This joke echoes the sentiment of a famous story about Gustave Flaubert, in which his bohemian friends stopped by his house one day, and invited him to go out for a few days of debauchery (who wouldn’t?!). Flaubert declined, saying he had to write, so they went off and returned a few days later. (A good solid length of debauching, one would say). “How did your writing go?” they asked once they returned. “Fantastic!” Flaubert replied. “I put the semicolon back in.”

So it’s important to take each of the writer’s word counts with a pinch of salt – in that, just because they are writing x amount of words; it doesn’t mean you should be, too.

With that in mind, it can still be an interesting work of self-evaluation to consider how many words you write each day. Are you as prolific of Crichton or more careful with your words like Hemingway or Dorothy Parker? Let us know in the comments below!



    1. 10,000 is unreal. But then you always have to go back and edit that, too. “Quality over quantity,” etc.

      Thanks so much for the comment, comrade – really pleased to hear you enjoyed the article!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks very much Lizzie! Really pleased to hear you enjoyed it.

      That’s a very solid average wordcount. It’s always interesting to see the correlation between caffeine and productivity 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Reblogged this on Sharon E. Cathcart and commented:
    It’s worth noting that most of the authors listed (so far as I can tell) did not have the period equivalent of a “day job” that took up a solid chunk of their time. Throw in modern-day issues like commutes and, for many people, health issues … and that affects the ability to put the proverbial pen to paper some days. Still, any day in which words are added to the tale is a good one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Really astute point about the fact that most of the authors were able to focus solely on the task/job of writing – the challenges of modern day life, with the frequent necessity of holding a 9-5 job to pay the bills, present a very real obstacle for aspiring writers.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Stephen King had 3 kids and a full-time job teaching. He still managed to write every day. Mark Higgins Clark would get up at 5am to write until 6:45am when she had to get her kids ready for school. Most people who want to be writers watch at least 30 minutes of television a day. Some people make excuses and others just do it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s a fair challenge, Brad, thanks. In fairness to Stephen King, he was also taking a lot of amphetamines during his early writing career, too.But I think your point about “less talk; more do’ is pretty important and gets to the crux of the issue. I do think that there are very real challenges many aspiring writers face that perhaps some of their predecessors didn’t (advances and income levels for authors are collapsing at the moment in traditional publishing spheres); but at the same time, you aren’t a writer (and can’t call yourself one) if you aren’t actually writing each day in some capacity.


  2. I never thought I can write a book and that’s why it has taken me this long but I have finally finished my 1st book and it was a difficulty. I never thought myself a writer or even a great reader so I don’t know how good I was going o be, but I started to just write for the people I was writing about and it seems to be much easier. Thank you for this it is an awesome source of info and encouragement.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi! I found your article after I finished writing 2754 words for today wanted some validation for my small achievement. I’m gearing up to write a book and I wanted to build up the habit of writing. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I wrote my first novel in 48 days. About 1,230 words a day. The most I’ve ever been able to churn out in a day writing fiction was about 3,500. I once wrote 10,000 words in a day, but it was a true story about my life. 10,000 words a day is not something I’d be able to sustain, however, and I’ve only been shooting for 1,000 words a day when writing fiction. When writing unresearched non-fiction, I just try to write as much as I can, usually around 3,000-5,000 a day until the project is completed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Impressive work comrade! I always think it’s fascinating to hear how writers manage their workload and produce their books/stories. How did you find the editing process for your novel? Is it available anywhere for people to purchase?


  5. After writing 4 textbooks for clinicians, I’ve recently published my first book for the public: Seven Steps to Managing Your Memory: What’s Normal, What’s Not, and What to Do About It. But now I’m writing my first novel, and boy is it harder. I very much appreciate this posting on how much other writers write daily. I try to average about 300 words a day. About 1.5 years into the novel, I’ve written about 69,000 words out of likely 90,000-100,000. Hoping to finish the first draft by the end of 2018.


Leave a Reply to professorwu Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: