How many words do you write a day? And do you have to force yourself? How successful authors do it

Nail Your Novel

Dave writing This question appeared in my inbox from Adam Nicholls after I reported on Facebook that I’d managed 4,000 words of The Mountains Novel in one day. Adam DMd me, in not a little anguish:

How many words do you write per day? And do you have to force yourself to do it? I love writing, but it’s work.

There are two significant points in this question:

  • output; books growing steadily at a satisfactory rate
  • difficulty.

How many words per day?

I asked this question of a group I’m a member of, The League of Extraordinary Authors. Romance author Melissa Foster says she has no difficulty getting 7,000 to 10,000 words written in a day and that she adores the blank page. No issues with output there. (But there’s more to writing a good novel than stacking up the wordcount, as she points out in the comments below.)

Romance author

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On the Necessity of a Writer to Write

I had the pleasure of reading through the notebook which contained the grand majority of my posts written since Christmas.  Looking over them gave me a definite pleasure, as looking over one’s past accomplishments does.  My firm hope is to fill many more notebooks in the same manner; to which end, I have purchased five more Clairefontaine notebooks.

Painting of Dostoyevsky

Painting of Dostoyevsky

Which brings me to the question of why I bother to write so many articles, especially those posts which have only the slightest chance of drumming up interest: posts on old anime, obscure old authors, and unpopular figures in American history.  Part of it has to do with my love of the Great Conversation (n.b. the kind between authors, not the one held in purgatory), the delight of sharing what I know, the delight of someone revealing my ignorance, the joy of hitting the sublime, and the happiness of knowing that my words made someone else happy.  But, there is also a negative impetus on my writing: melancholy, envy, and misanthropy start to darken my soul if I do not write–especially if I do not write artfully.  Here’s a certain proof of the artistic temperament: one can neither be charitable, content, or unselfish unless they get their art out of their head and onto the page.

Philosophy, religion, and human nature--the components of the Great Conversation.  All of them are found in Plato.

Philosophy, religion, and human nature–the components of the Great Conversation. All of them are found in Plato.

Melancholy seems to be the primary affliction of artists and writers alike.  The only ones who avoid it are those who write or paint to the fullest powers of their ken.  For example, has one ever heard of Shakespeare becoming melancholy?  On the other hand, writers with stretches of time where they do not produce are those most prone to insanity or melancholy: Hemingway, Cowper, Hesse, etc.  Though, I have no doubt that the hatred showered on Hesse by the militant German public in WWI for his pacifism produced the need for Hesse to be admitted into an asylum and subjected to shock therapy.  (Does the latter really work?)

Herman Hesse

Herman Hesse

This brings me to another curious feature of writers: the need to be praised.  As Mark Twain once wrote: “I can live on a good compliment two weeks with nothing else to eat.”  This is a great weakness, as I often find myself anxious about whether a piece has been well received.  Instead of rolling up the time with vexation or allowing praise to puff up my ego, writers should simply busy their minds on the next task.  But in our defense, how else will we know whether we have written something worthwhile or need to go back to the drawing board?  If all the lights go on, an electrician knows he has done a good job; if there are no leaks, the plumber is satisfied; and if the beer is flavorful and refreshing, the brewer has a smile on his face.  When the last word is placed on the page, a writer is happy because the work is done.  But, many questions still swirl in the writer’s head: will no lights go one in readers’ minds?  Is the logic and plot rather full of holes?  Will there be a smile on the reader’s face at the end of it?

Why do my dear readers writer?

When okay is not enough…

Cristian Mihai

okay“If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: We all want everything to be okay. We don’t even wish so much for fantastic or marvelous or outstanding. We will happily settle for okay, because most of the time, okay is enough.”David Levithan

Let me tell you something about myself: I’ve never really settled for okay. Yes, okay is good. For a while. But there’s always something to ruin it… there’s always something waiting to ruin our lives…

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A Few Reasons to Read Farewell, My Lovely

I wished to give a few thoughts about the most convoluted of the three works of Raymond Chandler which I have read.  To a much greater extent than The Big Sleep and The High Window, the characters employ subterfuge and lies, which–for me anyway–made discovering what was going on impossible.  As a matter of fact, I kept saying to myself: “How is this mystery going to get solved in the few pages left?”  Most detective stories display less falsehood or give more indications when the characters are lying.  Not so Farewell, My Lovely, which adds a dose of realism to the plot as the reader struggles to find the truth amidst the web of lies.

farewell-my-lovely-001

The story begins with Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler’s famous shamus (Gotta use some of that 1930’s slang, meaning P. I. in this case.), meeting a giant by the name of Moose Malloy.  During the daylight hours, Moose literally drags Marlowe into what is now a blacks-only nightclub.  It is curious to see segregation from the other direction, as a bouncer tries to toss Moose Malloy out and gets his clock cleaned.  Moose seeks the love of his life, Velma, a beauty who used to work as a singer in this club before the owners changed hands.  When Moose Malloy goes to see the new owner by himself, Marlowe hears a shot and Moose escapes from the place.  When the police arrive, the detective on the scene impresses Marlowe into service, leading to one of Marlowe’s most difficult cases.

Raymond Chandler

The scenes which stood out the most for their vividness and surreality surrounded a certain Hollywood Indian and Marlowe’s time doped up in a hospital.  One could practically feel the Indian’s powerful, greasy fingers on one’s own neck as he’s choking Marlowe to death.  Marlowe’s nausea and weakness also impress the reader palpably as he strives to overcome the drugs which have been forced into his system.  The Muse was working overtime for Chandler when he wrote these scenes!  If only for these parts of the book, the work is a must read.

Second Street Tunnel day

While I cannot recommend this work to someone new to Raymond Chandler, it would make for an excellent second book.  (As a matter of fact, it was Chandler’s second Marlowe novel.)  One must read Chandler for his deft touch at creating characters and his wonderful similes and metaphors.  For example, the picture above is one of the Second Street Tunnel, and in The Big Sleep, Chandler writes that a gun points at Marlowe “like the Second Street Tunnel.”  The darkness of the tunnel and the curve of the daylight reflected off the walls give an accurate impression of the grooved barrel of a handgun.  In my own case, I like detective Marlowe, whose personality and interests reflect my own: he plays over professional chess games, likes a good drink (particularly Scotch and Soda–great liquor was hard to come by back then), and occasionally quotes literature–though his education has definite holes.  (Yes, this is what C. S. Lewis calls egocentric castle building; but, we all need to build some kind of self–even if it is that of a standoffish, ornery loner hiding a soft center under a hard-boiled exterior.  One day, I’ll be that cool!)  So, don’t forget to try out one of Chandler’s works when you’re in the mood for a mystery novel: he’s right next to Dashiell Hammett as one of the greatest novelists of the hard-boiled genre.