It’s amazing to realize how writers occupy completely different modes of existence. We all share the same reality, but at a deeper level, we dwell in creative worlds dictated by our routines.
There are larks among us who strike their keyboards in the early morning. Then, there are nocturnals, for whom nightfall portends creative output. There’s also a need for different levels of caffeine, the choice of music, and other means to convene with the Muse.
As a unique being, you can pick habits and behaviors that suit you best, and then hone them until they’re automatic. This has been the case with the illustrious authors presented below. I invite you to study their daily word counts and routines to see how they would fit with your personal style.
1) Graham Greene – 500 Words
An early riser and an obsessive word counter, Greene secured his spot in literary history as one of the most beloved British authors. Over the decades he devoted to the craft, he was able to release twenty five novels by writing for only 1.5-2 hours per day.
In The End of the Affair, he described his very own writing routine: “Over twenty years I have probably averaged five hundred words a day for five days a week. I can produce a novel in a year, and that allows time for revision and the correction of the typescript. I have always been very methodical, and when my quota of work is done I break off, even in the middle of a scene.”
He added: “When I was young not even a love affair would alter my schedule. A love affair had to begin after lunch…” By the way, I can’t help but recommend Greene’s The End of the Affair, especially in an audiobook version narrated by Colin Firth – a masterpiece.
2) Anne Rice – 3000 Words
The Louisiana-born author of gothic prose that includes Interview With the Vampire, has penned over thirty novels. “I plunge into the work and write an episode; I can’t just clock in at 3,000 words. I have to have time free to resolve things. I write in episodic ways. But when I’m ready to plunge in, I write from late morning through all afternoon, all evening,” she said.
Rice’s schedule varies, and she’s willing to follow bursts of inspiration, unlike authors who are more methodical in their approach. She also has a peculiar writing habit. According to an interview with the Wall Street Journal, “she sets her font to 14 point Courier and double spaces the text on her 30-inch Mac computer monitor so that her field of vision is filled with words.”
3) Charles Dickens – 2000 Words
I learned about the Dickensian routine when reading the Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. The famous author rose at 7:00, had breakfast at 8:00, and locked himself in his study by 9:00, where he stayed until 2:00 in the afternoon.
This gave him ample time to write around 2000 words each day. He didn’t hit his quota every time, but he nevertheless adamantly stuck to his routine. After his work at the study was finished, he ate a quick lunch with his family, and then roamed the streets of London, for a couple of hours “searching for some pictures to build upon.”
4) Stephen King – 2000 Words
King has published over 60 novels, six nonfiction books, and around 200 short stories (selling over 350 million copies of his works). You can learn about his writing process in “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft,” an excellent read for any author. In it, King discusses his writing routine and how he writes around 2000 words (or six full pages) every workday.
He claims that you must stay on it and move the story forward because otherwise, you’ll lose the grip on your fictional world. He practices what he preaches because, for example, he wrote The Running Man in a span of a single week.
To get a better understanding of how King works, check out his interview with George R.R. Martin:
Martin: “I think, ‘Oh, I’ve had a really good six months — I’ve written three chapters!’ and you’ve finished three books in that time.”
King: “Here’s the thing, okay? There are books, and there are books. The way that I work, I try to get out there, and I try to get six pages a day. So, with a book like End of Watch, and … when I’m working, I work every day — three, four hours, and I try to get those six pages, and I try to get them fairly clean. So if the manuscript is, let’s say, 360 pages long, that’s basically two months’ work. … But that’s assuming it goes well.”
Martin: “And you do hit six pages a day?”
King: “I usually do”.
5) Sarah Waters – 1000 Words
The Welsh novelist often shares writing tips with aspiring authors. “My minimum is 1,000 words a day – which is sometimes easy to achieve, and is sometimes, frankly, like shitting a brick, but I will make myself stay at my desk until I’ve got there, because I know that by doing that I am inching the book forward,” she said in an interview with the Guardian.
This goes on to show that as long as you stick to your numbers, you can push even the toughest project forward.
Whatever you decide to do, keep that E.B. White’s quote in mind: “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” So write imperfectly, but write every day, and there’s no telling what you can accomplish.
I wonder, do you have a writing quota or a set writing schedule? Leave a comment below!
Rafal Reyzer is a full-time blogger, freelance writer, digital marketer, and content manager. He started RafalReyzer.com to provide readers with tools and strategies they can use to work remotely and earn through blogging and freelance writing. His site is a one-stop-shop for writers, bloggers, publishers, content enthusiasts and freelancers who want to be independent, earn more money and create beautiful things.