Why I Don’t Write 8,000 Words Every Day — and Recharging When I Need to

When I hit my rhythm, I can easily pump out 500 words in 30 minutes.

It’s taken me a while to get to that level, of course — it’s rare for me not to write on any given day, including the weekends. I’ve been following this routine in the three years since I graduated since college and, even before that, I was writing very regularly. Most of that was academic writing, but I freelanced in college as well.

When you run the numbers, 500 words every 30 minutes should equal out to 8,000 words if I work an eight-hour day. But I almost never write that much in a given day. Part of it, of course, is that even the most dedicated writers have to do other things in the course of a day: since I rely on my writing to earn my living, I have to find clients, send invoices and do the preliminary research necessary to turn out an article. (A productivity tip just for writers: if you want to write faster, have all of your research lined up ahead of time.) I usually write between 3,000 and 4,000 words a day in reality.

I Can Write 10,000 Words in a Day

Every once in a while, I write a lot more than 4,000 words in a day. Usually, it’s a matter of a rush job (or some poor planning on my part). My record currently sits at writing an entire ebook, weighing in at 12,000 words, in the course of one day.

But every time I’ve made a push at writing so many words, I’m absolutely useless for two or even three days afterward. There are certainly elements of exhaustion: writing that much leaves me feeling physically wrung out and like I just hiked up a mountain. I may not have run a marathon, but I’ve definitely exerted myself.

The other reason that I need so much recovery time is that I feel like I’ve burned up whatever it is that lets me put together sentences in a generally pleasing fashion. My writing simply sucks after one of my all-day writing sessions.

Creative Action Points

To borrow a concept from gaming, we only get so many action points when we’re doing creative work. For an entire week, we might get 20 points — if we break down those points over the whole week, we can have two or three points to use every day. But if we burn through all 20 on Monday, we’re just not going to get any creative work done for the rest of the week.

In many of the games that rely on action point systems, you can get extra action points: you drink a potion or pay for a premium account and suddenly you can do more in a day. That’s not so true for creative work, though. Coming up with extra action points when you’re already running on empty is tough.

Recharging your batteries is generally a personal matter: I know people who can dig a little deeper if they go do something specific. There’s the artist who can pull off a couple extra hours of painting provided that she’s been able to go pull weeds in her garden. There’s the graphic designer who needs a great workout about halfway through a killer project, but then he’s fine. There’s the copy writer who can pull off two 10,000 word projects in a week if she meditates twice a day.

Personally, I have to go do something that does not engage my brain at all. That can mean scrubbing the floor or baking cookies… and either way, it’s still going to require several hours for me to get back to the point where I can write something worth reading.

Finding Your Recharge Method

If you do any kind of creative work, you need a way to be able to recharge yourself. I don’t care if you do marketing strategy or macrame. If you want to be productive in your work, it’s a simple fact. It’s especially crucial if you work for yourself or you’re doing your creative projects on the side — I know I push myself so much harder than I would ever allow an employer to push me.

It comes down to identifying what works for you. Everyone is different. Gardening, working out or meditation may help you get back in the game, but depending on how you work, they may just burn you out more. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of great solutions — trial and error is the main way most of us find helpful habits.

Flickr image by the Giant Vermin

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4 Responses to “ Why I Don’t Write 8,000 Words Every Day — and Recharging When I Need to ”

  1. Post from @ConstructivelyP looks at the challenges of recharging your battery after writing or other creative activity. http://bit.ly/9mKXNm

  2. Prime says:

    I can sooo relate to this. I’m a business journalist working in a news wires and in a heavy news day, I write ten spot stories a day! Despite the time pressure, I always force myself to take at least5 to 10 minute mini breaks like washing my lunchbox in the pantry or reading the lifestyle section in the newspaper or simply breathing deeply. I need these breaks to recharge and start writing again.

  3. I admire people who can write lots of words quickly.

    Recently, I’m starting to write and read more, which I think is going to accelerate my capacity to write more in less time. Something I really want to improve (though not at the cost of quality).

    I can see why you’re able to write many words in such a short period of time. Part talent. Part: all the hours you’ve invested to attain your advanced skill level.

  4. [...] Bram makes this point, saying that she can pump out 500 words in 30 minutes with no problem, but that doesn’t mean an eight-hour day of writing should produce 8,000 [...]

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