Monthly Archive: December 2018

Word Count Kings: How much to write per day? Fine-tuning your productivity takes more than willpower and a high number

Charles Harold St. John Hamilton wrote 100 million words in his lifetime. A word count of a million and a half a year. Hamilton, the world’s most prolific author, used twenty-five pseudonyms, one for each of his long-running series, and scribbled 20 printer-ready pages every day.

When George Orwell charged that he was, in fact, a team of writers, Hamilton replied “In the presence of such authority, I speak with diffidence; and can only say that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, I am only one person, and have never been two or three.”

Speed demons

Hamilton wrote series about boys’ schools. But prolificacy is genre independent. Joyce Carol Oates wrote 33 books and two plays by the time she was 40. This in spite of the fact that she agonizes over revision and extensively revises, sometimes even after a book has been published. Isaac Asimov wrote 506 fiction and nonfiction books in his lifetime. That’s about 20 double-spaced, revised, ready-for-print pages per workday over the course of his career.
His nonfiction books – highly praised – he claimed to have written in three days apiece. Word count = ??

Different writers used different tricks and rituals

Hemingway affixed a piece of cardboard to the wall and kept track of his daily word count on it. If the previous days’ output had fallen short, he felt guilty enough to make it up the next day. When he had plans – usually fishing on the Caribbean – then he would roughly double his output the day before. There’s no use trying to relax on a fishing boat if your mind stays behind with your unfinished work, now is there? So his per diem output fluctuated between 450 to in excess of 1000.

But he recorded each and every day, to keep himself honest.

By contrast, Harold Robbins, after a marathon procrastination binge, would lock himself in a hotel room, hide all the clocks, and work round the clock to collapse. Word count? No counting of words there.


A modern approach most folks already know about is NanoWriMo. This writing frenzy every year spurs writers to write a novel in just 30 days. Their bar graph evokes Hemmingway’s wall chart.  This fantastic tool tracks your daily output as well as your percentage of the total.

You have to write 1667 words per day to win NanoWriMo

I work on a word count basis, so I have to write three thousand words a day. I can write them in the morning, I can write them in the evening; as long as they get done.

~Cassandra Clare


Is every successful author fast, though?

Let’s have a look:

  • Helen Hooven Santmyer penned …And Ladies of the Club over a period of 50 Years. The charming story spans, well, 50 years.
  • Patrick Leigh Fermor took 78 Years to finish The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, the third volume of his yearlong journey across Europe.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien took 16 Years to write The Lord of the Rings at a word count of 245 per day, less than a page.

So which is right for us? How fast should we go?

The secret: Word count all depends on where you want to go with your writing. Not just on your wish for speed.

What sort of writing do you do?

Pantsers are people just sit down at their word processor and type whatever comes into their head. Some people who do some planning still claim to be pantsers.

Your word output will also depend on the type of writing that you do.

  • How much research do you do?
    For instance, how much research do you do? If you write nonfiction or historical fiction, your average word count may be much lower. You will spend a lot of time hitting the books. The same goes for fantasy or science fiction that emphasizes world-building or scientific accuracy.
  • How much time do you spend on backstory?
    As an example, let’s just take Tolkien, above. Years of his time went for meticulous planning, the creation of whole languages, even calculating the phases of the moon for various characters in different locations and subplots that wound up in books one and two separately, but actually happened simultaneously.
    Naturally, you can divide research time and composing time if it suits you, and control your word production count in the active writing time. If you want to actively compose every day, you can work on one project in the composition phase in the morning, for example, and on another in the research phase later in the day.
    Hamilton, mentioned above, had strategies for dealing with backstory. He penned several unending series, so once he finished world-building for the first installment – setting and characters – he had all his background prep ready. As he progressed, each installment contained the updated backstory. Freeing himself from planning, he could jack up the word count.

    Outliners may not only outline, but create in-depth character profiles beforehand

  • Will you create an outline?
    Also, just like research or world-building, outlining and revision can limit your average word count per day. One leads to more work at the beginning, the other to more work at the end. This will reduce your daily output in that stage of writing, and should not be a source of angst. Outliners may not only outline, but create in-depth character profiles beforehand.

Balance your goals with your natural capacities and schedule.

The prolific and popular Isaac Asimov increased his output by focusing on simple, straightforward prose, streamlining characterization and ignoring critics in favor of fans. What kind of fiction will you write?

What floats your boat as a writer? Do you like outlining or pantsing? Character or plot-driven stories? Will your work contain secrets for the readers to puzzle out, or will you lay it all on the line? Will you favor ornate prose or down-to-earth narrative? These play a role in how much you will manage per day. You cannot – cannot – ignore them just pick a number and say that is it, because, say, ultra-success and icon Stephen King says that is his number. He strikes me as an inspiration-is-my-only-god kind of guy, but your personality may follow a different drummer. It depends on your personality, literary aims and genre.

But let’s not forget to mention your other priorities, some of which you cannot avoid:

  • Work
  • Family
  • Sleep

How much do you need of each? Balance them off. You probably cannot fit in any other priorities. Just three. Hobbies, Netflix, more than minimum fitness, all must go. Drop them if you want to increase your word production goals. Find out more about this here.

The Stunning Conclusion

Find the right pace for your type of writing, your writing strategy, and your other priorities in life (fewer than four.)

Let’s wrap this all up into a comestible package:

  1. Find the right pace for your genre and its special needs
  2. Consider your writing strategy, style.
  3. Series or one-shots?
  4. Weigh your other priorities (if possible, fewer than four).
  5. Find or create a system, one online or provided by a software package or website that tracks your word-count and your progress you toward your goal.
  6. Once you have set a goal, keep it. If you find it unrealistic, revise it officially, and then keep that. This is a natural occurrence – don’t use it as an excuse to quit.
  7. Set off on the road to productivity.


I write everywhere. I’ve written books while I was on planes, at Disney World, and in multiple countries of which I am not a native. It can be a struggle to make word count sometimes, but I will persevere!

~Seanan McGuire

Win the name game in style: 11 ways to dream up an original, effective character name.

Good Character Names Part Three: Methods 7 to 11

Think of dynamite names for your characters and win the battle for characterization at the reader’s first glimpse of you character. Your hero’s essential traits will hit readers in the face before she even opens her mouth.

This is the third and final part of a series on creating terrific names for your characters, whether you write novels, short stories, screenplays or any other genre. The series presents this topic in three bite-sized chunks. For lots more information and tips, have look at Parts One and Two as well.

So let’s make haste, and finish up our list of ways to create winning names:

7. Pay attention to the time period, race, nationality and other background factors.

Producers chose the name “Mr. Sulu” because they thought in sounded cool and Japanese. When the show aired in Japan, his name was changed to a real Japanese name. The character is a great success, and was named in a previous era. If you make up an imaginary name to describe someone from a non-imaginary place, be careful or you will face criticism in our day and age.

If you are looking for a realistic name, keep the real world in mind. Names come into fashion and go out again. Many writers choose a name that is popular now, and not when the character was born.  See our website resources post for a way to find this information. Author Elizabeth Sims used the name Gary Kwan for a Japanese-American criminal defense attorney, but it is a Chinese name.

Some steps to take when choosing a realistic name: 

 8. Avoid similar names to prevent confusion

The Dynamic Duo. Both named after things that fly. Bats are dark and scary, robins are small and cute. The same, but different. This is a great example of choosing contrasting, but somehow similar names for partners.

Avoid names of the same gender that start with the same letter in the same book. For example, don’t call one boy Jimmy and the other Jack.

In the same vein, use names of differing length and syllable stress: Debby and Barbara and Annette, Dax and Roberto.

One last point in this section: Owing to the sort of society that we live in, the problem disappears across gender lines. If you want to call one twin Dora and the other Dave, then go ahead. We can well believe that parents might do this, and most people will never mix them up across the gender barrier. The similarity will invite us to compare them, but not confuse them. They might have similar, or contrasting character traits and the similar names would invite us to think about that.

9. Create a duo whose names match in some way

As with the other methods, use this approach only if it suits your story. Statistically, more people names Joseph marry women named Mary than you would expect, just as more Adams marry women named Eve.

This could be a simple as having two characters starting with the same letter, but usually if they are of different genders, otherwise readers will confuse them.

Partner names can be similar:

Although usually having similar names for different characters may confuse readers, this very quality may be a plus for partners.

Rhyming names:

  • Heckle & Jeckle
  • Cagney & Lacey

Alliterative names:

  • Beauty and the Beast: not their real names, but a good example of alliteration with different genders.
  • Mickey and Minnie Mouse
  • Cheech & Chong
  • Beavis and Butt-head: Here we have some alliterative names of the same gender, but they are duo, inseparable, and we may wish to emphasize their similar qualities.

Very similar names create a comic effect. There even used to be a cartoon show call Ed, Edd and Eddy.

Different but complementary: The name of your duo may also boast some other similarity of sound. Mulder & Scully have the same vowel in the first syllable, and create a subtly effect of similarity, as though they belonged together.

Or the names may contrast:

  • Lady & the Tramp: The names of this classic pair contrast in meaning – one rich and one poor – in addition to sounding rather different. More about them later.
  • Starsky and Hutch, Tango and Cash or Jekyll and Hyde: Here the first name has two syllables, and the and short second. Cory and Shawn and Lady and the Tramp also fit here.

Methods of naming can be combined. The names Tango and Cash, both indicate on the one hand a wild and fast lifestyle. On the other hand, it was Tango who had more cash, not his partner Cash, who was broke. This is a great example of irony in naming, or an inaptronym. Read more about inaptronyms in Part Two.

Or names may recall famous brands (or places or personages or whatever):

  • Chip & Dale
  • Statler & Waldorf
  • Calvin & Hobbes

Be careful to avoid trademark  infringement, though. Your name should be different enough to stand on its own.

So go ahead. Name your characters Ben and Jerry, if that suits the tone of your work.

You may say that some names just “sound good,” but if you look closer and analyze, you can see the hidden reason and employ it in your own character names.


Calvin & Hobbes: two great philosophers for the modern era. These names play the syllable game very well, and also make reference to historical personages.

10. Avoid real names and names of famous people

Obviously, you will want to avoid lawsuits. Authors even avoid giving any middle name to a murderous character, to limit the number of people who have the exact same name, and who might be offended or see a chance to get a few bucks.

11. Make your names easy to pronounce, even if they appear in science fiction, fantasy or foreign settings.

I’m sure real aliens have names that are impossible to pronounce, but readers will want to remember them and be able to say the names of your fictional ones. If they can’t say them, they will skip them, and the character will seem less real without a name. Superman’s Mister Mxyzptlk was cute, and is a classic now, but unless you know you can pull off the gag (and it is a gag) then just don’t.

Think instead of great alien names in fiction. Spock. Gort. Klaatu. Na’vi. Kal-El.

And in fantasy: Aragorn. Frodo. Conan. Tarzan. Granny Weatherwax.

Each and every one of these names immediately calls certain appropriate characteristics to mind, and fits in perfectly to the milieu created by the author.

The Gorn. A good character name because it’s short but sweet, and definitely not from around here. It is a species name, like the Vulcans, another great name, like a glaciered, sleeping volcano, dormant and cool, but with heat and power underneath.

Don’t think that the name types I have enumerated above are somehow unusual or just not done. My problem in writing this post, I assure you, was what names to leave out, not hunting up names to include. The only exception was finding inaptronyms. There don’t seem to be many of those. That indicates that this provides a good source of new names, names that are not overdone.

I can’t stand it, some of these are so delicious, I can’t stand to leave them out.  I’ll throw them out there:

  • Humbert Humbert, Lolita.
  • Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter
  • Ebenezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol
  • Lady Brett Ashley, The Sun Also Rises
  • Pip, Great Expectations
  • Ichabod Crane, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
  • Mustapha Mond, Brave New World
  • Jeeves, The Man with Two Left Feet and many others
  • Major Major Major Major and Milo Minderbender, Catch-22
    This breaks the rule about names that begin with the same letter, but let’s face it, when you usually call one character Major Major Major Major, and you other character Milo, people won’t get confused.
  • Stephen Daedalus and Mina Purefoy, Ulysses.
  • Henry Higgins and Ramona Quimby, Beezus and Ramona and others
  • Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy, very evocative names. They elicit severity, the sibilance of a snake, a sniping, critical or underhanded character, the dragon (Draco) and bad faith (Malfoy).
  • Lazarus Long, Time Enough for Love
    He lives forever.
  • Benny Profane, V
  • Bluebeard
  • Mrs. Malaprop, The Rivals
  • Dr. Beeper, Caddyshack
  • Hiro Protagonist, Snowcrash
  • Neo, Trinity, Rail, Beat, Motoko, Molly Millions, The Dixie Flatline and other Cyberpunk names.

The series M*A*S*H – as well as the novel it was based upon – burst with great character names. Besides “Radar” O’ Riley and Hawkeye Pierce, pictured, we could find Corporal Klinger, Lt. Colonel Donald Penobscott and Charles Emerson Winchester III, just to name a few. All of these names told us something important about the character and created a vivid image in our minds.

A last word:

Don’t choose your character name gratuitously. Give it some thought. Consider what impression you want to make with your character. Dramatic? Humorous? Fearsome? Timid? Would a subtle reference work better for your story, or an obvious one? Choose a method of naming. You’ll find many!

If you haven’t already, get the full story and lots of extra tip and info in Parts One and Two of the Series