Work Ethic and Word Counts

RJBlain-BloodDiamond-Concept1Fans of my Twilight and Fifty Shades play by play series have been disappointed lately due to my lack of play by play posts. (They're coming back, don't worry–when I have time.)

This year has been a roller coaster, and not necessarily in a good way. My husband found out at the beginning of the year that he was being laid off at the end of April. He's lined up for a bunch of interviews, but he doesn't have a new job yet.

My writing work, at current, doesn't pay our mortgage. The effort I put in now may not pay off for months, which doesn't help us with our current situation, one that could become exceptionally unpleasant exceptionally fast. That said, he's in line for a bunch of interviews, so there's hope for a bright future–and a better paying job my husband will like.

One of the jobs is ten minutes from the house. (And would involve him working from home a lot, which really pleases him.)

But it got me to thinking. This week, I've written almost 40,000 words of novel. That's a lot–that's almost half of an entire book. I've been tracking my work this week, because I need to be productive and getting all of the things done.

There's nothing quite like the breadwinner changing jobs to shunt things into perspective. I haven't always been a hard worker; that was a habit I developed when I decided I really wanted to be an author. Generally, I can be a very lazy creature. Developing a strong work ethic was more than just sitting down and deciding to get work done. It was a complete turn around from my normal behavioral patterns.

This week, I learned something–something that may very well change how I approach my work from this point forward.

If I am working for 9 hours a day, I can consistently write 5,000 words by hand or 10,000 words if I am typing up what I've already written. In the 9 hour day, I'm actively working for 50 minutes and taking 10 minute breaks over the hour. Sometimes I work 9 hours straight, sometimes, like yesterday, I sneak two naps over the course of the day and spread it around in shifts.

But I've come away learning something extremely valuable for myself.

My writing is a job. 5 days a week, minimum, I need to be sitting at my desk, shutting up, and doing my work. My husband is expected to go pay the piper for his pay, and the same applies to me.

This won't work for everyone, of course. There are a lot of people who just can't do that sort of thing–be it because after a few hours, the brain just gets tired. (Mine does, too… thus the naps.) My method of writing works for me, because I think differently when I'm copying and editing what I've already written versus writing by hand. My handwriting is substantially slower than my copying into the computer, and not because I write slower. There's a lot of thinking involved when I write.

But here's the thing: If I want to classify myself as a professional, I need to act like one.

Professional programmers are expected to go into work and do their jobs for 8+ hours a day.

Professional doctors are expected to go to work and do their shifts.

Professional anythings, be it hamburger flipper, waitress, secretary, and so on… they all are expected to go to work and put in their hours.

As an author, I am holding myself up to the same expectation.

I often write fewer than 1,000 words an hour. (This week has been exceptional for me, with an average rate of 1,200 per hour.)

My word count isn't what is impressive here.

My work ethic, however, is.

I work at home. It would be exceptionally easy for me to get distracted by the internet, go find something to watch on tv, play a computer game, or otherwise waste time and goof off. I could go clean the house. (It needs it, too… ack.)

But I made the conscious decision to sit my ass down and work.

Writing is my job.

Almost every other career choice ever requires a certain number of hours per day invested. Not showing up or slacking off can mean being fired.

I have simply decided that I will treat my work as a job–and that not showing up and slacking off isn't acceptable behavior.

If you want to survive as a full-time author, consider that very carefully. You will only get paid for your finished product. That's fact. You can't expect anyone to invest in you typing or playing or daydreaming.

Readers want finished books.

Finished books take a substantial amount of time to write.

If you aren't working, your book won't get done. That's a hard truth, so get used to it. To illustrate this point, I'm going to do some math. I'm intimately aware of how much work time I've invested in Blood Diamond. I've had a fantastic time working on this title, which has made it much easier to put in the hours each day.

For the sake of this discussion, I write approximately 1,200 words an hour by hand, including staring-at-the-page time. I originally though I wrote at half this pace, but after considering when I started Blood Diamond to now, and doing some math, I've figured out I write 2 pages per hour consistently. I transcribe approximately 1,100 words an hour, using this week's word count achievements as the baseline. It seems I copy into the computer slower than I hand write for some reason…

I think it is because I'm doing a great deal of editorial work as I'm copying it into the computer. I'm just going to tell myself that so I feel better.

I have had hours where I've (hand) written only 100 words in an hour, mainly thanks to flipping back and making notes and figuring out how to address things.

I'm a very slow worker compared to other writers, so keep that in mind. There are those who can accomplish what I do in 3-4 hours. Great for them! I'm not them. (You're also not me, but all I can do is tell you what I do, how I do it, and how long it would take me. It's up to you to decide what you do with the knowledge.)

Writing a novel isn't just about the number of words put down on the page or into the computer. Here's an example of some of the time invested that didn't make words appear on the page.


Every novel in the Witch & Wolf series had an outline created before I started drafting. Inquisitor's outline was the shortest, and primarily featured information on the various ways I killed people in the book. I was feeling a bit bloodthirsty when I was working on the book.

Winter Wolf had an extensive outline, which took me almost two weeks to write and was almost 20,000 words long.

Blood Diamond likewise had an extensive outline–it's right around the 20,000 word mark as well.

For both Winter Wolf and Blood Diamond, I substantially strayed from the original outlines. However, it was not time wasted. The outlines gave me a feel for the characters, what they would do, and their limits. How far would they go for what they wanted?

I learned that in the outlines. I view those outlines as very rough drafts.

It took me over a week to outline Blood Diamond, working 6 hours, approximately, a day at it. (I mean a 7 day week, not a 5 day week.)

That is 42 hours of time invested in the novel so far.

First Draft

I'm still not done the first draft of Blood Diamond. I'm rotating drafting and transcription work. I couldn't tell you how far into the novel I am at this point; I have a lot of ground to cover, but at this stage in the book, a lot is going on at one time. It's impossible for me to guess when the ending is going to sneak up on me. That's not uncommon with the way I write novels.

The story ends when the story ends. I don't worry about the length. I worry about telling the story I want and need to tell.

That said, I've figured out that one handwritten page is roughly 550-600 words on my computer when using the one type of moleskine journal. For sake of argument, I will use 575. I have figured out I can consistently write 1,200 words by hand an hour, with spikes up to 2,000 words in an hour if I'm on a roll.

(I have clocked myself at being able to write 4 pages in an hour if I am able to focus just on drafting and know where I'm going–but I have also clocked myself spending hours flipping back and forth, taking notes, and only writing a few lines here and there. I am not consistent all of the time.)

Anyway, if I clock in at a page an hour, so far I have invested 80 hours in the first draft stage of writing Blood Diamond. That's two solid weeks of regular work-day drafting. I have taken longer than that accomplishing what I have, mainly because I have been transcribing while drafting.


As I mentioned in the First Draft phase, I transcribe at roughly 1,100 words an hour, using this week as a baseline for the numbers.

That means I have currently invested 70 hours of effort into the transcription of Blood Diamond.

So what?

Including outlining, first drafting, and transcription, I have invested 192 hours of time working on Blood Diamond so far. That's over a month of solid work on this book. I've been spreading that work out since January, as I have also been working on Storm Surge.

If you want to become a professional author, think about these numbers carefully. No matter how you decide to work, there are a few simple facts you must face. Writing a book takes time. Editing a book takes time. If you approach your professional job with a half-interested view point, you probably aren't going to get very far.

I'm not paid until I have a finished product ready for my readers. So far, I have a month's investment on Blood Diamond–without pay.

There's no guarantee I will have sales even after investing another month of time into the novel… which is approximately what it will take for me to finish the book.

I am expecting at least another 80 hours of first draft and transcription time–maybe more. (I work faster as I get near the end of a novel; momentum helps carrying me and whips me into working faster.) To be safe, I'll call it at 3 weeks, which is 120 hours. (Using 40 hour work weeks.) My work weeks are a bit longer, but that's okay.

Editing is a faster process than the drafting and transcription–mainly because my transcription process is part of my editing process. I'll set aside 40 solid hours of reading, re-reading, implementing editor's notes, and re-re-reading–at a minimum. It could be more, it could be less.

In theory, I could be finished the book in a month, if the stars align and everything goes right.

And, of course, if I sit my ass down and work like I mean it.

No matter what your approach, there's one thing that is shared by all authors: it takes time to write a book.

How are you choosing to use your time?

And yes, it is a choice in your control because the only person who dictates how you use your time is you. Think about that. You can make 15 minutes a day to write. Anyone can. It is a choice.

If you choose not to make those minutes, that's your fault. Don't use your work, your kids, your spouse, or your circumstances as excuses. Last time I checked, it was a law to give workers 15 minute breaks at their jobs.

There is your 15 minutes you could be working. You could sacrifice 15 minutes of sleep.

But if you take those 15 minutes and apply them to your writing, you will eventually finish your book. That's just how it works. You put in the time, you'll finish the book.

But it is up to you to make the time and put in the effort. No one is going to hold your hand and help you through it. Your work ethic is a conscious choice.

I have chosen to make the most out of those 8-9 hours a day. So, to those who are amazed at how productive I am…

… I'm not.

I just have a work ethic I have chosen to stick by. Any person who chooses to use this same work ethic will see similar results.

But in order to have the results, you need the work ethic, and that takes effort and a lot of elbow grease to accomplish. So, ask yourself this:

How badly do you want it?

Prioritize your life accordingly.

That's what I did.

Leave a Comment:

Cy Wyss says April 11, 2015

Thanks for sharing what your workday looks like. It’s always a curiosity of mine to see how other authors allocate their time 🙂

Samantha says April 19, 2015

Thanks for sharing that. I need to add “structure” to my schedule. It is like making a truly yummy recipe and not adding all the ingredients, to mix in or cook with. You must not only have all the tools, you must have the “ingredients” too, for the finished product, or in this case, recipe. Sorry, got carried away with your advice.!! Samantha

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