Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Math is the Friend of Prolific…

And the Enemy of Excuses…

Writers who want to hold dearly to the myths of writing must stay away from math. Math can be super deadly to writer’s fears and myths and beliefs. Math, after all, is just numbers.

So let me point out where this is glaringly clear in a simple example.

You write 250 words of fiction a day, shorter than many of your emails. Most writers can do that in 15 minutes or less.

So you do that every day, you manage to make your writing important enough in your life that you carve out 15 minutes a day to do it.

250 words x 365 days = 91,250. That’s a full novel.

Now is where this entire column gets brutal. Let’s say you really like writing 50,000 word novels like I do.

And you can manage to cut out of your busy game schedule and work and family and television schedule one hour a day to write. And if you are like most writers, you can do 1,000 words in that hour. (If you are much slower than that you need to deal with the fear.)

Here comes the math…

1,000 words x 365 days = 365,000 words divided by 50,000 word novels = 7.3 novels a year. So say you took two weeks vacation from that horrid hour-per-day schedule so you only wrote 7 novels in a year.


Wrapped up in neat bows in writing myths.

Excuse #1… What about rewrites? If you are still lost in that myth, I can’t help you. Learn how to cycle and write in to the dark and stop being sloppy and produce a finished draft.

Excuse #2… Where will I get that many ideas? (I really can’t help you.)

Excuse #3… What about all the publishing that goes along with that? Oh, no, every month or so you might have to spend a few extra hours to publish your novel so you can make money.

Excuse #4… What about all the plotting and outlining and character sketches and such to get ready ahead of time. (Oh, my…seriously?)

And on and on and on… Pick a myth…

I Am a Professional Writer…

I have filled my days with doing some teaching, staying in shape, taking care of a lot of our food, and writing this blog. So assume that in and amongst all those fine tasks, I can manage about four hours a day toward writing. I am old, after all, wouldn’t want to stress myself too much. (grin)

I write about a thousand words per hour, a little more most times. But let me keep it simple at a thousand.

So I can do 4,000 words a day without issue. Some days a lot more, some a little less.

4,000 words x 365 days (Why would I need a day off from writing?) = 1,460,000 words.

That’s pretty close to what I hit on a normal year of consumable words. I do not count email or posts on Facebook or responses to comments on my blog. That is a comfortable amount to me that I just hit regularly.


My challenge from yesterday…

Say I wanted to spend every word in a year on writing short stories. Say all my stories averaged 4,000 words. (About what I do. Some drop to 2,500, some go to 6,000.)

1,460,000 words divided by 4,000 = 365.  Hmmm, sounds like the challenge I am working on this year,… a story a day.

But I also want to do a novel a month, which will add in 500,000 to 600,000 more words.

And I will keep doing this blog, average about 500 words a day x 365 = 182,500.

So I need to write this year over 2,000,000 (That’s 2 million) words to hit this challenge. I have done that many years, but not in about six or so. So it will be a challenge.

So do the math… (This will hurt I am afraid…)

2,000,000 million words divided by 1,000 words an hour = 2,000 hours.

2,000 hours divided by 365 days= 5.5 hours a day.

So to do this I have to work just barely over a part time in numbers of hours, without a commute, and on my own time.

How Much Will I Be Paid?

If I hit this and produce 365 short stories (different pieces of IP) and 12 novels (different pieces of IP) and get at least 30 or more collections out of the stories (IP) and maybe a few nonfiction books out of the blogs (IP), how much will this part-time amount of hours be worth over my lifetime (plus the 70 years after I am gone)?

Might be the best-paying, part-time occupation anyone could ever have.

And what a fun thing to do, sit alone in a room and make stuff up.

As I said, stay away from math if you want to hold all your myths and excuses of why you don’t write more than you do.

Welcome to 2021!!!




  • Balázs

    Happy new year!
    I did the math in the last week for myself. My minimum goal is to write 2 page per day in the morning, some more in the afternoon, if I can. I realized if I write little a day, but do it every day I can do more. With this method hopefully I will finish 4 novel in a year. The challenge for me in this is to sit down every day without any excuses. It’s still needed to be learned. And yes, it is not a big goal, but there is no point in doing a competition with anyone. Everyone has their own challenges.
    I am a starter after all and I hope I will gain more speed during the year.
    By the way, the publishing side is difficult to me. To put out all of my writings I am afraid to do… I feel I am improving by novel to novel, but still feeling I have no place yet in the league. just don’t know when to start to publish my stories.
    So thanks for the post and the math. And again, happy new year.

    • Peggy

      There’s a story from the pulp days – I don’t remember who the author in question was (Lester Del Rey, maybe?), but said author was talking with John Campbell, then the editor of “Astounding Science Fiction” magazine. Campbell asked if the author if he had been writing.

      “Yes,” replied the author. “But nothing good enough for you.”

      Campbell’s reply was along the lines of, “Stop editing my magazine for me and send it in!” Of course, the story sold.

      I’m as guilty of editing the magazine for him (as it were) as the next person, but that really is what we’re doing when we refuse to submit/publish our own work. We’re making the editors/readers’ decisions for them, and that’s pretty darned presumptuous of us, isn’t it?

    • Erik Kort

      “Excuse #2… Where will I get that many ideas? (I really can’t help you.)”

      Except for the Ideas workshop!

      Oh no, are you getting so many workshops that they’re hard to keep track of? I knew that was the case for stories and novels, but… *grin*

  • Mihnea Manduteanu

    Brutal indeed, and inspiring. So I guess if I usually can carve out at least 3 hours every day but spend them batteling the critical voice and staring at a blank screen I must count myself as pretty stupid.

    • Kevin McLaughlin

      I wouldn’t call that “stupid”. You are at point a. You know you want to get to point b. The distance between those two points is filled with a whole bunch of practice. 🙂

      If getting critical voice out of the way is the thing slowing you down right now, practice that. There’s a bunch of tactics writers use. The one I find most helpful is to remember to *have fun* while writing. Storytelling is play. It’s supposed to be fun! If I’m not enjoying writing a scene, I figure my readers aren’t gonna enjoy reading it much either.

      Having fun during the process is key for me.

      • dwsmith

        Well said, Kevin. I feel the same way. If I’m not having fun as an entertainer, I doubt I am entertaining anyone else.

    • Jason A. Adams

      As a member of the ADD tribe, I learned long and long ago that the way to make a major task possible is to break it down into the smallest chunks possible, and tackle those one at a time. Need to clean out a cluttered garage? I’ll focus on this one shelf first. Need to write a story? Ok, first three hundred words and go. Weight loss? Never find how much I need to lose. I only need to lose some weight this week.

      The snowball effect is very real, and extremely helpful.

      • dwsmith

        Yup, that’s how I am handling a major shift in our new office and clearing out about 200 boxes of filing. One box a day, one thing a day, spending about an hour a day. Making progress. It does work for writing as well.

    • Zoe Cannon

      If you’re looking for help, try Becca Syme’s books, and Dean’s “Killing Critical Voice” workshop and “Nothing’s Good Enough” popup. Becca’s stuff showed me what had gotten my creative voice locked up, Dean’s stuff showed me how to fix it.

      • Mihnea Manduteanu

        Thanks. Hadn’t heard of Becca Syme. Will check her books out. Already signed up for “Nothing is good enough”.

  • Robert Collins

    I just did the math for the end of the year, and I got to just over 750,000 words written in 2020. That’s with 3 sessions a day, 5 days a week, as my goal. I didn’t always write every day, but now I usually hit the goal and often I exceed it.

  • emmiD

    Back in 2013, when I asked myself if I was ever going to achieve my lifelong dream, math helped me start converting from dream into reality. (And I hate math!) There’s a significant peculiar beauty in seeing the word totals change ideas into novels.

  • Philip

    Phenomenal post!

    I have one myth that’s been a real doozy to fight from my Critical Voice: the book/story is important.

    You see, when I got back into writing seriously, and indie publishing, it was October 2015. I wrote one short story per day (5,000 words average). I would immediately publish the story each night after dinner. In November, I had 30 stories and 6 collections published. Some of the stories were “hits” and I wound up making $1,500 that month. All for having fun!

    Here is the problem: they were all erotica stories so they flowed easily because they weren’t “important” to me. I was just having fun. Now, when I write in any other genre, I can’t help but have it creep into my mind that the stories are important because they are from my “real genres.”

    • dwsmith

      Yup, you have to learn that a story is a story is a story. Entertainment is just entertainment, being it erotic or romance or sf or fantasy or literature. It is entertainment, nothing more. And if you have fun writing it, the readers will enjoy it.

      Readers hate “important” stories by the way. Worst way to kill sales. Go play.

  • Jim Turnbo III

    Your posts these last few days have opened my eyes to how little focus I hold towards my writing. (At least to consider myself a professional.) Over the last few years, I’ve kept track of my words in a journal/planner/printed Word calendar. In 2019, I hit 175,000+ words. In 2020… 119,000+.

    Each day I’d write a word count on that date. While thumbing through the year, I noticed a trend of inconsistency. Lots of ZEROS on dates – wasted days of doing nothing important. To take my writing and my professionalism to a new level, I have to treat this like a profession rather than an excuse-ridden hobby that I can blow off because… Ah; I don’t feel like it today.

    I’m taking on this challenge. Originally, I only planned on publishing 52 stories for the year starting January 9th (my 51st birthday). This goal would take me to my 52nd birthday, where I’d publish that 52nd story on January 9th, 2022.

    Since my 52 are pretty much written, I’m writing one story a day for the year. Today, January 2nd, is an eye-opener. Already a little behind only because I’m still sorting out the systems and details to make this happen without alienating myself from family and life. Not to mention I have to kick effing critical voice in the balls several times a day.

    Challenges are worthless if they don’t scare you.

    Thanks Dean!

    • dwsmith

      Jim, good luck on the challenge. One key is to build. Sounds like you are not building, but jumping, so keep that in mind. Jumping can be done, but it requires setting brand new habits and routines. I am moving from just over 1.3 million words to 2 millions. That is building because I already have the habits to get to the next level and have done it before.

      A suggestion. Plan on restarting a bunch of times during the year. A big jump often ends up in misses, but if you restart and jump again, eventually you learn the patterns and habits and make the jump. Good luck and keep it fun!!

  • Kate Pavelle

    An aside to all of you who are ramping up your word count for the first time: your fingers will hurt. If you don’t stretch and exercise, it will make you stop and it may endanger your streak.

    Since writing forms our hands into a claw-like shape, the inner part of the hand gets exercised more than the top part. The key is to stretch out the palm side of your hands and forearms, whilst strengthening the opposing upper part.
    I do these as part of my writing regimen:
    – To stretch out the bottom side of your hand and forearms, placed your palms against the wall and gently lean in. Follow the feeling of an easy and pleasurable stretch.
    – To strengthen the upper part of your hand, align your posture so you’re perfectly upright and spread your arms to the sides. Point your fingers up towards the ceiling and press your palms out, as though you were pushing the walls apart. You will feel both a stretch on the underside and a sense of effort on the upper part of your fingers, hands, and forearms.
    – with your arms still apart, touch your index finger to your thumb to make a circle, but keep other fingers stationary. Then do the same thing with the middle finger, ring finger, and pinky. Your challenge is to isolate the movement of the fingers. This will strengthen your hands. It’s also a lot of fun.
    – Don’t forget to gently turn your hands at the wrists in both directions, and also do the same with your shoulders as you realign your back. Keeping your mid and upper back muscles in shape will counter a lot of the tyrannosaurus posture some of us tend to fall into while typing, and prevents neck pain.

    Doing this will protect your streak. It will also contribute toward keeping you out of a physical therapist’s office during a pandemic ?

    • dwsmith

      I stand up every hour, and move around, take a break, do what Kate suggests. And I never have more than two hours in a row without a major break, like dinner or lunch or doing some sort of manual exercise. Kate is right, extreme caution. You might not think you can be injured by writing, but you will be wrong.

  • Thorn Coyle

    I always love these math posts.

    A few days ago, I was looking at my “projects I want to write in 2021” and did the math.

    Since I write every day, to reach my 2021 goals, I need to *average* 1200 words a day. That’s it.

    Writing daily is the single biggest help to me. It really takes the pressure off, production-wise. Bad day? Crisis? Gone camping? A couple hundred words will keep things going. No big deal.

    Publishing monthly also takes the pressure off, strangely. Because of giving myself that challenge in 2020–your “publish every month, a 5 story collection, novel, or omnibus”– publishing has also just become another thing I do.

    So 2020, despite being a “bad” year for me, what with pandemic, intense fires, social uprisings, and personal stuff–health ups and downs, and concussion from a bike crash–was quite successful, production-wise. I published eleven things (just plain forgot November for some reason).

    The math is my friend. I use it for planning, and then I let it go, other than as a rough guideline, because word-tracking makes it not fun for me any more. Unlike other people, too much word-tracking makes me tense up.

    So, I set project targets, I write daily, and the words add up on their own.

    • dwsmith

      Amazing how good it feels to look back at a bad year and realize it really wasn’t so bad in the writing and production side, just felt like not much happened because of doing it every day. Great fun. And thank heavens for 2021!

  • Kevin McLaughlin

    I love and hate the math. 😉

    I’m faster than some; I average more like 2400 words per hour and can get up to 3200 wph on a good flow-state session.

    So that million words I did last year took me roughly 417 hours. I spent time on covers, marketing, some other odds and ends, but I doubt I went over 800 hours of work for the year. Now, this is my day job – so in theory I could be doing much more.

    This leaves me with the whole “not living up to my potential” feeling, a leftover from hearing that a lot in high school. I find it to be a not terribly useful feeling. 😉

    But I definitely want to keep doing better each year. That’s why I cranked up the challenge so much for 2021, so I can push myself and see what I’m capable of with a little more effort! 🙂

    • dwsmith

      Kevin, yup, same reason here. No writer I have ever met feels like they do enough, and in most instances, that feeling is accurate. I know it has been for me the last few years. (grin)

  • Kristi N.

    Thank you for doing the math. It means I’m not that far off when I do the math for myself. It looks intimidating, until it’s broken down into the little pieces. I get into the habit now of asking myself every time I sit down ‘for a little rest’ if there is something I can do while I’m sitting there. The answer every time is yes. I can write, even if it’s only 250 words. That’s a few more words towards my goal this year. (Trying to hit 1 million again. A lot of things are off my plate that I had to deal with in 2020, so I have both the freedom to work and the bandwidth to do it.)

  • Victoria Goddard

    It’s the daily sitting-down-to-it that is the kicker! I started the novel writing challenge (six novels in a year, one every two months) in the summer, and got the first two done without too much problem. I got way off my writing habit in December and now have to catch up over the next ten days. (But I will! I have time booked for it.)

    Mihnea, I took the Writing into the Dark workshop and found that really helpful for combating critical voice and the blank screen and so on. When in doubt, start writing details!

    • Mihnea Manduteanu

      Well I just signed up for the January Writing into the dark workshop as sort of a last resort, hope it helps. Thanks.

  • Kari Kilgore

    My breakthrough on this started in the last week of 2018 (yes, decades ago, I know), with the Discipline popup workshop. I’m actually quite good at math and numbers and patterns, but hadn’t REALLY applied it to writing until then.

    I took your advice to start a 250 word daily writing streak. And that streak just passed 739 days yesterday on January 1. Even with last year’s ongoing challenges, I managed to work up to 539 days of 500 words and 202 days of 1000 words. And yeah, it’s very often a lot more words than that, and that all feeds into a consistent publishing schedule, too.

    I’m quite sure this daily habit will get challenged in the future like it did last year, because that’s how life works. And if that happens, I’ll just get out my two year-long calendars full of proof and use that to start another streak.

    All because I decided to take that 15 minutes a day and see what I could do with it. Yaaaaaaay, math!

    And Happy New Year. 🙂

    • Mihnea Manduteanu

      Was it a Discipline pop up from Dean? I can’t seem to find it. Is it “How to stay focused”? Thanks.

      • dwsmith

        Three sort of on topic. How to Stay Focuses, Stuck, and Good Enough. All three Pop-Ups. There is a Motivation lecture as well.

  • Mihnea Manduteanu

    As good a place as any to mention once again how much I would love to read a mth topic about making a living from novels.

  • Christine D Shuck

    I spent the last twelve years writing nine books. This year, I plan to publish at least five.

    2,000 words per day is a good goal for me at this time. Five days per week since weekends are a crapshoot with kids and husband bouncing about. That’s 10k/week x 50 = 500,000

    My books average around 80k-100k.

    I’m tired of waiting for my writing ship to sail in. I’m hunting that motherf@*$er down and making it happen.

    p.s. I turn 51 this year.