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How to Write 10,000 Words a Day, Part I (James Maxey)


One reader of my interview with James Maxey, “Writing a Novel in One Week,” had this question:

This is an interesting article, but fails to answer the question that every writer must be asking: HOW? He’s writing 10,000 words a day! That’s great! Can it be done? Well, one writer was successful at it. Presumably, others can as well. How? What steps made this goal actionable?

It’s  a pretty practical question, and I passed it on to James to see what his thoughts were. Also, I have some answers to that question myself, because while I’ve never written a novel in a week, I’ve written more than 10,000 words in a day from time to time, including when I wrote the the majority of my novelette “Bottomless,” which won the Writers of the Future contest and appears in Writers of the Future, volume XX.

How do you write 10,000 words in a day? Here’s what James had to say.

Right now, I’m slogging away on a novel called Witchbreaker, wistfully dreaming of those 10k days of Burn Baby Burn. I’m once again back in my 10k words a week territory. Every novel is different, so I’m not overly concerned about my slower speed. Still, while I’m struggling, it’s easy to look back and see what my advantages were at the time.

The things that made Burn Baby Burn a fast novel are actually pretty simple:

1. I’d been thinking about the story for a long time. I had a big list of events and themes I wanted to include. I had enough material to fill a novel ready to go, and a minimalist outline gave me a structure to fit everything into.

2. The unique circumstances that kept me away from work, at home, with no other commitments will be difficult to duplicate again. One thing that’s causing me grief on Witchbreaker is that I bought a house in March that needed a lot of renovations and repairs. Those took time, moving took time, and now we’ve been working on our old house to improve its chances of selling. I have a lot of distractions, and it takes me a long time to ramp back up when I do sit down to write. That said, I’ve carved out some additional time in June to have several sequential days with butt in chair and hope to beat 20k words a week at least a few weeks this month. The more I write in a short amount of time, the better my ability to keep the narrative thread.

3. Burn Baby Burn is a fully developed novel, but it’s also a fairly simple novel. Witchbreaker is the third book in my dragon apocalypse series, and I have dozens of characters I have to keep track of, and at least seven or eight characters with story arcs that have to weave together. Burn Baby Burn really only followed the character arc for Pit Geek and Sunday. The other major characters, the superheroes, remained more or less static. They were fleshed out with backstories and conflicts, but pretty much exited the novel unchanged by the events. This simplicity also provides intensity. By the end of the book you will really be emotionally invested in Pit and Sunday. With Witchbreaker, you have a whole buffet of characters to sample. Some you may fall in love with, some may leave you cold, but all weave together in a grand soap opera. Writing an epic fantasy like this is really kind of like writing a half dozen smaller stories and fitting them all together seamlessly, which is more time consuming.

4. This is probably the biggest factor of all: I’ve been practicing. A long, long time. If Burn Baby Burn were my first or second novel, I would have almost definitely gotten bogged down. Instead, it was maybe the eight novel I wrote? The ninth? On top of what, a hundred short stories? I’ve easily written a million words of fiction by this point. If I count multiple drafts of the same works, I’ve probably got several million words under my belt. I’ve measured my output enough to know that I’ve had several peak days in the past when I did get out over 10k words in a day, usually when I was really swept up in the heat of a story. So, while 10k words in a day is still ambitious, I know it’s possible, so when I have a day where that’s my goal, I can approach it with confidence. Fifteen years ago, 10k words would have felt like a lot of writing. Now, meh. It’s about ten hours of my life. Finding 10 unclaimed hours is an increasingly difficult trick, but, when I do have an hour, I know I can trade it for a thousand words, at least. Last summer, life handed me a week of unclaimed time. I swapped them for a book.

If  you’re just starting out as a writer, your art is just like learning to play a musical instrument or learning to master an athletic skill. Talent only takes you so far. You have to dedicate the practice time if you want to get good. There really are no shortcuts.

I’ll follow up based on my own experience in tomorrow’s post.

Photo by sundaune



  1. Larry Hodges  •  Jun 8, 2012 @8:05 am

    I think I broke 10,000 words in a day once, while writing a 13,000 word novelette. However, my “magic” numbers seems to be 7000, which I’ve broken about ten times, and 5000, which I’ve done dozens of times. (It is often followed by a day where I’m too tired to write.) In general, when I’m working on a book (novel or non-fiction), I keep a 2000 words/day pace, with occasional 5000-7000 word bursts, especially near the end. When writing a short story that’s 5000-7000 words, about half the time I’ll do it in one sitting.

  2. Luc  •  Jun 8, 2012 @9:54 am

    What kinds of things seem to make the difference in your speed from one session to the next, Larry?

  3. Luc  •  Jun 8, 2012 @9:54 am

    What kinds of things make the difference in your speed from one session to the next, Larry?

  4. Larry Hodges  •  Jun 8, 2012 @10:22 am

    There are two things that seem to spur me on on days where I write a LOT of words.

    1) I know where I’m going with the story, and it’s a particularly exciting or interesting scene or story. It is often preceded by me pacing back and forth in my office as I think out the scene with growing excitement. Then I sit down and pretty much type non-stop until it is done.

    2) In novels or short stories, when I approach the end, I tend to either get bogged down or (if I know where I’m going) I tend to keep going and going. The last couple of weeks in both of my novels I was doing 5000 words almost every other day. In short stories, when writing a longer one, if I know where I’m going, I’ll stay at it, often typing at full speed, until it’s done. But the key is I have to really know where I’m going.

    The common factor for both is it happens when I really have a firm idea of where I’m going with the story. This doesn’t mean I know every detail, but I know where the scenes are going, and so my writing is mostly filling in the interesting details. Ironically, it is when I’m in such a state of “flow” that I come up with some of the best ideas, often changing where I thought I was going. When I get bogged down, it usually means either I’m not sure where I’m going or there’s something wrong with the story, and my subconscious mind is screaming at me, leading to a state of uncertainty where writing is like pulling teeth.

  5. Luc  •  Jun 8, 2012 @11:00 am

    Great response: thanks for posting it!

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