Freelance Writing
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Freelance Writing

If You Only Write 1,000 Words A Day, You Might Just Be Perfectly Normal

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

One of the staple topics that recurs on online writing communities is how many words one “should” write per day.

Putting aside for a minute the fact that there’s unlikely to be one universal answer to this question, such writers’ navel-gazing inevitably brings up a deluge of wildly differing answers.

  • I write 1,000–2,000 words per day on average (me)
  • On a slow day, I can trot out 5,000 words
  • It takes me about 5 hours to write a 1,000 word blog post

What explains such variance?

For one, some writing is easy to author quickly and some is fiendishly difficult.

If you’re an SEO writer who’s already written 100 articles on the the (rough) subject of Why You Need A VPN then you might be able to trot out your 101st composition in 30 minutes.

But try writing original journalism on an unfamiliar topic in the same time frame and you may find that it’s only enough time to begin sketching out an outline.

As a general rule, I find that writing my first composition for a new client takes two to three times the length of time that it does to write for an existing one. There’s just a lot to pick up including the brand tone of voice, the industry context, and the jargon. The months during which I’m onboarding a succession of new clients back-to-back are actually the most challenging for me.

The second factor to consider is that writers also vary in terms of how quickly they can author “content.” Some are more accustomed to working in environments that value a slower production cycle while others come from fast-moving news backgrounds in which speed is the name of the game.

Finally, you have the mechanical factors. Some writers are 50 word per minute (WPM) peckers while others zoom across a keyboard at 120 WPM. Some skip typing and just dictate. Undoubtedly there are other factors to consider.

Nevertheless, the point of writing this post is to make the following argument: that if you only can manage to write 1,000 words per day, that might just be perfectly normal. Even desirable.

Some reasoning:

If You’re Charging Enough, 1,000 Words A Day Might Be Enough For You

Earlier today, I shared the story of how I got into freelance content marketing and my initial evolution as as freelance writer.

The very quick summary is that:

  • I began taking on whatever super sketchy projects came my way — including some decidedly weird ones
  • I progressed to the next tier on the ladder, which was writing a lot of volume SEO work
  • I’m now on what I consider tier three, focused on helping to create thought leadership for technology clients.

As I’ve evolved up the ladder, my rates have increased, including my effective per-word rate (I don’t charge per word). And if I keep going in this direction, then it stands to reason that I will need to write less to make the same income.

Having spent my time producing a lot of cheap SEO content, I personally don’t recommend it as a strategy for either fulfillment or growth. At the same time, I appreciate the ladders are there to be scaled and that many writers will have to start out — as I did — doing this kind of work.

Personally, I find helping clients product well-budgeted quality writing to be much more professionally satisfying then helping them churn out copy intended for search engines. If you can get to the point at which you only need to write 1,000 words per day, then there’s no reason you need to write at an artificial pace to make your target income.

Writing Is Deep Work. Office Workers Only Actually Work A Few Hours A Day

Writing is deep work that requires concentration in spades.

Humans also only have a finite amount of deep concentration available to work with during a workday.

My typical workday looks something like this:

  • Responding to emails (light work)
  • Drafting up content marketing for my writing business (medium work)
  • Posting random things on social media (light work)
  • Client writing (deep work)
  • Wrapping up the day’s emails, invoicing, and admin (light work)

The core component of my day — the deep client work — only lasts for about 3 hours on average. I typically work on 1 to 2 client deliverables per day and turn these in during this period.

After that, I’ve exhausted my deep focus mental bandwidth for the day and I go back to all the other things to keep my writing business running in good order.

But guess what? There’s nothing necessarily abnormal or unproductive about this.

When researchers took a look at how productive your average office worker is, they found that they were only actually working for about 3 hours per day.

Only working on deep-focus tasks for a few hours per day is perfectly natural and a reflection of the fact that when it comes to knowledge work, humans can’t be both creative and highly focused indefinitely without break.

Getting more than a couple of thousand words of quality writing written during this elusive time period would be challenging for most writers — even professionals that have been doing it for years.

Personally, I don’t think there’s any point in writers putting themselves under pressure to achieve an arbitrary word count of production per day. Writers who are able to make a living by writing only 1,000 words per day — or 100 — are, in my opinion, in an enviable position relative to those that have to churn out lots of words in order to make a living. Many writers will find quality more satisfying than quantity. After all, we all only have so much focus to play around with.

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Daniel Rosehill

Daniel Rosehill

Daytime: writing for other people. Nighttime: writing for me. Or the other way round. Enjoys: Linux, tech, beer, random things. https://www.danielrosehill.com