Writing @ the Speed of Thought

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My article 5 Tips to Refine Your Short Story is up on FreelanceWriting.com. If you’re writing a story, do check it out and share it with fellow writers!

This last week I’ve been ruminating on the speed of writing. Alexander McCall Smith mentioned in an interview that he writes at the rate of a thousand words per hour. How wonderful it would be to possess his writing speed! Sentences reeking of beauty seem to spill out of his magic fingers. He even manages to set a scene and convey atmosphere or even posit a nugget of keen human observation. This is no easy task, for this is 1000 words of fiction we are talking about. Even for a person writing fiction for many years this sounds prolific. I suppose the speed and efficiency improves with regular practice, but getting to that stage is a long way away for me.

I can write 500 words of a memory or writing practice easily enough. In fact if you asked me to write a thousand words about an incident of my youth or even what happened yesterday, I’d surpass that speed in minutes. But ask me to spin a yarn and I’d be left stumbling all over the place like a drunkard. No words of beauty or keen analysis in my passages – you would be hard-pressed to locate entire sentences that made sense of their own accord without the supporting structure of the sentences around it.

I suppose I could write that much fiction that fast only if I had planned it beforehand. If the idea comes fully-formed in my head I can just write it out in one sitting, as it occasionally happens. But this is the equivalent of waiting for lightning to strike, not a useful quality for one who aspires to regularly write and publish fiction.

One way is to maintain a tracker to note the number of words you write daily and the time that you write it. This is useful for two purposes. Firstly after you have accumulated a month’s worth of data, you can derive a daily average and aim for this as the minimum you should write every day.

The second purpose is to analyze the timings to find out when is your most productive time. I have maintained a tracker only for a couple of months, but it has confirmed what I already know – weekend afternoons are likely to be the best times for me to spin fiction.

The writer Rachel Aaron has a useful blog post, which turned out to be popular enough that she wrote a book which is now available as a Kindle eBook on Amazon!

I’m not sure how long I will continue with a tracker, nor am I positive that with regular writing and tracking I will ever attain the pace of Alexander McCall Smith, but I can always hope, can’t I?


  1. Sorry I didn’t have time to read the full interview with Alexander McCall Smith, did he mean that he wrote 1000 publishable words or just 1000 words? Given that I’ve been able to do the latter, and even more so in some hours, I’m sure you could too if you wanted. But they also say that writing is simply something you have to work at, the more you do it the better you get. (I doubt this sometimes but have to take it on trust.)
    Regarding your tracker, I wasn’t sure if you meant that that was something you did informally or there was some kind of app that would do it for you? My mind is boggling at the thought of all that data you could analyse – I’m imagining all those pretty graphs as a diversion from writing.


    1. According to his interviews, he writes 1000 publishable words and doesn’t need to edit much!
      As for the tracker, yes I do just maintain a simple Excel sheet with a date and a word count. No pretty graphs for me – just a statistical average to check how I’m doing. I’m experimenting with this – no saying when I’ll throw in the towel and stop it entirely!


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