5000 Words Per Hour

I’ve neglected the poor old blog a bit lately, but for probably the best reason a writer can have – I’ve been writing. Quite a lot, actually. The Iron Line is now about three-quarters of the way through, and I’ve also started a non-fiction book under the auspices of my business called Communications for Volunteers, which lays out everything volunteer-run community organisations need to know about how to get their message out there in a professional-looking way.

On top of all that, I’ve been travelling quite a lot for work as well, and doing backstage crew work for a local amateur theatre production, so life is pretty full! But the freelance life is very much agreeing with me, and I love having days like today where I can just sit alone in my office and work on my own projects – it’s introvert heaven.

My surge in writing productivity is partly due to my changed work arrangements, but the thing that really kicked it up a gear was discovering a handy little book (and its companion app) called 5000 Words Per Hour by Chris Fox, or 5KWPH for short.

5KWPH cover

To be honest, I initially bought this book in order to make fun of the premise. As if anyone could write 5000 words per hour! At the time I bought it, if I was writing 1000 words per day I was happy. Then I read it.

Fox is an app developer by trade, and his system is just one more example of gamifying productivity – that is, using the same competition and reward techniques that video game developers use to make their games so addictive. And the thing is, because it’s based in psychology, it actually works.

The premise is pretty simple: it’s based on ‘writing sprints’. Fox recommends starting small – three to five minutes – but I do 20 minutes as I’ve been at this writing thing for a while and I’ve got the stamina. During these sprints you get rid of external distractions, turn off your inner editor and just write whatever comes to you. If you need to do more research, you put a comment on the relevant section and move on so you don’t go off on tangents. The aim is to get a first draft down, however imperfect it may be (and as Hemingway rightly said, the first draft of everything is shit). You can fix it in the editing stage later.

Once your sprint is done, you note down how many words you’ve written and then multiply it to calculate how many words you’re writing per hour. The 5KWPH app does this all neatly for you, then graphs it, gives you little stickers as rewards for reaching certain milestones, and calculates how many hours you have left until you reach your word count goal (based on your current hourly rate).

Fox recommends having a good outline before you start your writing sprints, so that you know where you’re going and aren’t stuck for material. He also recommends using dictation software to boost your speed, but I tried this and didn’t really like it, and since I type quite quickly anyway it didn’t make a huge difference to me. But if you’re a slow typist then it will probably make quite a difference.

And the outcome? I went from 1000 words a day to just under 3000 words an hour. Now, when I work on The Iron Line, I do four 20 minute writing sprints, which means I usually write between 3000 and 3200 words in an hour and 20 minutes. That’s basically a full chapter for me. It’s much slower for the non-fiction book, and actually I don’t really use the app for that as I find it less useful due to the different writing process. But for fiction it works a treat.

I’m a sucker for a good productivity app and I’m also pretty competitive and goal-oriented, so it’s probably not a surprise that I like this system. It may not work for everybody, but if you’re looking for ways to increase your writing speed I’d recommend giving it a go.

Now, back to writing.

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