Most people don’t believe me when I say that I write 10,000 words per day, every day.
Between writing on Quora, my Inc Magazine column, ghostwriting for my clients at Digital Press (not counting the dozens of emails I respond to), I can honestly say that even 10,000 words per day is (at times) a low estimate.
I am a professional writer.
So, if you want to know what a day in the life of a very busy professional writer looks like, here you go (and what you can do to crank out the same amount of writing).
The Morning: 3,500 Words
Every single morning, I wake up and try to knock out three pieces before I do anything else.
What I’ve learned over the years is that there are really only two windows of time that allow me to write at my absolute best.
7:00 a.m.—11:00 a.m.
7:00 p.m.—11:00 p.m.
Sure, I do plenty between those two gaps, but for some reason the words come so much more naturally right when I wake up, or later in the day when the sun begins to set.
So, I do my best to take full advantage.
The moment I wake up, I brush my teeth, take a shower, make a quick breakfast, text my girlfriend good morning (those love letters don’t count as part of the 10,000), and then I turn off my phone.
Yes, I turn it off.
The more times I am pulled out of the flow, the longer it takes for me to write a piece.
I have been writing online for a very long time. The first blog post I ever wrote was in 2007, when I was 17 years old. I wrote about how I was one of the highest ranked World of Warcraft players in North America. As soon as I realized people all over the world were reading my writing, that I had a voice, I was hooked.
Today, assuming there are no distractions (and the density of the piece), I can pretty much stream-of-consciousness a nearly perfect ~800 article in 30 minutes. If it’s a subject I am familiar with, 17 minutes. If it’s a highly technical article that requires some element of research and deep understanding, 60–90 minutes.
If I try to write an ~800 word article with my phone on, however, it can take upwards of three hours.
This is very, very bad—for the writing, for my sanity, for productivity, for all things.
For example, I wrote three ghost pieces this morning while eating my breakfast. Each article was ~800 words, and it took me about two hours.
From there, I made some minor edits to other pieces in my queue. Responded to a handful of emails. And jotted down a few article ideas for myself (this being one of them).
Break: CLEAR YOUR HEAD
This is a marathon, not a sprint.
It’s worth sharing now that no matter how ambitious you are as a writer, you will not be able to read this post and then go write 10,000+ words in a day, tomorrow.
It just isn’t going to happen.
Realize this is something I have worked up to over the past decade. And when I say I write 10,000 words in a day, I don’t mean “words for the sake of words.” I mean coherent, thoughtful, creative articles that people read, enjoy, learn from, and then share.
Most people struggle to do that once a week, let alone once a day.
I do it about ten times per day—and here’s how:
You have to take breaks.
After a long writing session, I do everything I can to keep my head clear. If my morning has gone as planned, then I’ve already done the hard work of getting to that quiet, meditative place within myself where I’m not cognitively processing through every single sentence. I’m just flowing. My fingers are on the keys and I’m not doubting myself. In an analogy, it’s like driving down the streets at night: green light, green light, green light.
This is usually when I respond to urgent text and Slack messages, and start making lunch. If I’m out, working at a coffee shop or Soho House, I order something and take a moment to look around. I fight the urge to stare at my phone and scroll through Instagram and Facebook, because that’s only going to clutter my mind.
At this point in the day, less is more.
A meditative exercise I have recently adopted is looking around the room at an object and staring. While staring, I ask myself how I would paint or draw that object. How does the light hit its side? How would I capture the curvature of the glass? What is that red spot, shining in its reflection?
Making lunch, too, is a meditative exercise in itself. It’s a way for me to stay as connected as possible to that space within me where all the words live—and that I just spent several hours getting to.
From there, I eat. Clean up. And then sit down for Round 2.
Lunch: 2,500 Words
A trick I have learned for maximizing your time as a writer (especially as a ghostwriter) is to stay in one voice for as long as possible.
The more “voices” you try to write from in a day, the more exhausted you become.
I can write five pieces in one voice much faster than I can write five pieces in five separate voices.
The reason is because each voice has its own tone, timbre, conviction and truth. Changing voices is as difficult as switching from the piano to the violin, or lifting heavy weights and then trying to run three miles.
Even though the late morning/early afternoon tends to be less giving than the mornings or nights are to my writing, it’s also the largest chunk of the day. So as much as I would love to kick back and say, “I don’t feel like writing right now,” I can’t—nor would I want to.
The brutal truth is that you don’t become a professional writer, let alone someone who can consistently crank out 10,000 words of straight steam by waiting for inspiration to strike.
The afternoon is grueling. It’s when I find myself most likely to deviate, for my attention to drift, and for me to start finding excuses as to how I can’t complete the paragraphs in front of me.
This is where I am grateful for my years as a competitive World of Warcraft player, or my years as a bodybuilder.
The gym is a great metaphor for writing. There are going to be days you’re not going to want to write—just like there are plenty of days you won’t want to go to the gym. But a bodybuilder doesn’t sit at home waiting for to inspired to lift. A bodybuilder lifts regardless, because that’s what it takes to be great.
A writer is no different.
In the afternoon, again, I choose a voice and try to stick with it for as long as I can—until I finish everything I need to and move on to the next.
In most cases, I can work through 2,500 words or so before the middle of the afternoon.
That’s when I’ve about reached my limit, and it’s time to step away and do a full reset.
Break: CLEAR YOUR HEAD x2
Repeat after me: marathon, not a sprint.
Following my afternoon session is almost always a lift or a swim. I highly suggest doing something physical because, at this point, your brain is going to be pretty much fried. 5,000 words is a lot, even for the most conditioned writers.
I use this time to get back in my body.
Now, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, so far the day has gone pretty smoothly. This is what a perfectly crafted schedule looks like—and if I’m being completely honest, it rarely happens like this.
The reason my afternoon sessions end up producing less writing than my mornings and nights is almost always the result of distractions. Calls. Emails. Messages. Other easier-to-tackle tasks.
Part of the gig is just accepting that not every day is going to be one smooth adventure.
All you can do is take things as they come, and do your best to guard your time. I wish I could say that being a professional writer is all about locking yourself in your room for 12 hours per day, every day. But that’s just not how it goes—nor is it how you stay sane, and continue to come up with great ideas.
Once I’ve finished my late afternoon lift, I come back, make something to eat, and read.
This is the secret: you have to read.
One of the best ways to get yourself prepped for your last big grind session of the day is to read—particularly something in the voice you are preparing to use.
This is not something I am recommending just for ghostwriters, but for all writers. I know that even for my own projects, it’s about tapping into the right voice. My creative non-fiction voice is very different than my poetry voice, which is very different than my business writing voice.
Read the genre you are planning to write in next.
This will help light the wick.
Dinner: 4,000+ Words
After dinner, I repeat my morning routine.
I turn my phone off and I get to work.
I’ll tell you that, right now, it’s 8:56 p.m. I started this writing session roughly four hours ago, right after consuming a rather concerning plate full of chocolate gluten-free pancakes with jam and peanut butter (I’m bulking).
In the past four hours, I have:
…and I’m still sitting on my floor, with my laptop. I just moved to L.A. I hear that’s what you do here.
Playing with conservative math here (which is great because I went to art school and math was never my strong suit), that means we’ve already hit 10,000 words for the day—not counting this article here, which I’m assuming will finish out at around ~1,500–2,000 words.
This is not an out-of-the-ordinary day for me. And truthfully, I’m not even done yet. I haven’t written on Quora. I haven’t written a column for Inc Magazine (been swamped with other work). Nor have I made any progress toward finishing my next book.
So, it’s now 9:03 p.m.
Excuse me while I get back to work.