Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall, Who's Most Prolific of Them All?

So a little while ago, I came across this article. For those of you who have a pathological fear of hotlinks, the article discusses the fact that the Game of Thrones producers are going to have to start pulling wacky Hodor adventures out of their collective butts to keep the show running, because they are about to run out of book. The show's fifth season will encompass both the fourth and fifth novels - because the fourth book is completely filled with brand new identical white guys to memorize, and the fifth book takes place concurrently - with the sixth novel not expected to come out in time for the filming of season six. This means the writers are going to have to take the few things they've been told about the series ending and magic up ten episodes.

Spoiler Alert: Winter isn't the only thing that's going to come.

Of course, George R R. Martin's notoriously slow writing isn't news; in an interview I sat in on with Lena Headey and Peter Dinklage, the Lannister actors mentioned that the author has been all but banned from the set, because the time he spent there was hindering the already-glacial progress on his books. Just how slow does George Raymond Richard Martin write? Somewhere between 240 and 356 words per day, using a metric that the article's author Walt Hickey calls 'final words written per day'.

There are people out there who write grocery lists faster than that. 

But the point of this post is not to make fun of the fact that George R. R. Martin writes slower than a crippled wombat. What really interested me was the metric - final words written per day -  the article used to predict when the next book would be finished. So this week, I'll be using that metric to look at popular authors, compare writing speeds, and predict approximately when we'll see another new book on the shelves.

In the case of George R. R. Martin, we will be calculating release times for Earth and for the human settlement on Jupiter's moon Io that will exist by the time it's finished.

But before we get started, let's take a look at what this number of final written words per day actually means. 

The Metric

Final words written per day refers to the approximate number of words that an author puts down per day that actually make it into the finished book sitting on the bookstore shelf. In essence, it's the number of words in the final book divided by the number of days it took to write. Since authors don't often reveal the exact day that they start work on a new book, I'll be measuring from the day after their previous book came out.

Because free time is for non-authors.

When you're looking at these numbers, there's a few things you need to keep in mind. Most importantly: final words written per day does not actually reflect each writer's daily routine. It's easy to look at George RR Martin's measly 356 words per day and assume that he's making millions of dollars to lounge around the house and spit out a single paragraph each day. He's not.

This is not the face of a man who fucks around.

A writer could churn out 10,000 words every single day of their lives and still end up with a relatively low FWW/Day score. For starters, some writers delete a lot of what they've written; most of their words never make it into the first draft, never mind the final product. They could spend day after long day, writing and re-writing a scene, typing out thousands of words on their keyboard, and only end up with one short scene to show for it.

Those writers tend to look like this. 

There are also enormous differences in the amount of time that different writers' manuscripts spend languishing in the editing phase, and that drastically affects the words per day count. Newer authors may have to spend a lot of time doing edits with their agents, then do a few more rounds of edits with their actual editor, and then sit tight while their publishing company looks for an empty spot in their calendar to jam in their book's release. Meanwhile, more established, "sure-thing" authors like James Patterson just get to type their first drafts directly into the printing press software and wave as books tumble off the conveyor belt and into the shipping trucks. In some cases, this difference in editing times can make an author look more or less prolific than she really is.

Does this look like the face of a man who needs editing?

In the interest of accuracy, I have excluded each author's first novel from this analysis, since it is hard to determine an exact start date, and first novels are apt to spend much more time being submitted and edited than subsequent books. Also keep in mind that the word counts I use may not be the exact word counts you've seen listed for these books - I've taken them from websites that may have different ways of estimating word count, and there may be word count differences between American, UK and Canadian versions of the books. So with that said, let's take a look at some popular authors:

J. K. Rowling - 295 Final Words Written Per Day

Rowling, seen here holding up her book for the animals of Pride Rock to admire.

If you were born in the 90s or later and you weren't raised in the secret underwater cave dwelling of your parents' ocean cult, you have read at least one of J. K. Rowling's books. Her Harry Potter series has earned more money than literally anyone else who has every attempted to exchange written words for money, and her books have sold so many copies that J.K. Rowling is probably singehandedly responsible for more deforestation than the entire paper towel industry. But how quickly did she write those bestselling books? Let's take a look.

Chamber of Secrets
Prisoner of Azkaban
Goblet of Fire
Order of the Phoenix
Half-Blood Prince
Deathly Hallows

If George R.R. Martin writes at the speed of glacial movement, then it looks like Rowling, for the most part, wrote her bestselling series at the speed of continental drift. With the exception of Book #4 - which she flew through at a breakneck 521 final words per day - none of the books ever managed to get about that 300 word mark. In fairness to Rowling, the drop-off in word count after the Goblet of Fire is probably due to the production and release of the first Harry Potter movie, which came out almost exactly one year after the fourth book was released. Personal enjoyment of the books doesn't seem to have much of an impact on writing speed here - Rowling has stated that her favourite book of the series is the Prisoner of Azkaban, and her least favourite is the Order of the Phoenix. Both of those books clock in with solidly average writing speeds. In total, Rowling writes at an average speed of 295 final words written per day.

Suzanne Collins - 286 Final Words Written Per Day

Honestly, I'm just putting these pictures here in case you don't know who these people are.

Suzanne Collins is actually the author of eleven books, eight of which have gone on to be bestsellers, but you've probably only heard of the three books she wrote about children fighting to the death in an arena. And how quickly were those books written? Let's see:

Catching Fire

As it turns out, Collins is a slower writer than both George RR Martin and JK Rowling, and a more consistent writer. While most series tend to increase in word count with each installment, The Hunger Games books are virtually the same size. Writing the last two books at the same speed doesn't seem so impressive, until you consider that around the time Collins would have been writing Mockingjay, she was also writing the screenplay adaptation of her first novel. On average, Collins clocks in at 286 final words written per day.

Stephenie Meyer - 452 Final Words Written Per Day

Boo all you want, she's sold millions.

If you have somehow managed to avoid coming into contact with an adolescent girl since 2005, you need to email me right now and tell me your secret. Oh, and you might need a refresher on who this woman is. Stephenie Meyer is the author of the controversial Twilight series, a collection of doorstop-sized teen vampire books that simultaneously revived the paranormal romance genre and exhausted it. The books have become some of the best-selling young adult novels to ever exist, though they were met with decidedly mixed critical reviews. So how quickly were they written?

New Moon
Breaking Dawn

Meyer is a quick writer, outpacing almost every other author in this post. Make of that what you will, because I'm not even going to touch the debate about whether or not her work has literary merit. It is interesting to note that Meyer's books were on the YA market at roughly the same time as Collins' Hunger Games series; Meyers writes twice as fast as Collins, and her books sold around twice as many copies. Meyers also follows the typical pattern of books increasing in length with each installment - this normally happens because authors are given more and more leeway with each successful book, and printing an enormous tome becomes less of a financial risk as the series goes on. The books all came out on roughly the same publication schedule, with no extra time allotted for longer books, which probably explains the increase in writing speed. In total, Meyer and her vegetarian vampires average out to 452 final words written per day.

Christopher Paolini - 255 Final Words Written Per Day

Age all you want, Paolini, but in the public mind you'll be 15 forever.

Just for fun, let's do another controversial young adult writer. His first novel, Eragon, was written when he was fifteen years old and subsequently self-published. After a year of revision and fleshing out the story, Paolini's parents helped him to publish his books traditionally, and his series about dragon riders was an instant success, despite lukewarm critical reviews. It's been a few years since Christopher Paolini has been on the bestseller lists, but since he's now confirmed that there will be a Book 5 in his Inheritance series, let's took a look at how quickly the first four were written. 


Paolini is the slowest writer on this list, putting him roughly on par with the speed of planetary formation. Eldest appears to have been written relatively quickly, but I'll be the first to admit that this number is probably too high; I'm counting writing days since Eragon's official release in 2003, but in all likelihood, Eldest was started sometime after Eragon was self-published back in 2002. Since Paolini has a track record of taking more than three years to write each book, readers awaiting Book 5 should sit back and get comfortable. Paolini was adamant that Inheritance (Book #4) was the end of the series until 2013, which means you probably aren't getting that new book until 2016. Paolini's books fall into the same pattern that Meyers' do - they get longer and longer with each installment, likely the result of editors taking an increasingly 'hands-off' approach with each volume. Better hope that Book #5 isn't too much longer than 280k, since he's writing at an average pace of 255 final words written per day. 

Stephen King - 781 Final Words Written Per Day

Holy shit, has Stephen King always looked like a turtle? I never noticed before.

Stephen King is Stephen King. If you've walked into a bookstore in the USA, Canada, Australia, the UK, Denmark, Hungary, Iceland, China, South Africa, Russia, Lithuania, Egypt, Norway, Iran, Latvia, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, Vietnam, or a handful of other countries I can't find on a map, you've seen a Stephen King novel for sale. The man has written so many novels and short stories that his bibliography requires a separate Wikipedia article. When King developed a crippling cocaine and alcohol addiction, it didn't slow down his writing career - instead, he just kept on writing award-winning novels that he has no memory of writing. When a car accident nearly forced him into retirement (because dead writers generally cease to write books), King wrote in the hospital. The name 'Stephen King' is synonymous with 'fanatically prolific'. But just how quickly does King write?

Rose Madder
Bag of Bones
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
Under the Dome
Doctor Sleep

Holy. Shit. I took an assorted sample of some of his recent books, because it hardly seemed fair to compare a 66-year-old Stephen King to a young Stephen King on a shitload of cocaine. I was also careful to count only the time between novels as 'writing time' - whatever short stories, novellas, eBooks, graphic novels, screenplays and musical librettos (not a joke) he wrote in his free time were his own business. Even with all that taken into consideration, King still wins this round - his average speed exceeds Meyer's average speed by 230 words (something that probably pleases him, as he has publicly criticized her work before). He's also the only author on this list to exceed 600 words, never mind his top speed of 1449. Either King's first drafts are gleaming masterpieces that require no editing, or the man writes 18 hours a day to achieve his final average speed of 781 words. 

Which other writers would you like to see added to the comparison? How fast do you think your writing stacks up? Leave it in the comments!

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