I don’t know who needs to hear this for their career development, but apparently this is not well known:
In long form tabletop RPG writing it is generally expected that you can produce an average of 2000 near-first draft standard words per day.
This doesn’t mean every day is a 2000 word day. I have had 0 word days. I have had 500 word days. But I have also had 5000 and 10,000 word days. I can’t touch type but I hunt and peck very quickly, so my personal speed isn’t much faster than the minimum expectation, at about 2500 to 3000 words per day.
Sometimes I can do these words pretty fast, but don’t have it in me for more. I belt it all out in two or three hours, but I know I’m out of juice after that.
Compared to much of the older cohort, I’m slow. I know of writers active in the late 90s who could punch out 5000 to 10,000 words a day, no sweat.
These words should be good words, too. Note that immediately after you write them and sigh, you do not have a first draft. You have a “zero draft.” You don’t have a first draft until you review what you’ve written, making changes where necessary, line by line. You normally do this at the end of a major section of your assignment. Well I do, anyway. Those words need to have potential–they can’t something you have to completely toss in revision.
I strongly recommend you never revise more frequently than that. You may be tempted to get a day’s work just right. Then just this chunk. Then just a few sentences. Then you want to make sure you get it right line by line. The ultimate manifestation of this process is writer’s block (or at least the kind that isn’t from being depressed, hungry, or unwilling to admit to yourself that you don’t want to actually do it). Writer’s block is famous because it’s bad.
Many things in the mainstream RPG industry (an ambiguous term, to be sure) are calibrated at 2000 words per day. This includes whether a rate is good or bad for you. If you can’t do 2000 words a day, many freelance rates (which are as depressed as rates for other long form writing, granted) will not make economic sense for you. It also informs how deadlines are projected by publishers, assignment sizes, how fast people expect emergency work–a whole bunch of things.
One thing it doesn’t do is affect book length. People talk lots of shit about “Obviously paid by the word, hurr,” In most cases though, the word count is contracted beforehand, and if the developer/lead designer wants more space, they have to argue for it. When text seems like tedious space filling, it means the writer is struggling to fill their allotment, or somebody outlined something awkwardly, and the writer has more space than they need.
There’s nothing wrong with writing fewer words per day, by preference or capability. There’s nothing that makes more words better. There’s a whole segment of the industry that works in shorter forms, and produces excellent games. But if you aspire to be part of big books by companies whose names you know, 2000 per day is what you should be comfortable with. If you don’t have the experience of writing at length and are not sure you can, please believe that you probably can, and there are a great many of us, including me, who are willing to help you get there.
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