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Allena Tapia

How Long Does It Take You To Write An Article?

By September 21, 2008

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I recently wrote a 1200 word article for a medium-size lifestyle magazine publication, complete with layperson quotes, professional quotes, cited research and a sidebar. Between the editor and I, it went through three drafts. I did the article in 4 distinct phases (research, interviews, write and revise), and it took me a total of 13 hours. The article will pay $600, which is about 50 cents per word (without the sidebar), or about $45 per hour of my time.

Now, I'm ok with both these numbers, but when I mentioned that the article took me a total of 13 hours, my editor seemed surprised. This worries me, as freelance writers know that time is money!

Are other freelancers cranking out magazine articles much faster than this? Is 13 hours too long for a 1200 word piece with 3 drafts? How long does it take you to write an article from beginning to end?

September 21, 2008 at 9:26 pm
(1) freelancewrite says:

uh oh. my friend luann just told me she did a 1250 article in 4 hours. grrr. What if I’m a slow writer? I do tend to feel scattered, but I always record my hours to the quarter hour. So if I get up and walk away, distracted, it doesn’t get counted. This 13 hours was a full 13 hours.

September 21, 2008 at 9:56 pm
(2) MSD says:

Totally depends on the article. I wouldn’t get too worked up about how long it takes you.

The bulk of my time, since I am a public historian, is taken up in research.

Once I am ready to write, I write 1000 words or more in about 4-6 hours, and usually I am good to go after 2-3 drafts.

That’s including factchecking reviews and quote accuracy checkups (I also am an experienced editor). Accuracy is essential, and quotes can be tough since accuracy also sometimes means doublechecking archaic spellings, etc.

BUT there can be several days or even weeks devoted to research.

Simply goes with the territory, since one must not only do archival research with primary materials but one must review the literature as well before writing.

I also write arts and culture features and some straight-ahead news copy, too. But mostly features.

For feature articles, more on the “journalism” order, (depending again on what kind) it takes about the same without the in-depth research (usually I can do background research in one day or so).

But if I am reviewing a museum opening, or doing an interview article, it can take a couple of days, between doing the interviews,prepping beforehand, fact-checking after, etc.

If I am writing an essay article, I can turn it out in 4 hours.

BTW I habitually write more than 1000 words. It’s the shorter ones that take more time, actually.

I can’t think of a time in more than 30 years of writing for publication that I’ve had to do a rewrite. Nor have I had more than very minimal editing applied to any article I’ve had published.

I’ve had (mostly) very good editors over the years; and have developed and enjoy good long-term relationships with several.

September 21, 2008 at 10:14 pm
(3) Darcy DeMarco says:

Well, I write smaller articles, that usually take 2-3 hours. For 1200-1500 words, I think it would take 4-6 hours. But, that is for the first draft. Once it goes to the editor, the time racks up. I think you probably are a good writer, and that 13 hours is not that much time. I know she meant it the other way, but this is what I think.

September 21, 2008 at 11:42 pm
(4) Ricardo Valfreixo says:

I guess that’s not too far out. However I force myself to keep an article to one day work (8 hours) top. Sometimes I fails, but ususally I keep it under the hour mark

September 22, 2008 at 12:07 am
(5) Starrpoint says:

So far I think you time is good, I am a slow writer, and usually I need to do illustrations too, so I am much slower.

September 22, 2008 at 2:26 am
(6) Parepidemos says:

Goodness, I guess I have a long way to go before I can make this my full-time job. I too have editorial experience, and proofreading/copyediting before that, so the cleaning-up part is the fast part, for me. I can write a serviceable 1200 word article in about 6 hours flat, if it’s on a familiar subject (research already in the file cabinet). But a GOOD article of that length often takes me two to three months.

The truth hurts.

September 22, 2008 at 5:23 am
(7) Tabatha says:

I don’t keep track of how long it takes me to write anything, but 13 hours, including research, interviews, writing, and drafts, sounds reasonable to me. When people say that it takes 4 hours, are they including research and interviews? If so, it seems like they can write everything in about half an hour!

September 22, 2008 at 7:32 am
(8) Genie says:

I just wrote a 1100-word article for a national consumer magazine @ $1 per word. With 5 experts to interview, three or four drafts to work through and follow-up questions required, it probably took me closer to 30 hours to complete it! I was not too pleased about the amount of time yet I thought the final product was good. Time will tell: it arrives in stores next week!

September 22, 2008 at 8:17 am
(9) NLC says:

I regularly write 1200 word feature stories for a big technical client, and they typically take 20-25 hours to complete, including the research, interviewing, writing/editing, referencing products and links, and customer communications. For this I’m paid about $2 a word. It’s hard and tedious work. On the other hand, I’ve dashed off 1200 words on other subjects for other clients in just a few hours. To me, it really depends on the complexity of the subject and the requirements of the client.

September 22, 2008 at 9:19 am
(10) Erin M says:

This topic is so timely for me, because I’ve been lamenting the fact that I don’t write as quickly as I should. Recently, a friend told me he just “slammed out” a 2,500-word piece (it was fantastic), so naturally I want to know his secret. I tend to agonize over every sentence.

September 22, 2008 at 9:28 am
(11) JR Hafer says:

First of all, I think you are an exception to get that much money for a magazine article, congratulations. However, to answer your question, your time is about right on for the quality you should strive for. When you write for a publication it takes creativity and time limits can stifle the creative juices, in my opinion. If you only did three rewrites you are fortunate. I suspect you also did a multitude of corrections along the way. right? As long as you are making that kind of money for a magazine article, (which is exceptional), you are fortunate. If you can command that for an article then “You go Girl”.

September 22, 2008 at 10:00 am
(12) freelancewrite says:

MSD- thanks for covering many different types of articles. THis was a feature article- general human interest, but somewhat medical…

Darcy- thanks for commenting. Well, I guess the editor didn’t really say anything bad exactly, she just came across as surprised.

Ricardo- you sound disciplined. I think I am more scattered than that:)

Starr- seems to me you get to “count” illustrations seperately.

September 22, 2008 at 12:19 pm
(13) Diane R says:

I think 13 hours is a good and realistic amount of time. When I write articles in the 1200 word range, the first draft can take about 1-2 hours to just get out. Then comes all the editing and i usually go through 2-3 drafts for that – sometimes more – and that can take several hours more. So a finished article can take about 6-8 hours to write and edit. Plus the interviewing/research is on top of that! Any additional back and forth with the person for whom I’m writing racks up more hours, too. So I think your writing time is very reasonable.

Interestingly, when I write shorter, promotional pieces, they can take up more time for the size of the piece than a straight article because so much attention goes into each phrase and word selection.

I am very relieved to read this post. I write on an hourly basis so I am always worried that I am taking too long! From everyone’s comments here, I can see that I am not and it gives me more confidence. So thanks everyone – and thank you Allena for your post.

September 22, 2008 at 6:01 pm
(14) La Reina says:

I’ve never taken the time to figure out how much time is spent on the research side of an article. Then again, I’m usually juggling several articles at a time – some requiring multiple interviews, others being quick, single-source stories – so the research all kind of blurs together after a while.

I know I spend the bulk of my time transcribing interviews. I don’t enjoy that part of the job very much, but A) I don’t trust that someone else will be as accurate as I strive to be when transcribing, and B) while transcribing I start mentally choosing which quotations I want to use, and which ones I can spin off into additional articles. So in the end, the time invested in transcribing does pay off.

The actual writing goes pretty fast, especially when it’s for one of my regular markets, since I know what the editors are looking for. But 13 hours on a 1,200-word article, start to finish, sounds about right.

September 23, 2008 at 7:18 am
(15) Angel says:

I am a SLOOOOOOW writer. I tend to write about 5 small articles and one big article each week. I earn between $200 and $1000 for that work, and for a weekly wage for me, that’s fine. I could work more and earn more, but I love what I do. I love the research, the writing, the crafting. I am definately getting faster as I get more experienced, but for now, I would rather enjoy doing what I love than rush or force anything. As long as I can pay for rent, chocolate and the odd bottle of wine I am happy!

September 23, 2008 at 9:31 am
(16) jonson roth says:

It actually takes me longer than 13 hours, but I do obsess over quality and grammar (and still get things wrong). Probably not an efficient way to work, esp. since my gigs don’t pay anywhere near that amount.

September 23, 2008 at 4:13 pm
(17) JLGerardo says:

You need not worry about the length of time it takes for you to write QUALITY articles. Writing, rewriting, and further polishing bear the marks of a seasoned writer.

Anybody can write 500-word article in less than 10 minutes, but it takes a pro longer to come up with a tight, concise, and engaging piece. (And error-free, too!)

Thanks for dropping by at my blog Are You A Pro Writer Or A Low Baller?

Now I know you are a pro.

By the way, good posts you have here. Keep up the good work!

September 23, 2008 at 8:53 pm
(18) freelancewrite says:

Yeah, JL, I really enjoyed that piece. I am so glad we got all these different perspectives, as they really vary. I guess I personally am just going to keep my personal hourly rate goal in mind, and as long as it’s met, then I won’t worry!

September 25, 2008 at 3:04 pm
(19) Brooke says:

I’ve been reading your blog for a while and thought I should finally say THANK YOU for asking all the good questions about what’s “normal” in the world of freelance writing.

It’s so nice to get perspective from other freelancers and read the same questions I ask myself. Otherwise I’d feel completely isolated!

Thank you!

September 25, 2008 at 3:17 pm
(20) freelancewrite says:

aww, Brooke, thanks! I was just telling someone online that this is a great gig, because I get to help bring others into a satisfying career.

September 29, 2008 at 4:28 pm
(21) Lesley says:

Being a new writer, I actually feel better now! For months, I was under the impression that freelance writers knocked out QUALITY 500 word article in 15 minutes flat. Doh!

September 30, 2008 at 3:23 pm
(22) Misty Cryer-Davidson says:

Allena ~ Your timing sounds about right for a magazine article. It would be nice if clients would realize that good writing actually requires research and a lot of time.

Currently, I focus on writing articles for internet publication on websites. For clients that appreciate quality writing, I enjoy it and it pays well. However, there is a lot of competition that write 500-word articles for $2-4 per article. I wonder if they are just plagiarizing. At any rate, they are affecting the going prices in the internet writing industry.

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May 18, 2010 at 10:45 am
(24) Carla says:

I read this post with interest as I regularly pay for freelance writers to produce articles for our business needs. We tend to get a 1500 word article researched and written in about 6-8 hours. 13 hours does seem a long time but I’m guessing that a more complex subject requires more time.

June 6, 2011 at 2:03 am
(25) MFar says:

I am also a freelance writer. Honestly speaking, the amount of time you take depends. For example. I used to write a 500 hundred words article for one of my clients in an hour or a little more (say 75 minutes max). But that was my beginning and I used to write ten articles for him for a dollar per article. The quality was quite poor as I had to produce ten articles daily (means 5000 words) for just $10. This did a great harm to me. I started doing careless writing ignoring quality and thought that anything you write works. The result was, I lost the grip on grammar, my commitment to writing eroded and I am yet trying to gain the same vigor and seriousness. So, don’t really bother about the time you take to write. It’s better to produce quality than saving time. If you can produce quality, you can attract high-end clients. But if you save time, then you would not only lose your potential to write effectively but will also remain confined to petty employers who are always out there to exploit you.

July 14, 2011 at 11:41 pm
(26) Ashfaq says:

can any one help me that how I can write a article about a golf club for a magazine. what will be the contents

March 15, 2012 at 2:57 pm
(27) Amy Wright says:

I have done about three articles now for different Coding and Billing magazines and they are taking me around 10 hours to write each one. Consider the content to prepare, speaking to other HIM, Coder’s and Billers add to that time. And it also depends on what you are writing about. I don’t think 13 hours is bad if the content you wrote was informational and helpful to others.
Amy Wright

March 15, 2012 at 4:45 pm
(28) freelancewrite says:

are you paid well for 10 hours of time, Amy?

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