Word Counts: Why to Stick With Them & Why Not To

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Learn about the ever-daunting topic of word counts.

Often argued, word count goals are widely regarded as one of the main metrics when writing your novels. Why’s that? Because most commercial literature have basic word count requirements, most writers and authors feel like they must hit those pre-determined word counts.

People—both writers and non-writers, alike—ask me how often and how much I write. Or how much one needs to write to consider themselves a writer.

What is a Word Count Goal?

In short, a word count goal is a daily or weekly goal you create that dictates how many words you’ll write towards a specific project in a chosen duration.

So why do so many people have trouble attaining these goals? There are a few different reasons, but it all boils down to proper prioritization and time management.

If you break up an 80,000-word manuscript and divide that between the quarter, you’ll get about 888 words per day. Now, that’s if you write every day. If you only want to write 5 days per week during an average quarter that number jumps to 1,231. Still not a crazy figure, but it you’re first starting your writing journey it might be intimidating.

These numbers can skew if you extend or shorten the writing duration, but three months is a solid time frame when coupled an outlined novel.

Word Counts: My Experience

When I first started I was writing about 500 words per day, on average; but these figures would go up or down depending on the time I’d allotted myself and what more time I could squeeze from my schedule. Within that first year, I was writing an average of 2,000+ words per day, with some days hitting 5-figures.

Everyone starts somewhere, and it’s better to start small then set a higher target you know you’ll never be able to reach. Even with the best of intentions, being realistic with your goals will be better in the long-run than consistently falling short.

One way I combat boredom of my craft and passion is by diversifying my actionable goals. In any quarter, I try to include fiction writing, nonfiction writing, editing, email/newsletter, continued education, outlining and brainstorming goals—and pretty much anything else I can fit on there to further my platforms.  The reason I do this is to keep my momentum high and combat, deter, and overcome boredom.

That being said, my story isn’t unique. Increasing your word count is simple habit building, and anyone can do it with enough patience and determination; but it still won’t work for everyone. If everyone were the same, we would all be boring and hash out the same, garbage-resembling dribble year after year.

Some people work best with the chaos of not knowing what or how much of something they will write on any given day. If you fall into that category, does it mean you aren’t serious? No—I’ve just worked, re-worked, and tweaked my systems to find the exact methods that work for me.

Alternative Strategies to Word Count Goals

Long story short, word counts are great if that how you work. But, yes, there are always alternatives to tracking manuscript progress. Some people don’t work well under that type of pressure and they work better striving towards other goals.

Those “alternative goals” might be to complete X number of pages, complete X number of scenes, or write for X minutes/hours. Any of these completes the same “goal” of creating a smart goal that is both measurable and attainable.

And that’s why there’s no “one size fits all” method—because we’re all different sizes with different strategies and time constraints.

What it all comes down to is how you set your goals and you’ll diversify. Perhaps word count goals aren’t your thing… perhaps the number of sessions should be your goal and scenes per session. In which case perhaps, you make Monday and Tuesday your days for writing on your active project, Wednesdays for editing another (completed) project, and Thursday for outlining a third (soon-to-be-started) project.

I find that diversifying what I’m working on makes me less bored and more prone to accomplishing what I want to get done—and, besides, there’s nothing that says you can’t write four days anyway!

Tips for Boosting Your Writing Sessions

Whatever way you want to go about it we’re all striving for the same thing: to up our level of writing and optimize the time available. While I often chalk it up to prioritization and time management, there are few things I’ve done to help relieve stress quantifiers—which are always pressure/trigger points for me and disable me from getting everything accomplished that I want to get done.

Tip #1 Stay consistent & schedule the time every day.

One my biggest contributors to success if my consistency by far. I sit down every day starting at 6:30 to work on my writing and work for a minimum of 90-minutes. I realize this doesn’t work for everyone, but most recently I’ve added getting up at 4:30am to work more. Since I fill my business hours with other work, this is the best time for me to fit in my writing schedule.

Tip #2 If you’re bored, add conflict into your novel.

I’ve found that the best thing to do when I’m bored with writing my novel is to add conflict. I’m bored writing it, it might bore a reader reading it. This isn’t always the case—sometimes we’re just tired or drained or hungry or whatever—but you can always edit it out later. And if it helps you get through the first draft, it’s already done more than you could have asked.

Tip #3 Be ruthless when managing your available moments.

I don’t write because I have endless amounts of free time. In fact, my days are meticulously calculated to the minute Monday through Saturday, with Sunday being a usually not-always unscheduled, self-care day to decompress and recuperate for the upcoming week. This means I still work, just not on anything that’s time sensitive (because that should have been accomplished earlier in the week).

Tip #4 Put away the distractions.

I know I can’t work with the TV or music playing, while talking on the phone, or splitting my attention anywhere other than on my work—and why would I want to, anyway? The same goes if I have an active and flashing notification; I can’t concentrate. Do yourself a favor and give your all—your 100% – when you’re working on your projects. I’ve found that I (a) accomplish more in a shorter amount of time, (b) produce at a higher caliber, and (c) am generally more creative.

Tip #5 OR work out a rewards system… Like for every 500 words written, you’ll get 5 minutes of scroll-time.

Rewards work on all levels and for most anything you’ll ever want to accomplish. Even if it’s something you want to do, something you love and are passionate about, there’ll be days you just need to put digital pen to digital paper and get your shit done!

Tip #6 Always be on an unwaverable deadline.

I always work on deadline. Even if I don’t want one. Even if I don’t need one. It’s best to keep your goals SMART and have an attainable, time-bound goal you can realize and quantify.

Tip #7 Take time away from your craft.

Time and distance make the heart grow fonder and I find that taking a few months out of the year to focus on other hobbies reinvigorates my passion and drive, so when I come back to it some time later, I work at a faster rate and am more enthused about my projects.

Tip #8 Literally live and thrive on rejection and criticism.

There’s something to be said about sometime ripping your work apart and you being tasked with putting it all back together in a cohesive and thoughtful manner. While constructive criticism is always your friend, even negative or “bad” criticism is helpful (even if the people giving it aren’t). While I don’t respond to toxic behavior, I take into consideration what they’re saying and whether it has merit.

Tip #9 Start with an outline. OR, if you’re a pantser, just a rough idea of what you’ll write “today”.

Just like when you get in the car, it’s best to plan where you’re going. Plan, even if you like pants-ing your way through your novels, you can always have a rough idea. I find this helps keep me moving forward, constantly thinking of novel twists and turns, and ready to hit the ground running when it comes time to write.

Tip #10 Set goals and stick to them.

Literally the number one reason I’ve accomplished anything in life. If you do nothing else on this list, do this one (it’s basically all of everything combined) and stick to it like Harry, Ron, and Hermione stuck my each other through every trial and danger that crossed their paths. If you have that level of commitment and follow-through to anything, you’ve already succeeded.

Advanced Bonus Tip #11 Juggle your novels like you juggle your life.

Okay, so I’m just hoping you do this well–and if you don’t, be prepared to learn against a steep curve. Work on multiple novels at once. Most people won’t say this, but it helps get and keep the gears moving. If you’re able to juggle three novels–let’s say, one high fantasy, one contemporary, and a nonfiction—then you’ll always have something in the works (and even more in your potential backlog if your fingers need a break!)

What is a Reasonable Word Count Goal?

If I quit everything else I’m doing and focused on writing, how high could I push my daily average? I set aside three hours of writing time five days per week and write, on average, 2,000 words per session, meaning I finish an eighty-thousand-word manuscript in forty days. If I bumped that up to six hours and wrote 4,000, could I not halve my time?

In theory, yes, but life doesn’t run on theory. It runs on practice and experience.

What I found when I pushed myself to write more is that I lost momentum faster and found it more difficult to feel motivated the following day to get back on the saddle and write more. That being said, I’ve had days where the words just flowed, and I wrote 10,000 words in a single, nine-hour expanse; but those days aren’t the norm for me and they aren’t the norm for many both traditionally and self-published authors.

After a little research, I found that most people—meaning, authors, writers, bloggers, etc.—claim to write around 1,000 words per day. But how does that sound to you?

When I was first starting, I was intimidated by writing 500 words per day, let along 1,000; but with practice, patience, and proper preparations you’ll be flying across the keyboard any day.

So, after all that, the question remains: What is a reasonable word count goal?

The best word count goal isn’t a word count goal, but any writerly goal that suits your level and scales with your ability and availability. I started at 500 words per day but doubled that figure within a month, and you can do the same. The best advice is—as stated above—to make your goal and stick to it!

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