Tag Archives: words

In Defense of Small Word Counts

Let me let you in on a little secret. I don’t write a lot of words per day.

My daily word counts vary from 350 to 700 on a good day, but I almost never break 1,000 words unless I’m at the very end the book because the resolution is often easy for me to write since all the major strings have been tied.

On social media, it’s common for people to post their word counts after a writing sprint or just as a daily thing they do to hold themselves accountable. When I see people post that they wrote 4,000 words in a few hours, I feel sick. That’s more than I write in a week sometimes, most times. Seeing giant word counts is something that bothers me on and off. When my writing is flowing well, I don’t really care. When I’m struggling, all I see are other people’s numbers and I begin to feel inadequate.

When I’m writing consistently, it’s easy say to myself, “Why do you care? You’ve published 5 books. It isn’t like your words don’t add up to a full book.” And my books aren’t exactly tiny. Most are over 90,000 words. So what if it takes me 6-9 months to write it? I’d like to blame capitalism for that. Everything we do is measured in productivity and inevitably we tie our self-worth to the outcomes of our labor. How many words per day is merely a metric by which I measure my self-worth when things aren’t going well.

Someone might say, “Ditch the word count. Just write.” I tried that last year when my mental health was rather shitty, and it did the opposite of help because without something to push me, I wrote nothing for a few months. When writing is a form of self-care, you understand how this can cause a downward spiral. My small daily word count goal of 350 words is like saying I’m going to meditate for 15 minutes every day. It’s something I have to push myself to do because my brain, when it’s feeling low, resists doing it even though it’s good for me. A small, doable goal gives me the push I need to get it done.

Once I hit my 350, I can stop and go to bed. Most of the time I keep going. Days I don’t write because I just don’t have mental or physical spoons to do so, I make up for it the next day. I have a word count tracker that I use to chart my progress and hold myself accountable. Days I don’t write, I don’t put a zero in. Some may think it’s cheating, but zeroes made it harder to write when I was down. Now I just fill in 350 and make up for it the next day by writing 700 words or as I tell myself 2 350s.

We do what we must to trick ourselves into taking our medicine.

For years, I’ve dreaded things like NaNoWriMo where you write 50,000 words in a month or 1,667 words a day. Before I made friends with other writers, I thought you had to be a pro to accomplish such a massive daily word count or be on speed. It never seemed possible. Then I made friends with writers who seemed to do it without a lot of trouble and my confidence cracked. I couldn’t do it. I tried to do NaNo and gave up within the first week. Despite all the hype and support of other writers, I stared at that word count like it was Mt. Everest. Only the strongest and best could do it, and I couldn’t.

What I failed to notice is how many writers do NaNo and don’t publish or shop the book after. Plenty of books grow out of NaNo, but most don’t or they need to be heavily revised. That’s far from my usual process. Until last year, I had never had to totally rewrite a book. My books need editing, but most of it is fact-checking, copy edits, and cleaning up/beefing up descriptions. What I start, I finish, even if it takes the better part of a year.

I guess the point of all this is that you have to do what works for you. If writing a lot and then editing a lot is what comes naturally, then do it. If you write a little at a time, that’s fine too. There’s no one way to write even if there are plenty of books that try to teach you how to boost your productivity. At some point, you have to come to terms with what your process is and embrace it as best you can.

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Setting Writing Goals: The Numbers Game

I’m having one of those moments in my writing where I feel like I have discovered the secret to writing consistently. Well, for myself. Since everyone is different, what works well for me probably won’t work well for 80% of writers out there. At least, that’s how I always feel when I read writing advice. I’m still on the look out for good ways to plot/outline a novel ahead of time, but here it is what I have found that works for me in terms of actually getting the writing done.

Word count goals. Daily ones. Monthly ones. Several monthly ones.

I know that it sounds odd, but at least for me, I found that when I set lofty monthly goals that I missed, my confidence came crashing down to earth (*cough* NaNoWriMo *cough*). After being somewhat stumped with my current project, I joined Camp NaNoWriMo to boost my word count. I hoped to write 15,000 words in 31 days to double my word count. The Camp NaNoWriMo website had a little bar graph that grew as you entered in your daily word count. Watching the bar grow and exceed the projected word count was a pay-off. Each day I strove to exceed that projected word count more and more. By the end of the month, I had written 20,000 words instead of 15,000 words.

This was what worked. It held me accountable to a projected word count while giving me the pay-off of a visual graph that showed me exceeding my goal. Currently, I’m using one of these word count charts. They’re great because they have the same graph visual at the top along with a yearly goal, monthly goal, and projected daily goals. The sheet also tells you if you are on target to finish on time. It’s everything the numbers girl in me needs to stay on track: instant feedback, a visual pay-off, and something that is changeable.

The second part of my numbers game is that I have been setting multiple goals per month. Here is a note I made for myself on my iPhone to track my writing goals for the next few months until I finish The Earl and the Artificer:

word count goals (In case you’re wondering, July’s goals are all the same because I completed it, and the word count determines what other months will look like). As you can see, there are three goals for August: a minimum, a stretch, and a far goal. The reason I set a minimum goal is because I know things come up. For September, my minimum goal is so small because the semester starts up again, and I’m not sure what I will face and how much my writing will be affected by stress, fatigue, and assignments. My only rule for my goals is that the minimum goal cannot get smaller. I will not reduce it. It’s low for a reason, but I will hit it no matter what. I ended up creating a stretch goal and a far goal because I didn’t want to say that I had a maximum goal. If I write 40,000 words instead of 20,000, that’s a far goal but never a maximum. There is only greater than, not a less than for my writing goals. If asked, my real goal is probably the stretch goal. I would really like to hit at least that one every month without fail, but I wanted to have a fail-safe in the minimum goal. Plus it feels good to hit the milestones. That minor pay-off helps to boost you to the major pay-off.

Right now, I’m projected to hitting my minimum goal for August on the 19th. That means, I’ll have about twelve days to add 5,000 more words, which is more than doable. Then, I have the far goal, which I’m pretty sure I will meet as well.

One thing I have also noticed while charting my progress is that my daily word count has also gone up. For both July and August, I have had the same monthly goal, 15,000 words, which means a daily word count goal of 484 words. In July my daily word count average was 645 words per day, and in August, it has jumped to 782 words per day. Right now I don’t know whether to attribute that to wanting to succeed and pushing myself or if it has gotten easier to write book three now that I’m over the hump. The second halves of books tend to write themselves or at least go easier than the first half.

For the tl;dr version: set realistic goals each month, then set one that will make you push yourself, and if you want to really challenge yourself, set another milestone. Chart your daily progress and see if you improve.


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