Word Count Frenzy

I had this great blog post idea about word count. (Ok, so it isn’t that great or original, but it was something my fellow writers might have found interesting.) The focus was a link I have since lost. In fact, I spent an hour (or maybe more…I was past the point of sane searching) trying to untangle that link from the world wide web. No luck. It was a link to a spreadsheet or screenshot from an author (might have been Brandon Sanderson) that gave a wonderful snapshot of their project workflow. The word counts were, to put it mildly, humbling.

The whole point of the matter was that to be a “professional” writer meant approaching the process as an actual job. So many of us want to lay claim to the “writer” title, but not near as many want to put in the real work to do it. Or, maybe we do want to put in the work, but other priorities get in the way. That’s the worst thing about writing, or any creative pursuit. People say “You don’t do it for the money”. And that seems to downgrade it into a hobby, or just something you do in your spare time.

To avoid that, you must allow yourself to take writing seriously. Set goals, measure your performance, and evaluate your time with a mindset that says writing is important.  It won’t sap the fun out of it, honestly. If it does, then perhaps you are maybe a hobbyist at heart, because setting goals is important in any business venture. And that needs to be your mindset to be successful – writing is serious business.

For writers, one of the easiest way to measure work is through word count. Everyone will want to know the final count for whatever you produce. Publishing houses usually set very specific word count limits on submissions. Submitting short stories to publishers requires putting the word count on the cover page and/or in the cover letter. For novels, there are even schools of thought on the best word count for each genre or the maximum word count for a first-time author. (That’s a whole ‘nother post.)

For your word count goals, you could swing for the fences, but if you are just starting out, I’d recommend a slower approach.

Carve out a daily piece of time – one hour to start (more if you have it because 2-3 would be ideal for the creative process) and “clock-in”. Keep track of how much time you spend writing and set reasonable goals. I’ve heard a massive range of word count goals, from 500 to 10000 a day, but make sure your goal is realistic. If you don’t have a clue what you should set it at, try 100 a day.  In fact, even if you have an idea of what that number shoudl be, pare it down. Make sure it is something that is relatively easy to accomplish.

During the week, unless you are on a roll (never interrupt that), stop when the count is met or the time is up. Track that progress somewhere. It doesn’t have to be fancy: sticky notes, a spreadsheet, a whiteboard, a text document on your desktop, and then move on with your day.

At the end of the week, evaluate your progress. Have you consistently met or exceeded your goal? Was it easy to crank out 100 words? 250? If so, up the count goals a bit. However, even if you consistently wrote say, 500 more words per session, try upping the count goals by only about half to three-quarters of that. Keep them small steps. Easy steps. It’s all about building up your confidence and your ability to focus. This isn’t a competition or a race. (That comes later when you have publishers handing otu deadlines.)

Regardless, always try to meet the TIME and WORD COUNT for each day for the first week or two. If you get in the habit of say, binge writing, where you crank out 2000 words and then figure you are done for the week, you’ll be more likely to fall off the wagon. The whole point is consistency.

What if you don’t meet the goals? Look at what worked. Was there one day where you wrote a lot more? Days where you couldn’t seem to make the time work? Move the time around, adjust, adapt. Keep the same goals however as far as amount of time per day and word count and try again. Start looking at the things that are keeping you from writing. Most of us have at least an hour a day we can scrounge. Are you truly serious about writing? Serious enough to stop watching that new TV show? Serious enough to layoff Facebook for a bit? Serious enough to hide your cellphone – or shut it off completely – for an hour of peace?

The other important thing to remember is that no one works in a vacuum. I’ve talked about this before, but even writers, those literary slaves shackled to their keyboards and whipped onward by the fiction in their heads, need peers. Share your accomplishments with friends. Find writing co-workers for your virtual publishing house. Show them your writing, let them see your progress and share any tips and tricks you run across. You will, in some ways, hold each other accountable.

Right now, I’m in the process of revising my own goal from 500 a day to 1000 a day. So far, it’s working out quite well. I’ve also set a goal for the first draft of my novel to be completed before the holidays. A little Christmas present for myself and a challenge. That’s right – the gift of hard work and accomplishment – and no, it hasn’t taken the fun out of it.  I’m SO looking forward to seeing a completed manuscript in all it’s rough and messy glory. It will be my first, and because I’ve been working toward consistency, not my last!

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2 replies

  1. Ugh. Here I am in the Bog of Eternal Editing, not really writing anything “new new,” so I don’t even know what my word count is. If I count the words I’m cutting, I might be making negative progress.


    I mean, the story’s getting tighter and I’m fixing a lot of problems with it, and on top of that I can tell I’m getting “better,” but when I think about word counts I get all depressed and pull out my Sisters of Mercy albums. How tragic.

    I guess it’s all about paradigm though. Ha, I worked it in.

    I’m all about hangin’ with peers though. HAY RUSS WANNA JOIN MY SECRET EVIL CABAL OF BEING SECRET AND EVIL?

    • My application is in the mail I look forward to joining the super secret cabal. I wasn’t sure what to put on the questions about dragons or muscle cars, that didn’t make a lot of sense to me but I finished it and sent it in.

      Yeah word count isn’t everything mainly just a good way to stay focused to set goals. I agree at some point you have to look beyond that.

      I wrote myself into a hole last week and ended up cutting about 1000 of the 5000 words that I typed so it’s hit or miss thing. The main thing is just sitting down and doing it.

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