Get Serious About Writing

Your Daily Word Count

What is your daily word count?

Welcome to the second day of Get Serious About Writing!

Today’s topic is daily word count (or daily pages or lines or whatever other metric you want to use). I used to think that this would fall into place once—well, once everything else had fallen into place.

But I had it all backwards. The daily writing comes first, and that is the base for everything else.

In a later post in this series, we’ll take a closer look at the book The Confidence Code, by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman (a book not for women only), but for now, one important message of the book is that confidence comes from doing rather than thinking:

“[W]e need to stop thinking so much and just act.” Read more

We make a mistake by thinking (I could really stop there, couldn’t I?) that we will write more when we feel good about our writing. The truth is that we will feel good about our writing when we write more. So before we understand why we put off taking our writing seriously, before we tackle social media or where to submit for publication (if that’s what we want), we need to write enough so that we know we are writers. That’s where it all starts.

Going back to our thought from yesterday about how we are doing this for our future selves, imagine how you will feel at the end of August when you have written every day, even if much of it is imperfect? I know the very thought puts a smile on my face.

Daily Word Count Guidelines

What you write doesn’t matter, as long as it’s new content, not just the same words dressed up in a different font. In fact, word vomit is exactly what you want. No editing. No second guessing. Nothing too pretty.

How you write doesn’t matter. Pen and paper, tablet, laptop, phone—it’s all good. I have a friend who dictates almost all of her writing (and even did so for NaNoWriMo) using voice recognition software. That wouldn’t work well for me, but it’s a boon for her. I have had success writing myself emails with my daily output as the text—the very act of writing an email loosens my internal editor for some reason (probably why I have so many typos in my emails!).

The specific number doesn’t matter, as long as there is a number. If the word “goal” trips you up, think of it as one of your “dailies,” as I do (another concept for a future post, but, in short, it’s something you do every day, like flossing your teeth or sorting the recyclables). And don’t aim so high that you will inevitably beat yourself up for not succeeding. The book I had the most fun writing began with a 250-word-a-day gift from my son. Ernest Hemingway was happy with 500 words per writing session. If you set a small word or page count, most days you will probably exceed it (and if you have a day when you didn’t write until late, it’s easy to fit in 250 words before bed rather than give up on a more unrealistic goal of 2000 words).

Have a plan for missed days. I personally think that daily writing is important, but any regular schedule is what really matters (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, for example, or Wednesday and both weekend days). But what will happen if you miss a day? You will (let’s hope not too often), so have a plan for that. For me, it is dangerous to skip more than one day of anything I want to do on a regular basis, whether it is writing or physical exercises or sticking to a cleaning schedule. If I skip more than once, I’m off and running with a new habit: that of not doing whatever I wanted to do. I wish I were different, but that’s just the way it is, so if I do skip a day, I move heaven and earth to get back on schedule right away, and—this is vital—refuse to let perfect be the enemy of the good.

Today’s questions:

Do you have a daily word count or other goal? What has worked for you? How do you deal with the inevitable missed days?

As usual, my response is in the comments. We will revisit this topic a bit later in the series. Happy writing!

See also

3 thoughts on “Your Daily Word Count

  1. My current daily word count goal is 1000 words, and I am working on getting them in earlier rather than later in the day. I’ve found if I wait until the evening, I’m rushing to fit it in between supper and whatever my husband and I plan to do for the evening. More important, I’m definitely a morning person, and my 1000 words before noon are sooo much better than any 1000 words I write after the sun sets.

    Currently I have been writing mostly with Scrivener, but I still occasionally write myself emails as a way to unlock that pesky internal editor!

  2. I am going to set a low goal of 250 words a day. I have learned the hard way that habits formation works best when the new habit is as easy as falling off a log.

    The tougher question for me is going to be the when. I didn’t get up early and write this morning. Does my writing after midnight yesterday count for today? 😉 I think that the best time for me would be morning, but that would require adding another habit change–getting up earlier. So for the time being I’m going to plan on late-night, after kids are sleeping. With a low word count goal that should be manageable? We’ll see I guess.

    • I’ve become a huge fan of the 250-word daily word count, but even that can be tough when one still has young children at home. Word vomit, Jessica! 🙂 Do you write well on your phone? I don’t, but that would be one way to take advantage of small snatches of time during the day.

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