Daily Word Counts, Revisited

This week’s theme is “Dreams and Goals,” and it is a good time to revisit the idea of daily word counts, which we discussed on the second day of the blog series.

Are you meeting your word count goals most of the time? If not, apply a problem-solving approach rather than a guilt trip until you find a writing routine that works for you. Here are five changes to consider:

Lower Your Expectations

If you are having trouble writing 2000 or 1500 or 1000 words per day, give yourself permission to aim for a lower number, perhaps much lower.

Note that this is not the same as giving up. There is nothing wrong with admitting that you were aiming too high or that your life right now necessitates more modest goals.

Especially if you aren’t used to writing on a regular basis, starting small may be the smartest plan. Just 500 or 300 or even 100 words per day really do add up. If you were starting a running program, you wouldn’t begin by scheduling 5-mile practice sessions; it would only leave you sore and discouraged and likely to quit. Writing is no different. Build up those writing muscles gradually but steadily.

Write Earlier in the Day, or Later

Many writers thrive on scheduling their writing early in the day, but what works for you may be writing during your lunch hour or on the commute home or before going to bed.  The best schedule will depend on a host of interacting factors, such as whether you are a morning or evening person, what your home environment is like, and whether you write best in isolation or with a group of people around you (such as in a coffee shop).

Don’t be afraid to try several different times of the day to compare the results.

Examine Your Priorities

Related to the time of the day is being honest with ourselves about whether we are really prioritizing our writing. When we have a choice between writing and doing something else (making another cup of coffee, checking social media, watching a funny video), what usually comes first?

This is one reason that writing earlier in the day rather than later works for many people. There is less of a chance that other priorities will get in the way.

Set a Timer Rather Than a Word Limit

In my work as a freelance book indexer, I have a lot of choices for how to set my fees. I can bill by the hour, by the number of index entries, or by number of pages of text that are being indexed.

Because I do not enjoy having to keep my eye on the clock and because I want to create an index that is as long as necessary to do a good job, I choose to charge a fee per page of typeset text. It works well for me—I can give the author or publisher a firm quote up front, and I can immerse myself in the work without keeping track of ticking minutes.

However, I know that other indexers charge by the hour, and that works just as well for them. The point is that there are as many ways to create effective writing routines as there are writers.

If writing a certain number of words doesn’t work for you, you can try writing for a certain amount of time: 15 minute, half an hour, an hour, longer. As long as you are writing during that time, the number of words won’t matter.

Try Freewriting or Morning Pages

If you think that perfectionism may be keeping you from daily writing, the practice of freewriting or Morning Pages may do the trick.

Freewriting, which I first learned about from the work of Peter Elbow, is writing without stopping, without editing, and without any thought of style or quality. Freewriting allows us to get unstuck very quickly by bypassing the internal censor that keeps words forever in our heads rather than on paper or screen.

To freewrite, simply set a timer for a few minutes and start writing. Write on a specific topic or whatever comes into your head, but don’t stop, not for anything. If you can’t think of anything to write, scribble “I can’t think of anything to write” over and over until you think of something else (see this freewriting exercises handout).

When you are finished, you can save the freewriting to cull later for any hidden gems, or you can crumple it up and throw it away.

Morning Pages, similar to freewriting, is a term coined by Julia Cameron, who recommends stream of consciousness, longhand writing as a way to develop our creative fluency (for more information, see my previous post on Morning Pages.)

What adjustments have you had to make to your writing routine throughout the years?

2 thoughts on “Daily Word Counts, Revisited

  1. Lisa, this is a perfect post for where I am in this process. Too many days I am not making my very modest word-count goal. Last night I sat down to write and got stuck in researching various little things relating to the next step in the story I am working on. And then I was too tired to write.

    I’m going to think about these ideas and especially about my goals and regroup. Thanks for the impetus!

    • I hope that the ideas are helpful! So often I aim too high and then feel like a failure, rather than realizing that my goals simply weren’t quite right.

      Something I’ve changed this summer is what I’m working on. I’m still slowly revising the NaNoWriMo novel, but as the book on writing takes shape, it is requiring more time than I had thought it would. While I’m meeting my word count goals, the content isn’t what I’d first planned for, and I’m learning to be okay with that. 🙂

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