Word Count

word_countMany have been told and honestly believe that writing a certain number of words each day is the surest way to becoming a successful writer. Even though I don’t deny it, sometimes I feel it’s a bit more complicated than that.

I think that if you try to keep true to a certain word count, let’s say 1000 words a day, at a certain point you’ll find yourself artificially creating words — writing just to write, or even worse, you’ll find yourself not being able to write a damn thing. I think that a certain number of words is a rather mechanic and cold goal for a writer.

The idea is that you can’t do something that you can’t control. A word count, sometimes, is just that. For various reasons, it can seem unreasonable. Let’s say you’ve set 2000 words as a goal — that’s 4-5 pages in MS Word. It might not seem much, but sometimes it might seem as an impossible task. And you can become frustrated and depressed, just because you simply can’t write those words that day.

Take me, for instance. The most I’ve written in a day is 5400 words. From 9 PM until 5 AM, at which point I started listening to jazz and dancing around the living room. Yeah, I got lucky. Another day I wrote 3000 words, which is still a lot. And one day I worked for 9 hours on a single sentence (it was a rather long sentence, but still…)

So after these experiences I’ve decided to set my writing goals differently. In time. That’s something, after all, that depends on me. I can choose not to go out, I can abandon my social life, and I can write. I try to write 2 hours each day — this translates into 500-1000 words sometimes, other times it amounts to just 2-3 sentences that don’t even make sense.

I’m just not trying to pressure myself into writing a number of words, just ’cause I said so. No, I’m writing as much as I feel like it. Sometimes it’s an entire chapter, other times just a few phrases. Writing is a creative process, and sometimes the creative part abandons us.

Also, what I believe to be very important is the fact that you set aside a few hours to write. You try to find the muse, not the other way around. Even if all you do is sit at that desk and stare around your room, you know you’ve got one, two hours each day that you dedicate to doing what you love doing most. When the kids are gone, when the house is empty and quiet.

One of the most important parts of writing is to set aside enough time for you to write. Sounds simple enough, but probably is more complicated than it seems. After all, it’s a lot easier, especially if you self-publish, to do all sorts of things that are related to writing (anything) than actually write. Marketing, blogging, cover design.

On a similar note, I try to end my writing sessions mid-chapter– that way I know at least a part of what I’m supposed to write the following day. I found this technique to be very helpful with the dreaded writer’s block.

But what about you? Do you keep a daily word count?

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18 thoughts on “Word Count

  1. I just could not do it. I write when something urges me to do it. I’m talking of fiction, poetry of course. I write a lot to blogger friends, off blog, and that has no limits, max or min.

  2. I can’t restrict myself, l love words anyway and can be terribly verbose in the written format – l was always being told off in school by one teacher and yet the teacher who really encouraged me to write, was always saying ‘just let my heart ride and my mind write’ and that is how l have been ever since. I don’t tend to struggle for words – sometimes in poetical form, l can spend hours like you have said above, just trying to get the right line right. I tried writing once for a political publisher who said l had to make things work in 850 words and l couldn’t – well that’s not entirely true – l could, but it looked too clinical and not an easy flow. Then another publisher who just said if you get to 2000 words per piece l will be happy.

    I do now set myself time to write these days and get into the mood first and then swing into it.

    Nice post by the way.

  3. I don’t keep a word count for my own writing. Although, I did use it for quantifying my work as a translator for the sake of payment arrangements. Also, I would have to agree that setting aside time is a great approach. It would probably be good to couple that with some short fun writing exercises and brainstorming to ward off any impending writer’s block. I have found it to be helpful.

  4. I have been writing by the word count goal since 2010. I appreciate the points that you make; some days forcing myself to write 2,000 words feels like it takes away from my creative flow. I would be willing to try other goals, such as a writing time quota.

  5. Interesting. I do not keep a word count, I like to try and write at least in my journal everyday, but I do not pressure myself to do it. Takes the joy out of it.

  6. I tend to find the idea of setting a writing goal quite daunting and oftentimes the goal itself becomes an obstacle. These days I just try to do bit of writing east day wherever possible, but if I’m not in the mood then so be it, I’ll just write when the time feels right.

  7. Excellent article Cristian. I wrote a similar post about this topic on my blog. I agree with you but the truth is keeping a daily word count helps me to measure my progress and maximize my writing talent. My biggest motivation is this quote from Margy Piercy “The real writer is one who really writes. Talent is an invention like phlogiston after the fact of fire. Work is its own cure. You have to like it better than being loved.”

  8. Very helpful advice. I don’t worry about word count too much because I’m not a fiction writer and the number of words is not really a big issue. For writing on my blog I’ll keep jotting down ideas in my notebook so that when I have time available to sit down at the computer, the words come easily. Same with poems or songs. I always have a notebook handy for when inspiration strikes. Song writing is my passion and this does not work if I try to force the words. I often get ideas when I’m away from the computer so a pen and paper are essential tools.

  9. You’re right, Cristian, the word count goal is really too cold, especially for aspiring writers, who are the most likely to become discouraged. It works best if you’re a pro, or if the inspiration has struck you, or if your research notes write themselves. For everyday writing, I keep a pad and pen everywhere, or a recording device when I’m driving, and it has worked for years. After I have a good collection of notes, those rough drafts pretty much write themselves. When it’s time to edit, that does take more thought, but there are plenty of resources out there to guide us through. I hope this helps some people.

  10. Setting a specific amount of numbers to write per day can be good but I feel like it would make writing a chore rather than engaging as a passion. One of the good things about writing is that there are so many different ways to effectively get your thoughts on paper.

  11. I don’t set a word count goal, and I don’t have a set schedule of writing my short story/novel. I do try to write at least every other day, and whatever sputters from my mind to the paper or keyboard is what I produce for that day. Usually, it’s probably about 400-500 words in a sitting. Today, I typed up about 1100 words. It was a good day for me. But I don’t pressure myself to a regimented amount of words per day. I have to read and write a lot anyway, for my university online courses, my blog, let alone my stories. :)

  12. When I’m working on a specific project I do use daily word count as a motivator. In the end the draft will have to be edited , of course, but it pushes me to get it done. I’ve found this works best if you begin with an outline – nothing detailed – but at least an idea of where you want the story to go. Along the way it’s surprising how many new scenes sprout up! The creativity isn’t gone, but instead managed.

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