Ink-Stained Scribe

Do Daily Word-Count Goals Hurt Your Writing?

Last year, a writer friend named Munsi wrote one story a day for an entire year.

Boy is mad as a gong farmer, if you ask me, but I was inspired, so here goes.

At the beginning of the year, I set myself a daily word-count goal of 500 words a day, six days a week, or the equivalent of 3,000 words per week. It's not much more than two pages a day, which I thought was fair enough, given that I was working 40 hours every week, with an additional 10 hours of driving on top of that. I didn't want to discourage myself with a goal I couldn't meet, so I set the bar lower than I thought I could achieve.

After two weeks, I had consistently hit the weekly goal, but there was a problem: I still wasn't writing every day, and what I was writing wasn't very good.

I came to the realization that my daily word-count goal was not too much for me to handle--it was actually too little.

The writing process is different for everyone, and it changes for me depending on the story. I can drop into just about any part of THE MARKMASTERS TRILOGY by reading the previous paragraph, but it takes me couple pages to warm up to HELLHOUND, which is still an infant story compared to the 9-year-toil that has been MM3. At the moment, I'm working on HELLHOUND, so getting back into the story takes me a good fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes during which I can have no interruptions, including those I make myself.

At first, I tried to write 500 words every day, even days when I was dead tired. I would sit down and scowl and bang out 543 words and call it a night. The next day, I would do the same thing. The result was a single scene in which the writing was disjointed and the characters' moods veered drastically.

It stopped being worth making myself write every day just to get 500 measly little words I'd probably end up erasing, especially when I could spend 15 minutes picking up the threads tomorrow and write 1000 instead. :D (<--The face I make when I can rationalize procrastinating.)

Then I realized something.

I hate spreading out work. If you read my post about pressure, you already know that I never started on papers until the deadline was imminent. Part of that is because I hate spreading the work out. I'm all for outlining. I'm all for portioning things out in chunks that make sense, but I need to really throw myself into it. I fail at organized spurts the same way I fail at naps (<--which is like failing at life, but on a first-grade level).

In short, I am a marathoner (<--like hot-stuff over here).

Why should I expend the energy it takes to get into a piece for a short spat of work, when I could work more, get better cohesion, and feel much less cranky about writing by doing more in a single sitting. I like knowing that, when I sit down to write, I'm going to accomplish something big.

I decided to kick the daily-word-count goal out like I was Jayne and word-count was tact and discretion and set a weekly goal that was higher than my current pace of 40,000 words.

So, in keeping with my pressure and accountability strategy, I told Raven that I would write 5,000 words by the following Sunday. She stipulated that, if I didn't, I had to buy her dinner.

Well, sorry, Raven. I was the early bird this time. No food for you, because I GOT THE WORd-count. <--FAIL (But also win.)

I wrote 5,500 words in a weekend. The following week, I wrote over 10,000. And this week?

I'm going to FINISH HELLHOUND (or there will be dire consequences).

So here's my suggestion. As my friend Shauna often says, it's only worth what you paid for (which is nothing):

Make sure your word-count goals reflect the kind of writer you are.

If you're a marathoner, like me, set your goals over the course of a week.

If you're a sprinter, set the word-count goal at shorter intervals.

So here's my question to you: Are you a marathoner or a sprinter? Have you ever found yourself in a slump because of low expectations? What kind of word-count goals do you set for yourself?