How Many Words A Day?

Whatever stage I’m at in the novel writing process it always seems to be the hardest. Right now, I’m in the making things up stage. Making things up is so hard. You have to use your brain and that imagination thing which writers are supposed to have in spades. I tell myself that, once I’ve got a body of work down on the page, I’ll be able to move onto the editing stage, which will be much easier. Ha ha.

What can writers do to ease the drudgery of getting the story out? Well, a lot of writers turn to goals and target setting. The most basic and obvious of these is the word count. Many writers won’t let their bum leave the seat until they have produced X number of words. And why not? In a pursuit that’s rather airy-fairy and ethereal, it’s a good, solid measure of progress.

I’ve tried it before though and encountered some problems. Whilst meeting the word count can lend you that sweet sense of success, struggling, or failing, to meet it can bring you down and positively stunt your progress. It can put you off making any kind of attempt at all.

So, this time around, I’ve made my daily target word count really small. Pathetically small: 500 words. The idea is that it’s a totally achievable target. I can write 500 words in ten minutes, although it has been known, on occasion, to take me a whole day. Once done, I can, if I like, get up from the chair and get on with other things in my life. I can even stop half way through a scene, a la Hemingway, or even half way through a sentence.

The key to success for this method is not to look upon the word count as a cumulative goal. Don’t think 500 words a day = 3,500 words a week = 14,000 words a month. Think of it more like a course of medicine. If you miss a day, which happens, don’t try to catch up by doubling the dose the following day etc. Just go back to the 500 target the next day that you can.

It is, of course, perfectly permissible to exceed 500 words. The sky’s the limit. But, that is a question of choice, rather than obligation.

The fact is, even at this gentle pace, the words add up surprisingly quickly. The key is regularity. I write on all but the busiest of days. This regularity helps with the flow. After I’ve stopped writing, my mind carries on, subconsciously at least, so when I sit down the next day, those words come easier. How this method will manifest itself when I come to review the work, I don’t know. Maybe, the prose will appear disjointed. Or, maybe, it will be tighter: less waffly. Either way, at least it will be there. Ready to edit.

And if you want to know how long 500 words is, just look at this post.

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8 Responses to How Many Words A Day?

  1. Jan Hopper says:

    I like it ! ……….. and it applies equally in other areas of work/life – I like to set myself small, achievable (cough cough) targets when working and find (as you rightly point out) that these targets are not maximums but rather, erm, let’s say, finishing lines and if I feel I can do more – well then, good ! However, if not, then I don’t feel frustrated and down on myself and, as you rightly point out, daily input soon adds up! 🙂

    • claudia says:

      Yes, I suppose you can apply the theory to many areas of life and work. Small, achievable goals to make us feel good! Good luck with yours!

  2. Linda S says:

    A great way to start the year with a target that is easily manageable (not pathetic!). As the old adage/cliche says……the potter has to start with some clay on the wheel before he can begin creating! I’ve also set 500 as my daily target. First four days of the year I missed completely as I pulled a muscle in my back and was in agony. When that improved I decided not to try to catch up but just carry on – feel so much better when I make the daily quota!

    • claudia says:

      I think the key is to not try and make up for lost ground. That way lies disappointment and dejection! Sorry to hear about your back, Linda. I hope you’re back on song now. Good luck with the daily quota.

  3. Alice says:

    I had lunch with a well known author a while back. She had a daily target of 1000 words. By the time she got on the plane to go home 5 days later, she was facing writing 5000 words in her airplane seat. Targets are great but they have to be met if they’re set!! xxx

    • claudia says:

      Thanks, Alice. That’s why I advocate wiping the slate clean if I miss a day. The point of my target is to nurture regular writing and a sense of achievement. Not to be a millstone around my neck. That poor writer! xx

  4. Richard MacKay says:

    This article and the approach you seem to be recommending to yourself seems fraught with resistance. It feels like a struggle, as you describe it, rather than having fun developing your characters and a story. I may be off base, but I recommend a book I read about developing your writing practice, “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield and you can check it out on Amazon. In completing my book recently published, I decided to create a step by step action plan, but also in my plan I made a conscious decision to have fun in the process. It, really, made all the difference. It made my muse very happy.

    • claudia says:

      Hi Richard. Thank you for your comment and the book recommendation. I suppose this does sound a bit like hard work. But, personally, I find that, whilst I can sometimes have fun with my characters and story, writing to the best of my ability is hard work.
      I hope your writing is going well.

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