Maybe you’ve got a great idea, a story tumbling around in your creative brain just waiting to see life on the page. Maybe you’ve written a few things but are ready for a bigger challenge like a collection of short stories, an instructional book, or a novel. Your project is bigger than anything you’ve done before and you’re unsure how to tackle it. You’ve researched articles and talked to other writers.
The advice is abundant, but one thing keeps poking through: Daily Word Count. Great novelists do it, amateur writers do it, blogs and ‘How To’ lists espouse it.
Three hundred, five hundred, a thousand words per day; it’s often referred to as the Golden Rule to successful writing. You try it, and it goes fine for a few days, then something comes up and you miss a day, then you get back to it with fewer words, and a downward spiral begins until you look back with a heavy sigh to acknowledge that your word count goal failed. You feel like you’re not cut out to be a writer, after all, you can’t even complete the basic task necessary to succeed.
Clear your mind.
Don’t become that boss who walks in with a list of tasks and no idea how things really work on the ground level.
Does a “Words Per Day” Goal work for you?
Words per Day is general advice given by a broad spectrum of writers whose lives aren’t like yours. Just like you’d never take on a competition body builder’s work out routine to get back in shape, don’t take on a professional novelist’s daily word count. It’s likely that their lives aren’t like yours. Even if you have committed to writing full-time, you may want to look at your habits.
Find What Works for You
What should you do then? Instead of racing to impose some arbitrary daily word count on yourself, start with looking at what your schedule. Take a look at the stuff that goes on the calendar: work schedule, family obligations, and routine things that need to be done.
Think about the less obvious things like holidays and shopping, social events, and the work that keeps your home going. These things don’t follow a specific schedule but are necessary and can pile up on you before you can say, ‘Oh no! It’s my sister’s birthday this weekend and I haven’t even thought about a gift!’.
When you can visually look at your life in these terms, it’s easier to see your time flow. Don’t stop there and start filling in the blank spots with words per day. Look a little deeper. Think about the times of day you feel your best mentally. When does your mind feel free? Does your mind never feel free? It’s important to know these things because if the rest of your life is on fire, no amount of advice or tricks will help you with your writing project.
Figure Out What You Can Trim
Time management is at the heart of the matter and understanding how it applies to you, your writing project, and your life specifically is so important. Once you’ve analyzed how you use your time, you can look at how you can reorganize your time. You can trim up some loose ends, identify some time wasters, and get ahead of some of the things that languish until the last minute.
When the train is rolling on smooth track, it’s less likely to derail. When life is rolling more smoothly, you can consider what kind of word count goals you want to make. You may find that an alternate schedule of words works better for you.
Maybe it’s “X” amount of words per week because some of your days are jam packed with necessary things. Maybe you set a monthly word count goal because your weekly schedule has some expected unpredictability in it. Whatever you find, you can be confident that it uniquely fits your life. From there, you can modify and change it as you go along to better suit your project goal.
As always, get to know yourself and be kind along the way.