Myth Busting Part II – Word Count

Last week, we started tackling the (many) myths and rules that fly around about writing and the writing process, and busting them.

This week, we’re talking word count. Some say you have to decide on a word count to hit each day (or week) in order to declare success. So what do you think, Wickeds? Do you have a word count goal? Do you feel like you need one in order to feel like you’ve had a productive day/week?

Edith: I do use word count to push myself when I’m writing a first draft. I know some people don’t, and I’m not saying anybody else has to! But for me, to set a word count goal of 1500 or even 2000 words for a day keeps me in my seat, which is where the words flow onto the page. I started the first draft of Quaker Midwife #3 at the start of June, and I finished it at a too-short 56000 words last week on the 13th – which is fast even for me. And I accomplished that by setting word count goals.

Liz: Some kind of goal is helpful for me to stay on track, but it totally depends on where I am in the process. If I’m writing a first draft, I try to do a thousand words a day – but I’m also realistic enough to know during the week sometimes I won’t, so if I log a good number on the weekend instead, it’s ok. If I’m in the plotting phase, which I’m just trying out, maybe it’s 1-2 scenes a day, and then a few more on the weekend. And if I’m editing, I try to do a certain number of scenes, depending on how much work they need.

scrivener project targetsBarb: When I’m in first draft mode, I use word count to push myself. I leave the Scrivener project targets window visible at all times as a motivator. (“When I finish this, I can go for a swim.”) A good, comfortable day for me is 1200 words. For revisions, I have a number of scenes as a goal, or a number of pages. Often I’ll work on one day of the narrative.

Sherry: Early in the process I do a steady 1000 to 1500 words a day. I usually cover the word count on the computer so I focus on writing instead of the number of words.

Julie: I love that Scrivener helps with goals and word counts. I am a plotter, so I try and write a scene at a time. Wish I could say I wrote a scene a day, but having a full time job makes that tough for me. But I try for 4-5 scenes a week. Average manuscript has 60-65 scenes. I would love to establish a 500-1000 words a day habit, but I have trouble enough keeping up with my steps.

Edith: FYI for our non-writer reader friends, 250-300 words makes a page, usually. You can translate our daily goals for yourself.

Readers: How do you keep track of project goals, whether at work or at home? Writers, does word count motivate you?

22 Thoughts

  1. For me, word-count goals aren’t part of the drafting process. I sit down when I’m able and write as much as the time and inspiration allow. But writing practices vary widely, as “outliners” and “pantsers” will confess in conversations with each other.
    You do have me wondering, though, about writers who have a daily goal for rough text to be revised later versus those who seek perfection before moving on. Contrast Kerouac in his two-week bursts with Nabokov, who’d polish a single sentence on a file card before moving on.
    I’m finding the word-count function more useful in the revision process, not so much as a goal but as one way to evaluate the emerging structure and balance of a piece.

    1. My rough drafts are just that. I want to get the whole story down on paper (well, in the file) in one fell swoop. I can polish it later.

    2. Me, too. I’m only using word count to get the ideas out of my head and to fight perfectionism. “You cannot fix what doesn’t exist.” I love the revision process, and don’t mind having to do a lot of work then.

  2. I’m a master procrastinator, so if I didn’t have a daily word count goal, I’d be in big trouble. I don’t always meet the goal, but I try to get close. Even then, I’m sometimes scrambling those last few weeks before deadline.

    1. I usually meet the goal on the days I write. My procrastination problem is more in getting tied up in the business of writing and the business of life and not getting to the writing that day. I try to write “every available day,” which since I don’t have a day job may mean taking a Tuesday for errands or play and then writing all weekend.

  3. My goal,not that I always hit it, is a scene a day, seven days a week until the rough draft is done. I write three scene chapters and usually end up with fifteen or sixteen chapters. Oddly enough, that goal ends up producing 1000 to 1500 new words a day, and I do write down the new total each day, but I’m not thinking about word count when I write. Of course that’s just the beginning. I spend far longer on the numerous revisions, ideally spread out over six to eight months while I also work on a second project. And no, I don’t have a life🤓

    1. I’ll never forget you posting on Facebook that it was time to do a read through of a book you’d let sit for a month. I made that a life goal of mine. Likely not reached for a while, but still.

  4. I don’t do word count goals because my word counts vary widely, but I am time oriented. An hour a day, at least, and what comes from that, comes from that. I like Sherry’s idea of covering the word count–removing distractions.

    1. I like your focused hour approach, Ramona, but word count works better for me. That’s what these myth-busting posts are meant to be about. There’s no one way to write, and don’t let anybody tell you there is.

  5. I tend to think in terms of chapters rather than counts, but oddly enough, my chapters usually come out to be 2,000-2,500 words long. I don’t plan it that way, but it feels right.

    1. My scenes are roughly 1200 words, though vary (I’ve observed over time) from 600 to 2000. There are usually three to a chapter, but sometimes two or one, or more rarely four.

      Funny how the rhythm of these things work out, whether we’re working in word count, time, scenes or chapters, they all add up.

  6. I end up using a combination of measurements as well as bribery. I pick a word count for the day, which varies depending on how looming the deadline. If the words are coming easy then that is enough. If I am feeling restless I set a timer and try to get the words in by the time it goes off. If things are really an uphill slog I bribe myself with a trip to the beach after I hit my mark. So far, I something has always worked.

  7. When I’m writing Draft Zero, my goal is 1,200-1,500 words/day. That keeps the momentum going. Once I get into the revision, it becomes less about word count and more about “how many scenes” did I work on in a day.

    1. Me, too! I like the idea of “Draft Zero.” I always think of that first draft as a quick sketch, to be painted with colors and layers of texture (and repainted over that) as time goes on.

  8. I use word count goals, but for me, it’s more about building good habits. I’m still at a point where it’s easy to let life–dishes, child’s homework, errands–steal away my writing time. If I’m diligent about the word count, then I’m working toward developing my writing habit, and I become more protective of that time. I think it helps me prioritize my writing. Love all these perspectives! Thanks for sharing.

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