Word Count Goals and How to Make Them
It’s all around you as a writer: set your word count goals and stick to them. Writing goals, words per day goals, hours per session goals, and on and on and Scooby Doobie Doo. The question then, becomes which goals do I need to set and strive for and what should I set them at?
This has been my main driving question since I became a serious this-is-what-I-want-to-do-for-a-living writer. I’ve followed the greats, I’ve tested my own waters, I’ve asked authors and publishers and people seemingly “in the know”. After all that studying and trial and error, I have come to one solid conclusion: It can not be the same for every person.
We are not cookie-cutter people, we are not carbon copies of the author that came before us, nor will we be the mold for those that come after us.
We are as Unique as Our Goals
As unique and haphazard and individual as our stories are, so must then be our story writing style. Understanding this, we have to know what it takes to write, which goals to set and most importantly how to set them.
I will attempt to cover and answer all those questions in detail here. I will break them down into each goal and cover the hows and whys for each. The main idea, though, is this: There is no set rule; do what works best for you. Hopefully in this post, I can help you determine what is best for you.
Writing is an outlet. Writing is a chance to tell your story to a worldwide audience full of those interested enough to listen. Everyone has the ability to write a story. All seven billion of us. We don’t even have to know how to write thanks to technology.
If you can speak, come up with a decent story and be able to tell it, you can write. The ability to write isn’t the issue. When and how to write… now that is a conundrum. So what first? Well, to be able to write you have to have a medium. Let’s start there.
For thousands of years, storytelling was just that: telling. There was no pen and paper and certainly not computers. People sat around the dying fire-light and told stories. They told stories about their days working in the fields or caves or hunting that mastodon or milking that goat, or some fantastical non-fiction they made up on the spot.
Luckily for us today we have a plethora of mediums to choose from.
The standard pencil and notepad, a typewriter, or a computer with a word processing program or some other writing software installed. Hell, we can even use speech to text and the notepad installed on our cell phones. There is no limit to writing your story.
What to use to Reach Your Writing Goals
So which should you use? Well, the simple answer is: use whichever one works best for you. Some use a computer only, for everything from the notes and outline to the final draft. Others use a pad of paper and a pen for the notes and outlines and the rough draft and then switch to a computer for the final drafts. Personally, I have tried a myriad of methods, including those two I just mentioned.
For me, the best way to use solely the computer. I have everything I need there, note-taking software, word processing software (I use notepad++ and LibreOffice Writer for those curious minds) and I store my drafts on a USB stick I can take with me anywhere. Personally, I can more easily reach my word count goals on a computer instead of a notebook.
What is the Best Method?
The best method is the one that works for you. If you like writing longhand and using a pencil; do it. If you like to watch your words appear magically on a virtual piece of paper; type it.
If you like having notes written on index cards or torn pieces of paper around your lap while you type out the next draft; do just that. The key is and always will be to use what works best for you. What works for Susan might not work so well for Adam.
Trial and Error Works, Too
Take the time to try different things. Force yourself to try something a new way. If you have always written longhand, try a story only using the computer. If you write down your notes on index cards to organize manually later, try an index card software program on the computer instead. You never know, you may just find that spark that makes it all the easier for you.
So we have a story to write and we have spent some time and sussed out how to write that is the most comfortable for us. So what now? We just write? Yes and no. While the actual story is the important part there are many facets and many different things that you actually write: outlines, synopses, drafts, character sheets, scenes, plots, etc. It isn’t easy work, but that’s why you’re here, you don’t need easy. So let’s set some goals.
Time of Day Goals
When is the best time of day to write? Wee hours of the morning? Just after your first cup of coffee? Perhaps the best time is right after dinner and before Hell’s Kitchen comes on the TV. The true answer isn’t what Stephen King does or what James Patterson does. The answer is: whatever works best for you. (Are you sensing a pattern here, yet?) Write when you have time. True, the “pros” say you should make a schedule and stick to it.
Write at the same time every day for the same amount of time.
Unless Writing is What Pays the Bills
However, if you are like many, writing is currently a hobby and not a full time paying job. You have work, and sleep and kids and functions and dinner to cook. Unless you are getting paid to write full time (in which case, why the hell are you here reading my blog?) or have the ability to make writing the only thing you have to do all day (or night), then you need to figure out when you can write each and every day.
Those times may change week-to-week or even day-to-day. I do agree you should write every single day, but let’s be realistic. You won’t be able to write every single day from 11 am until 2 pm. It just won’t happen. It’s nice if you can make that happen, but real life will get in the way.
I Tend to Ignore Time Goals
I, actually ignore the time of day goal and instead set a goal to just write every day.
If you are more realistic, then this will probably work for you as well. If you happen to have a block of time every day where you can do nothing but write, then please utilize it!
Maybe after the kids go to bed and you’re done being mom or dad and can just get a beer or glass of wine (or water, you weirdo) and write for a few hours. If that works for you, then do it. If, however, you have to be one of the many that have to take the time every day, find blocks of time to write as you can. Which leads to our next goal.
Hours Per Day Goals
The experts say you should write for two hours every day. From there, the disagreements begin to creep in. Break it up into half-hour increments, do it all at once, two one-hour sessions… the options are endless.
They don’t really work though. Let’s be honest, some days you get on a roll and don’t want to stop writing when that timer goes off (p.s. I do not advocate using an egg timer for your sessions) and other days you look at your pile of pages (or laptop) and think “fuck this, not today”.
Once again, you need to do what works best for you. Hours Per Day is a great goal if you are just starting your process and working on a plot and outline. It is also perfect if you are in the end stages of editing or polishing that final draft.
You Can’t Half-Ass Your Goals
Goals are important though, and I stand by that statement. You can’t just half-ass it each and every day or you will end up with a half-ass result. Give it the time and mean what you give. If you write for 30 minutes, or two hours, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you write.
If you can work out two hours a day then do it, fight for it and write for those two hours. Don’t set a goal and make a schedule and then start writing while cooking dinner or just before bedtime. You won’t write for that time, instead, you will be off and on and your concentration and mindset will be elsewhere.
Your time should be just that: yours. Some times though, hours aren’t what is going to get it done. Some people have six hours a day to write and only end up with half a page done. Perhaps instead you need a different daily goal.
Word Count Goals
Once again the so-called experts say you should write a minimum of 2000 words a day. This typically breaks down to about seven to ten pages, depending on your font and layout settings. Stephen King says to write 2000 words every day. He also says that he writes 2000 words a day and doesn’t do anything else until those 2000 words are completed.
I’m sorry. I know he is a very successful author and knows what he is talking about. However, I am a realist and I don’t have all day to force 2000 words out. I understand that it will balance out in the end. I may only give 500 words today but I may end up with 5000 tomorrow. Word count goals are tricky.
It has a lot to do with the process, the timing, what is going on in the real world I need to be a part of and how much sleep I had the night before. Once again, you may not be paid to write full time. If you are, you might sit there for 8 hours a day and pound out words.
I’m not saying my methods are the end all be all, but they work for me, and that is the important part. If you want to emulate King, then, by all means, go for it. Set a word count goal and keep it.
However, I would suggest that if you chose the word count goals instead of the hours per day goals, make the word count a weekly goal. However, end your week on a day when you can spend three or more hours writing, in case you need to catch up.
Set A Goal To Finish
When everything is said and done you have only one goal: Tell Your Story. That’s it. How you get there is only up to you. Only you can force yourself to write. Only you can make the time in your busy life to write words on paper. Your word count goals will help you succeed.
You are the only protagonist and likely the only antagonist you will have in your writing career. The one goal you need to focus on is finishing your work.
Tell your story and make it the best you possibly can to present it to the world. Do you use a computer or a five subject notebook and a Zebra pen? Do you sit down in the corner desk of the living room for 30-minute sessions five times a day, or do you take a laptop to the park for two hours and twice on Sunday?
The End is all That Matters
When everything is said and done, the end result is what matters. How you get there should be as enjoyable and comfortable as possible. Don’t force it, until you have to. Don’t stress about it. Goals are only guidelines, not career-ending musts.
Tell your story. You’re the only one who can.