Word Count Workout

When I got serious about writing a novel, I buckled down and decided that I needed to write X words per day. The problem was, what should X be? At this point, I need to mention that algebra was probably my weakest subject, and suddenly needing to solve for X in order to determine a crucial step in my writing career was somewhat off-putting.

Regardless, I had read Stephen King’s fantastic book, On Writing, and in that he states that a writer should produce 2,000 words per day. Ok, I said, that’s what I’ll do. And so I sat down on Day 1, fired up the laptop, grinned at my blank screen and cracked my knuckles.

And I produced about 213 words.

Here’s the thing. Writing is a mental exercise, with heavy emphasis on the word exercise here. Let’s compare it to physical exercise. Let’s say you want to run a 4 minute mile. If you aren’t already a runner, there’s no way you’re going to be able to run that fast for that distance and not have a heart attack. You need to start off slowly, and as your body gets in better shape, you can go faster. Writing is the same way. I found that working up to my target word count was much more effective than trying to hit the target count right out of the gate.

To start my writing regimen, I looked up how long the average urban fantasy novel was, and found it was between 75,000 – 90,000 words. So I made 80,000 words the initial target word count for my novel. That meant that every 800 words I wrote was 1% of the total word count of my book. I set my first goal as writing 400 words/day, and that way I’d have written 1/2 a % of my book every day. Not great, but it was something. It also let me say, “All right, if I write half a percent every day, then in 200 days I’ll be done.” The thing was, it didn’t take long before I could write 800 words in a sitting. A week or two later, I could do 1,200 words, then 1,600, and then I was doing 2,000 – 2,400 words consistently. I found if I really pushed, I could put out 4,000 words in a day. Suddenly I was able to complete a draft in 30 days, instead of 200.

So if you’re just starting out and you’re frustrated with your progress, consider giving this a try.  Set 400 words/day as your goal. If you write more than that, great, but make 400 your target. Do that for a week. Then bump up to 600 words/day for the next week. Each subsequent week, increase the target word count by 200 words/day until you hit your ultimate goal of 2,000 words. And if you find that a particular target is too easy, figure out how many words/day you can do comfortably and increase that by 100-200.

Building up to those X words per day is a lot less frustrating, and much more rewarding when you realize just how much you can do. If you’ve got any productivity tips or tricks to help a writer boost his or her word count, sound off in the comments.


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3 Responses to Word Count Workout

  1. Angel Haze says:

    That’s awesome that you finished your first draft in 30 days! (Especially after aiming for a goal of 200!) Find your comfort zone and aim slightly higher.

    As for word count tips, I used to write down the date and the word count on a piece of paper for a quick reference. Now, I don’t worry so much about the daily word count so much as making the words count. Personally, I focus on the scenes.

    Before I write a novel in your comment section, I’m going to blog about the method that works for me.

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  3. Rob Cornell says:

    I write by a set amount of hours instead of words. I used to do the word goal thing, but found I’m more productive if I give myself X amount of hours to do nothing but write. Since I know my average word/hour rate, I can still estimate about how long a project will take me based on however many hours a day I have scheduled. But, funny enough, I use a similar technique to yours. Whenever I start a new writing schedule or want to increase the amount of hours I write without hurting myself, I start at about a quarter of the total time I want to write in a day and bump this up over about a six-week period to reach my ultimate goal.

    I learned this method from writer Jerrold Mundis. Surefire way to get you writing steadily.

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