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.