We all want to be that writer who can boast about fifteen thousand word days or writing a full-length novel in less than a week, putting NaNo participants to shame with their 50K in 30 days.
But is there a danger to high word count goals? Or is there a danger to setting word count goals at all?
I suppose the answer to these questions depends upon your own personality, and to answer these questions, let’s take a brief rabbit trail into the nature of your goals.
In order to achieve your goals, you must first set goals. (I know, that’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?) There is no point in laboring toward something if you don’t know or understand what that something is.
Now, for the sake of this blog, I am going to assume that those of you who are reading this are writing a book. And if you are writing that book, you probably have an idea of what you are going to do with it in the end. Are you writing it for an audience or simply for yourself? Do you plan on publishing, or are you just writing it to “get it off your chest?”
So when you set these goals, you probably figured out around when you wanted to be done with your story, and realized you’d have to write X number of words a day in order to finish in time.
Motivation to getting those words written is key. Some authors set word count goals, others sit down for a certain number of hours a day, others write a scene a day and spend as much time as needed on that scene that day. Others write one perfect sentence by one perfect sentence, not moving on until the first sentence was perfect, then beginning on the next and not moving on until that sentence is perfect, up until “The End.”
Rabbit trail done.
So, what happens when you set those writing goals? First things first. Let’s hope that the goals you set are attainable.
Set Your Goal.
First things first: you need to set a goal. When do you want your story/novella/novel/memoir finished?
Okay, now figure out how many words a day you need to write in order to achieve that goal. (Note that a first draft is never a finished, i.e. publishable, draft.)
High aspirations can make you push yourself to achieve better, strive for the best, and can make you into a better version of yourself.
What if you don’t succeed?
Failure is draining even on a small scale like not meeting your word count for one day. Constant failure makes you believe that you aren’t what you want to be, or aren’t what you should be. Constant failure is the sure way to destroy your aspirations and remain where you are.
If you set attainable goals, you are giving yourself the greatest chance at success. If you set lofty goals, knowing that to achieve them would require a miracle, you are setting yourself up for failure.
When I set high goals, or when I have lofty aspirations, I find that I get discouraged quite easily when I don’t meet those goals. Let’s say I wanted to write 2000 words every day for the next sixty days. That would give me 120K at the end of those days–certainly more than a full length novel. Now, that’s great and all, but if the rest of my life doesn’t make achieving that goal look likely, I’m most likely going to get discouraged when I consistently fail at achieving my goals.
On the other hand, goals which are easily attained are great for boosting your confidence and convincing yourself that you are a writer, or making a habit out of something. For example, if you are trying to get in the habit of exercise, walking for five minutes a day is a great way to start. Pretty soon, you can extend that to ten, then fifteen, and you’ll hardly notice a difference, except in the way your pants fit. Make sure though, that you are increasing your goal to push yourself if you’re finding your current goal too easy.
Increasing Your Goal.
Just as in exercise, you can meet a plateau in writing. What happens then? Say you’ve reached the hour mark, you’ve got five pounds left to take off, and your walk just isn’t cutting it anymore. Something has to change. You can keep your walk at an hour, but it isn’t going to serve you any more towards your goal. So either your goal has to change, or your methods have to.
Likewise in writing, you can keep a 100 word a day habit for years, and in 1000 days, you’ll have written 100K, if you didn’t skip a day. That’s a novel. You’ve finished it. (Now you have the unenviable task of editing it.)
Many authors like to be challenged, and writing itself can be challenging. Any author will tell you that one sentence is not as easy to write as another sentence. But 100 words a day? Almost anyone can meet that goal. If you want to be a career author (or maybe just a serious writer), then make writing a habit and increase your goals over time for maximum productivity.
Every writer has to start somewhere. Don’t be afraid to start out with low goals–it’s better than discouraging yourself with overly ambitious goals.
Don’t compare yourself to other writers (like those who boast about 15K words in a day). Compare yourself to yourself–compete with yourself. But know that, some days, no matter how hard you try, life is going to get in the way of your word count.
When you have extra time in your day, don’t be afraid to write above your word count goal. If you are in a flow, go with it! Setting a low goal and constantly achieving it can give you an excuse to be satisfied with your productivity, when you could be producing much more each day (and getting much further in your writing career!).
What if you’re reading this and say, “I don’t work well with word count goals?”
Well, there are some authors who simply don’t like to count words. (I use Scrivener to track my word count each day and work toward my goals, so it’s easy.)
But if counting words doesn’t appeal to you, or simply doesn’t motivate you, try writing for a certain amount of time per day. Set a kitchen timer for five minutes and write until the timer goes off. When you’ve mastered that five minutes a day and created a habit–turn up the timer to 10 minutes. Challenge yourself, repeatedly, and you’re bound to see results!