#wordcount — That’s the Twitter hashtag for writers wishing to chronicle their cumulative daily word count. It’s not surprising such a hashtag exists. After all, setting a daily word count has become one of those near non-negotiable writing rules. Usually, that number is 1,000 words, give or take, with an appropriate “off day” here or there. Thanks to “professionals,” seminars, and how-to books, the Daily Word Count has become etched in stone, so to speak, as a necessary writerly discipline.
It’s led to all kinds of “helpful” tools, like free apps to track your daily word count, tips for achieving your daily word count, and even ways to DOUBLE your word count. Hooray!
Confession: I’ve never adhered to a daily word count for myself. Despite this, I’ve managed to complete three full-length novels (one as-yet unpublished), a short story anthology, and a novella. Not to mention publish well-over 1,100 blog articles. All while working outside the home 40 hours a week.
Of course, this may be evidence that I’m OCD. However, I’d like to think it just exposes the squishiness of the daily word count advice.
This is not to suggest that setting yourself a goal and working to achieve it is wrong. At its essence, this is what the Daily Word Count is supposed to do — prod you toward completion. Which is good. But like any “rule,” it can become a shadow of the original intent and shackle writers to the “letter of the law” rather than the “spirit of the law.” Not to mention, it doesn’t always respect or incorporate the uniqueness of our individual personalities and stations in life.
Here’s three things I’ve used to replace the Daily Word Count mantra in my reperatoire, which have made my writing more fluid and fun.
#1 — Focus on the number of projects you complete rather than daily word count. Perhaps it’s just me. Heck, it might just be hair-splitting. But looking at the big picture helps me better navigate the day-to-day. This probably doesn’t work for everybody. In my case, it allows for flexibility (which is key to my own creativity), rather than the “tyranny” of having to adhere to a regiment. Obviously, if you’re not “completing” ANYTHING, a daily word count might be good for you. I’ve personally found it’s better to focus on completing projects rather than choking out a predetermined number of words.
#2 — Respect your station in life. Let’s face it, much of the professional advice out there is aimed at someone who’s pursuing a full-time writing career. In that case, having a daily word count makes sense. However, for those of us who work outside the home, raise children, care for a sick family member, etc., the Daily Word Count can seem a ball and chain. Sometime in 2011, while struggling to meet the deadline for my second novel, I experienced some weird health issues, one landing me in Urgent Care. This is embarrassing to admit, but it was diagnosed as stress related. It scared me, and led me to reevaluate my approach to writing. Bottom line: I had to give myself permission to NOT write. Not only was this refreshing, it improved the time that I DID write. Likewise, respecting your station in life, whether calling, career, or short-term circumstance, can be important to a realistic writing schedule.
#3 — Distinguish between cranking out words and honing ideas. No amount of words will make a bad idea better. I’m one of those oddball Plotters who needs to know where I’m going before I start up the car. As a result, I often write in fits and starts. When I reach a place in a manuscript with a plot hiccup or hole, I CANNOT just keep plowing forward. Sometimes, I must give myself a break from word count production to let an idea gestate or to do some research. Perhaps this is simply the difference between writing and editing. I tend to blur those lines either way. Point is, sometimes it’s not about getting words on a page, but honing ideas, characters, and plot elements.
As Pablo Picasso said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” The bottom line issue is that writers write. You MUST get words on a page, inspiration must find you working, whether it’s by following a daily word count or ad-libbing. If adhering to a daily word count is not working for you, you might consider stepping back from your writing. Maybe it’s time to look at the bigger picture, readjust to your station in life, or simply give yourself the freedom to hone the story as opposed to bulking it up.