Writing With a Daily Word Goal

2 Nov

Given that it’s the start of NaNoWriMo, and also that I recently imposed a daily word count goal on myself, I figured now is a good time to start talking about what it feels like to write with a goal in mind:

 (PS: Julie (Juliesh), Susan (stowersd), Sammy (SamanthaNicole), and I (savannahjfoley) are all doing NaNoWriMo this year. Friend us if you like!)

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Back in the beginning of October, my agent approved my outline for Antebellum and I got to work revising. I decided to set a goal for myself as to when I would complete the rewrite: I wanted to be done by December so I could have the whole month to edit and get feedback, then I would send to my agent in January.

Step 1: Establish a Goal

As a way to help me acheive this goal, I decided to chart my progress with a daily word count goal. I calculated the number of words I would have to write a day in order to redo 30 chapters in two months… 1,125, or approximately 3 chapters per week.

Step 2: Motivation

I put notes by my desk.

I put a custom background on my phone. And laptop.

I told my writer friends and announced it on Facebook.

I woke up every morning and repeated to myself, “I am SO excited to write today!”

I tried to do everything possible to keep myself amped up and committed. But being excited is only half the battle. No, not even half. Probably 25%.

Step 3: Tracking.

I love charts, and I love excel. Plus, I knew I needed someplace to keep my daily word counts, and track how much I had left to go. So I made a really awesome chart in Excel to help me:

The chart made me feel better. I love looking at it 😛

Step 4: Writing.

This is the most important (and hardest) part to writing with a daily goal. Having fancy motivational pictures, fancy charts, and fancy ways of complaining and/or psyching yourself up on Twitter and FB is all good and well, but it means nothing if you don’t actually do any writing.

For the first week, I did great. I was even over my goal! The second week I did good, but not quite so well… in fact, I was short by about a hundred words.

The third week I did terrible. I wrote a really crappy chapter and it stole my mojo and enthusiasm to keep going. Writing each sentence was torture. I took frequent food breaks, internet breaks, bathroom breaks, anything to avoid this big, stinking mess of a manuscript.

But having a daily word count goal isn’t about writing perfect chapters in a day. It’s about getting the words down no matter what, even if they suck. Because that’s what editing is for. It’s more important to get the framework to the house up than it is to do all the trim wall by wall and room by room. Put a roof on that house before you install the carpet, for goodness sakes!

Step 5: Maintaining.

Adhering to the goal every day without fail is really difficult, because life gets in the way. Birthday dinners, celebrations, holidays, excessive homework, Cleaning Day, getting a migraine, catching up on your favorite tv show… all of these things provide temptations or legitimate excuses to wander away from your writing. I’m not saying your novel has to come before your mother’s birthday dinner. But it’s going to provide a definite distraction.

I have given up fun things in order to make goal. My boyfriend wanted to go out to eat, and while I love eating at restaurants, I told him we’ll just put a pizza in the oven so I can keep writing. My sister wanted me to go out shopping with her (omg I love trinket shopping). But I told her I needed to stay in and finish my chapter.

I’m not perfect. Things went wrong, and unexpected issues came up. I got a dog, for example. This past weekend, I promised I would devote all weekend to catching up to my goal (I’m way, way behind), but I forgot my boyfriend was intalling linoleum in my laundry room, and of course I got recruited into assisting/running errands.

If you plan a daily goal, expect for things to go wrong. Don’t think, ‘I can goof off on my lunch break because I can write tonight’, because you don’t know WHAT is going to happen tonight!

Step 6. The Culture of Dedication.

I have known writers in the past who adhere to a daily word count goal. I really admire them for it. Now that I’m on a daily word count goal myself, I like to see them Twitter and blog about it. Misery loves company, after all. But I also think that a daily word count goal isn’t for everyone, and here’s why:

In my opinion, you should use a word count goal if you have a defineable deadline, like you want to finish your novel in 60 days, or you’re on deadline for an agent or editor, or you’re participating in NaNoWriMo.

I feel that using a word count goal when you don’t have a project to work on sets you up for disappointment and failure… if you feel that you have to write 500 words a day you’ll eventually end up writing nonsense and garbage just to say you wrote that day. Not only is it not fun to write 500 words of nonsense, it’s disheartening. You could be using that time to think and sketch out your next novel instead of grasping for more sentences when you’re not ready.

I also believe that you should set a word count goal for the right reason, and again, it goes back to the definable deadline. Writing with a word count goal is rough. One of the more solid reasons why I’m able to do it is that I know my characters and plot so well. At this point I’m not writing solely for pleasure, for learning purposes, or in order to find my plot. I’m writing because I have a deadline.

I’ve known writers who feel they have to write a certain number of words per day in order to be a ‘real writer’, or to have a chance at getting published, but militant strictness is NOT a requirement to being a good writer. However, it may be a useful tool for making a deadline, but don’t be discouraged if you’re not ready for a daily goal yet. You’ll get there. And it’s a whole lot less glamorous than you think 😉

Do you write with a daily word count goal in mind? And are you participating in NaNoWriMo?

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Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Antebellum (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Antebellum is currently out on submissions. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal.

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22 Responses to “Writing With a Daily Word Goal”

  1. Glaiza November 2, 2010 at 1:03 AM #

    This is great article 🙂 I found word goals really useful for a couple of days (minimum of 500 words a day) but then I kind of lost track of keeping them as I didn’t have a concrete deadline for any large project…

    Though I’m doing Nanowrimo for the first time this year and the daily word goal definitely works out 🙂

    • savannahjfoley November 2, 2010 at 8:35 AM #

      500’s a good number for exploratory writing… that’s about a page, double-spaced, right?

      Yay for NaNo! Good luck!

  2. Armith-Greenleaf November 2, 2010 at 1:27 AM #

    Oho this was EXCELLENT! (I’m also doing NaNo and just added you, btw.)

    This is my first time doing NaNo, and also my first time being on a deadline–which is precisely the reason why I decided to do NaNo this year, I’m off of uni and I know if I want to become a published author I must learn to work under deadlines.

    Waking up and saying “I’m SO excited to write today!” is actually amazingly powerful. One of the ideas psychologists give to patients is to repeat themselves encouraging words every morning. When we wake up, we’re like a blank canvass, and saying something good to yourself paints it in a positive colour. I shall start doing this from tomorrow onwards, thanks for the reminder. 😉

    I also did an Excel chart lol, because I need to make the engineering part of me happy (also, the NaNo website’s charts are just not enough for me.) So I went and did this fancy sheet that calculates averages, totals and percentages. Not graphs, because I don’t like them heh.

    And I’m doing the writing! I *know* I won’t write every day, because life happens and I generally need breaks to think, but I’ll give it my best shot!

    And also, I decided not to do any editing as I went; I’m going to just gogogo and leave the editing for December or January, so that way my mojo won’t be stopped (hopefully. *crosses fingers*)

    Good luck to you and everybody doing NaNo! 😀

    • savannahjfoley November 2, 2010 at 8:42 AM #

      Yeah actually it was my counselor who told me to do that every morning, back when I’d stopped writing and was having a hard time starting again. It really does work!

  3. Aurora Blackguard November 2, 2010 at 2:11 AM #

    I love pep talks. They make me feel … peppy! Good luck you guys! Add me okay? samanthacheh

  4. Hannah November 2, 2010 at 2:35 AM #

    That was great. Alas if only motivation and fancy charts was all it took to write consistently. I am very motivated, but also very lazy and very busy.

    I am doing nanowrimo (hannahmae) and am going to add you guys!

    • savannahjfoley November 2, 2010 at 8:42 AM #

      I know, right? I would dominate writing if it were only about fancy charts.

  5. authorguy November 2, 2010 at 5:48 AM #

    I don’t do word counts or NaNoWriMo. I write when I feel like I have something to put down. Forcing myself to write something down just to meet a goal will almost always result in deleting a lot of useless words the next day. I can and do meet deadlines, my publisher has several times asked for stories by a certain date and I have them ready. (One time I was several months early, which was good, since another guy was several months late.) I find conditions quite stimulating to my writing, sort of a challenge to rise up and meet. Goals set by me are too arbitrary to be a good challenge

    Marc Vun Kannon
    http://authorguy.wordpress.com

    • savannahjfoley November 2, 2010 at 8:43 AM #

      Another great perspective… I’m only able to write with this word count goal because I have a very detailed outline to follow, that took me the two previous months to establish.

  6. Susan November 2, 2010 at 5:52 AM #

    Ahhh, spreadsheets. I’ve made one for NaNo, and I have the little NaNo widget on my blog. The widget makes me feel accountable to other people…

    I’m also in Savvy Authors’ Nano Boot camp, and I’m captain of a YA-writing team. We motivate each other, hold each other accountable, and compete with other teams for word count! 🙂 It’s fun and makes sure I get the minimum 1667 words written.

    I don’t normally write with a daily goal in terms of word count, but I do like to write 2 scenes/day when I’m in first draft mode. I don’t always stick with it, but I try…

    “if you feel that you have to write 500 words a day you’ll eventually end up writing nonsense and garbage just to say you wrote that day. Not only is it not fun to write 500 words of nonsense, it’s disheartening.” –> VERY TRUE!

    I’ve already decided that if I’m writing gibberish, I’ll stop and try to sort it out… It’s a waste of my time to vomit useless words that I can’t even revise into quality.

    Great post, Savannah! And good luck with NaNo!

    • savannahjfoley November 2, 2010 at 8:44 AM #

      Thanks Susan! I added you, me, Julie, and Sammy’s stats to the blog in the upper right!

  7. Chele November 2, 2010 at 11:07 AM #

    Ahaha I’ve a long habit of putting up tons of post-it notes all around my desk, in drawers, and anywhere I might see them to remind me to stick to word counts. Doesn’t work after the first week or so, but they do make me feel somewhat productive ;P

    True though, NaNo’s the ONLY time I ever set a goal when writing – every other time I just write as much as I can when I can. ;D

    (Ooh and NaNo username: relyn)

    • savannahjfoley November 2, 2010 at 11:16 AM #

      Lol that’s so true! My cell phone background used to inspire the crap out of me, and now I don’t even see it.

      I’ll add you! 🙂

  8. Chantal November 2, 2010 at 11:22 AM #

    Good luck on your rewrite Savannah!!! Can’t wait to read Antebellum one day!

  9. Sammy November 2, 2010 at 11:34 AM #

    For the record, I cheated on NaNo this year. Oops.

    • savannahjfoley November 2, 2010 at 11:56 AM #

      LOL! You’re supposed to record the words you write per day, not what you’ve written on your novel so far. Cheater. 😛

      • Sammy November 2, 2010 at 1:13 PM #

        At least I admit to my cheating!

  10. Susan November 2, 2010 at 3:41 PM #

    oooh lovely post! I’m trying Nano again this year, although I’m not really going into it with the expectation of actually getting those 50000 words…I’m doing it more to force myself into actually writing every day. I have a horrible habit of not writing for days and days on end, by which point I fall out of the habit, and it’s almost torturous to start back up again because everything keeps coming out so badly. So I’m not even really setting a word-goal for each day, as long as it’s something greater than 0 (okay, maybe more like 100). [Although that’s also why I don’t think I’ll be giving my number for a widget addition. My numbers will look woefully small.]

    • savannahjfoley November 4, 2010 at 8:14 PM #

      I know, that’s my bad habit, too!

  11. Lea Kaplan November 2, 2010 at 8:13 PM #

    I’m going to have to agree with the whole “don’t write just for the sake of reaching a word goal” thing. But it is important to stay on top of things and to keep everything fresh in your mind. What I do, if I try to write something – even if it’s just a couple sentences – or else reread bits and do some light copyedits, maybe just doodle what my character looks like, or jot out a map of my setting, or create a calendar of events in the remainder of the story, or… well, you get the idea. Even if it’s just brainstorming while taking a shower. I try to live with my story, a little bit every day. Just like waking up and thinking, “I’m excited to write today!”, I wake up and think, “I’m excited to live with my characters in my head, to brainstorm them, to think about how they’d respond to everything that happens to me today.” The more I live with them, the more I think about them, the more excited I get.

    I know that I have the motivation to meet the 1,667 per day word goal for NaNo, but I’m worried about part-time classes and full-time internship getting in the way. Sigh.

    And Sammy, I was tempted to do that, too. But I’ve decided to keep a separate document of my NaNo writing, so I can keep a real word count, even though I’m continuing an existing manuscript. No cheating!

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