Tag Archives: word count

Staying Motivated with Word Count

24 Aug

by Savannah J. Foley


I’ve had some good writing weekends. Weekends where I write 10,000 words. And I’ve had some bad ones, where I get maybe 200 words. Every single time I sit down to write, I’m always amazed by how much text it actually takes to make even 100 words. For example, in Times New Roman sized 12, double-spaced, an average page from one of my books has 350 words on it. This paragraph only has 89, and look at all of the ideas I’ve expressed so far.

So even though numbers like 100, 200, or 300 seem low in comparison to what I get on a good weeknight (2,000), that’s actually quite a bit of writing.

And I’m obsessed with word count. Here’s a picture of the spreadsheet I keep open in Google docs when I’m working on my books (the word counts are from the zombie book I have going on the side) (click to see it bigger!):

I got into word counts when I participated in NaNoWriMo last year, and made the foundation of the above chart at that point. (At the time I originally wrote this post, I was the only one I knew of who kept charts like this, but then Susan came up with the awesome idea of us at LTWF sharing our daily goals/achievements with each other. For the past week we’ve updated our word counts in a shared google docs, and it’s been incredibly motivational, as Susan mentioned yesterday, but I still maintain this chart on my own!)

These days, whenever I’m writing and hit a pause (you know the kind. The one where your brain interjects and says, “HEY! Let’s go check email! Or Twitter! Or Facebook! Or Google+!”) I do a word count check and update the word count chart. I know when I’m really hitting my stride because 500 words will go by and I’ve been so engrossed in my story I didn’t even think to stop and check. I’ve gotten really good at estimating how many words I just wrote by the time it took. On average I can do 1,000 an hour (Yes, I also maintain complicated hour-by-hour charts as well. What can I say, I love charts!)

Yes, this behavior is obsessive. But it has also taught me something about writing and motivation:

Writing takes a long time. A long, long, long, long time. From conception to actualization on my last book it took 9 months. In actual writing time it took 3 months. That’s faster than some, slower than others, but still, when you think about it, a really freaking long time.

9 months of staying motivated about a story. 3 months about showing up and making it happen (Or as Susan calls it, BICHOK). 90 nights of going home with the intention of working on this huuuuuuge project, and sometimes not even getting started. This past weekend, I spent 8 solid hours over two different days, and got almost 9k out of it. But that was 8 hours of my weekend dedicated to doing nothing but writing. That’s an entire work day! And I only added about three scenes.

If you let yourself think about how much work and time goes into making a novel, it’s very easy to become demotivated. That’s why I like word counts. It compartmentalizes my goal for the day, and makes it attainable. I don’t think about having to write 70,000 words. Instead, I usually shoot for about 1,500 per night. That’s doable. It takes about two hours, but I’m lucky in that I have that time every evening.

During the day, I do spare some thought to the eventualities of the novel, but mostly I focus on the upcoming scene. I use all spare time to think about what I’m going to write that night, and then when I get in front of the computer I know exactly what I’m doing.

By the end of the novel, I’ve spent about 90 full days with my characters. Thinking about them, talking to them, exploring their worlds in my mind. They become friends. And that’s something else to look forward to during the process; it’s not a race to the finish, but a stroll with good company and an exciting reward at the end.

In other words, “It’s not the destination, but the journey.” And the satisfaction of every small goal along the way.


How do you stay motivated when working on a novel?


Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Nameless (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Her website and blog is at www.savannahjfoley.com. She is currently working with her agent to sell a sleeping beauty retelling about a girl who wakes up after a hundred years with no memory of her former life. You can read excerpts from her stories here.

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!)


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?


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.