She made me feel like an idiot.
It wasn’t her fault, this blogger. But when she mentioned in a post that she’d written only a “measly 2.8k words today” I felt about two feet tall. Mostly because 2.8k words would be a solid writing day for me. And most of the time I don’t write even that much.
I know intellectually that this blogger writes full time, so she has more time to give to writing than I do. Still, knowing something and feeling something are two different things. And what she said cut through my confidence.
I fell right down the rabbit hole of self-doubt after that. Am I writing enough? Am I ever going to finish? Am I a dumbass? What the heck am I doing wrong?
It hit me so hard, because I’m the kind of person who cares only about the outcome. I scoff at the participation trophy. I’ve been known to say that the consolation prize is for losers. That the old ‘good try’ isn’t good enough. But I’m beginning to see the error in this type of thinking.
Because this type of thinly-veiled perfectionism kills the writing dream. It leads to a fear of failure that often keeps me from showing up to my writing desk at all.
I bet that sounds familiar.
The more I’ve gotten comfortable with the idea that just showing up is enough, the more writing I get done. And that got me thinking. Is my approach to writing still setting me up for failure?
After turning my critical editor’s eye toward my approach to writing, I found something that surprised me.
My word count goal caused creativity-killing stress. Is your daily word count goal doing the same to you?
Here are 7 reasons to ditch the daily word count goal and just write for a set amount of time instead. This is how to make writing fun again.
#1 Fits all Stages of the Writing Process
The daily word count goal is fine when you’re writing your first draft. But what about those days when you’re revising? Outlining? Exploring possiblities? Thinking through a plot hole?
Writing for a set amount of time each day is a great way to track your progress no matter what stage of the writing process you’re in. It also gives you space to explore different story paths and options without the unnecessary pressure of a one-size-doesn’t-really-fit-all daily word count goal.
#2 Strengthens Resolve and Motivation to Write
It’s too easy to feel bad about a writing session when you don’t hit a word count goal you set for yourself. Too many of those in a row and, if you’re anything like me, you start to feel like a failure. That’s when it’s next to impossible to sit down and write your way out of the funk. So set yourself up for success instead.
Because writing for a set time just means every word you write is a win. And that makes it easier to show up every day and write.
#3 Reduces Steps and Simplifies the Writing Process
When you straightjacket yourself to a word count goal, things get complicated. Because what you’re really saying is that you’ll sit down at your writing space, get your head in the game, write, panic when the words don’t come, spurt out a few awful words, worry about whether they’re the right words, and freak out as your day stretches into night and you still haven’t hit your word count.
The word count goal assumes too many steps. But when you write for a set time instead, all you have to do is show up and let the writing take care of itself.
#4 Builds Writing Confidence
Word count goals set you up for a perfectionistic mindset. But not all writing days are created equal. Sometimes you spend more time brainstorming than you do writing. On those days when you know you won’t hit your word count, it’s easy to give up before you get started.
But if you measure writing success by time in, the words don’t need to be perfect. The word count doesn’t need to be perfect. You focus on what you can control, which is whether or not you show up. And if it doesn’t work out one day, there’s always tomorrow’s writing session.
You can be confident then that as long as you keep showing up, eventually it will work out. And that confidence is invaluable for writers.
#5 Trains Your Brain for ‘Writing Mode’
Humans are creatures of habit. And routines establish powerful biological responses. If you write for a set time at the same time every day, your mind will sink gently into writing mode the second you’re ready to write.
#6 Halts Writers Block
What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat,’… And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come. -Maya Angelou
Sometimes the muse takes her sweet ass time before showing up. So what about all those hours or days you have to write shit until you hit gold?
If you write on a word count goal structure, you won’t get credit for the time you spent fishing for the muse. But you need to give yourself credit for that time, because it supports the resilience you’ll need to write your way through without giving in to the block.
#7 Promotes Creativity
Writing on a word count goal is a runaway freight train headed toward the cliff. I don’t know about you, but when I have a word count to reach, I feel like I can’t stop typing. And that means I don’t have time to think as I’m rushing toward the goal.
But urgency kills creativity. So I opt for the peaceful route. It leaves plenty of room to unearth and follow my vision.
What Do You Think?
Maybe you disagree? Does the word count goal work for you? Or maybe I missed a great reason to write on a time block instead? Share it in the comments.
Whitney McGruder says
“Am I a dumbass?” The best response to most things ever! I like this idea of using time rather than words. Because let’s be honest: you can write a 1000 meaningless words and call it a day. If you’re writing for a set time, you’re still writing and it’s a goal that you can feel proud about. Books aren’t about how long or short they are; it’s how much your work means to you and others. Give yourself a break, writers and dreamers!
So true, Whitney. Thanks for sharing your insight and pep 😀
Personally, I find word count goal really helpful when I’m writing a first draft. Sometimes, it’s just the little thing that makes me write a little longer. But I think what is the most important is not to set the bar too high. I started at 100 words a day and made it grow. For my last first draft, I was setting it a 1000 words a day. You just have to find the number that is just enough high to make you write more, but not too high that it seems impossible to achieve.
But time goal are also really helpful! I’m doing research for the moment and I don’t think any other goal could work!
The most important thing is to work everyday, no matter how!
Keep going Mandy 🙂
You make a good point here, Leftie. It makes sense to set your writing goals based on how they affect your morale. Whatever gets you writing every day.
MM Jaye says
Spot-on advice! Word count sucks. Now, I cannot resist referring you to my latest post where I interview a self-published, first-time author who wrote a bestseller in two months without the support of an author platform. Her approach and process are jaw-dropping, to me, at least. Here’s the post:
Mandy Wallace says
Thanks for sharing that article, MM. I’ll check it out. Love that she used the Pomodoro technique, which tracks time in, and still ended up hitting an amazing daily word count.
Nicole Montgomery says
I once did a “novel dare” (kind of like NANOWRIMO) where two of us promised to write 60k in a month and blog (it was so long ago it wasn’t called blogging yet) about it. We both “won.”
Then we did another one the next month and each week my count actually went down, as I went in and took out all everything I’d written the month before. My friend said it was the first time he’d ever seen an “anti-novel dare.”
Mandy Wallace says
That’s a bummer of the word count goal. It feels like you’re undoing your work when you cut and edit. But editing makes our work better! Those little psychological things can really get into the subconscious and sabotage our progress, especially when we’re new writers.
I saw on your site that you’re a Writers of the Future contest winner, Nicole. Nice!
I am doing a 365K or 1000 words each day. I do agree that it could be helpful for NaNo or anything similar. I like how it motivates me to write or so I thought. But there are days when I haven’t written a word. Obviously, I am not going to hit the 365K goal. I like the idea of writing by so much time a day. Maybe I will try that next year. I want to finish this other challenge first. Thanks for the great blog post!
Mandy Wallace says
Good luck on your writing goals. Anything that gets you writing is a good thing. As long as it’s sustainable for you. Let me know how it turns out, Michele.
I find that I do better with a scene goal than a word count goal. I never have a good idea of how many words I need, but I do have a good idea of how many scenes I need. So if I can get through 2 scenes today, I’m about on track. It also works for editing and outlining and any steps you want!
I have to set time goals as well, but I’ve found that setting myself up for scenes really helps me pace myself and my story better.
Mandy Wallace says
Love that this approach works for all stages of the writing process. And if the scenes feel of manageable size that you never feel daunted by the thought of jumping back in for the day’s session, then kudos to you Jaina! And thanks for stopping by.
The only caveat to writing for a set amount of time is that you must be disciplined and be sure you are using that time to really be writing and not going down rabbit trails.(checking e-mail, researching,but then getting sidetracked,) all those little things that can fritter away the time
Mandy Wallace says
So true, Bararee. Distractions like those would kill any project.