Some embrace daily word count as the most important metric to an author and some revolt at the mention of it, claiming it stifles creativity. Who is right, and and does it matter?
Highlights of this post: Daily word counts of famous authors. The conflict of looking or not looking at daily word counts. Ideas and suggestion for using daily word counts in a way that works individually.
Daily word counts can be an author’s worst fear. There might be a sense of frustration because you haven’t managed to catch up on your writing, or a feeling of failure because you’re so far away from those precious 2,000 words, and let’s not forget the dread that might follow, whispering in your ear, well, with this pace, you’re never going to finish this novel. Everyone who’s ever taken on the challenge to write a book probably knows this feeling. Daily word counts can be frustrating mostly because there are no set rules or guidelines about how much you should write, or even if you should strive to write daily.
Looking at some of the most successful authors, you can see huge discrepancies. Anne Rice averages 3,000 words per day, while Ernest Hemingway only managed to get up to 500. Stephen King says that only dire circumstances might force him to shut his computer down before he’s written his 2,000 words for the day, and Michael Crichton could put all of them to shame with his staggering 10,000 words per day. At the same time, Graham Greene, author of over 24 novels, never rushed himself and says he’s content with as little as 500 words per day (Writers Write).
With this huge range in mind, you might start asking yourself whether daily word counts really matter. The secret to becoming a writer, according to Jerry Pournelle (Author Magazine), however, is nothing more than simply writing – as much as you can, even when inspiration eludes you. Stephen King, for instance, claims that if he doesn’t write every day, his characters stale off in his mind and begin seeming more like characters than real people. In turn, this makes his tale lose its narrative edge and him – his hold in the plot and pacing (Business Insider).
Most successful authors suggest burning through your first draft as quickly as possible, without caring for style or language. The sooner you get your raw thoughts on paper – or a computer screen – the sooner you can return to do some fine-tuning. This notion is based on the belief that the hardest part of writing is the initial creative process, and once you have the words in front of you, polishing your story is a breeze.
There’s some truth to this claim, and daily writing benefits could extend beyond increased productivity. Think of yourself as a marathon runner or an athlete. You wouldn’t overwork yourself to the point of exhaustion every few weeks or so if you want to build your endurance and muscles, would you? Rather, you would ensure you practice a little every day. Binge-doing anything never produces more than mediocre results; think about cramming for exam versus spreading your revision across several weeks.
Setting some time aside to write is amongst the best ways not to overwork or stress yourself while working on your novel, but there’s an emotional side to the daily word counts too. There are probably writers who firmly believe one should only write when the inspiration strikes, but how often does this happen, especially if you have a daily job and a family to take care of? If you postpone writing until “a better time,” you risk having your desire fade away and turn writing into a chore. Then, once you do have time to write, your long sessions might turn out to be driven by guilt instead of inspiration. In turn, this could make the entire writing experience exhausting rather than rewarding, and might discourage you from lying eyes on the words on your computer screen ever again.
Make Daily Word Count a Helpful Metric
Despite the debate, daily word counts seem to be amongst the most effective ways to beat the sense of failure that follows when you feel like your novel is your last priority. If you’re constantly struggling to motivate yourself, it might erode your sense of confidence – if you can’t find the will to finish the story, how can you expect it from your readers?
With this in mind, what would be a reasonable word count, you might ask? If you’ve read through this article so far, you already know the answer is far from simple. Theoretically, you can write as much as 30 pages per day, or as little as 500 words. There’s even a crazy 3-Day Novel (3daynovel.com) contest where authors average as much as 15,000 per day! The key to setting a daily word count that works is knowing your limits and understanding your writing process. Don’t over-exert yourself but strive to find that sweet spot that enables you to be creative without turning writing into a dreadful chore. If it’s 500, great, if it’s 10,000 – cool, just make sure you sit down and follow your routine every day. Otherwise, those writing muscles may get flabby!
Speaking of routine, there are ways in which you can increase your daily word count or improve your chances of sticking to it. Authors recommend establishing a routine – sit in front of the screen at the same time every day, and the words will start coming more naturally to you. Training your brain to know this is writing time, becomes a strong asset over time. Find your most productive spot – your local coffee shop or home office, the garden or the bedroom, even hunched over the kitchen table if it gets your creative juices flowing.
Make sure to minimize distractions and start with a clear idea of what you’re going to write every day. Visualize scenes, or rely on the Pomodoro method and do your daily writing in short 25- or 50-minute bursts without browsing the internet or checking your mail. Committing to your writing goal and a daily word count can do wonders for your novel, your self-esteem as a writer, and your peace of mind.