Daily Word Count, Part One
Blogger: Wendy Lawton
When I was actively writing one of the questions I always asked fellow writers was their daily output. Being a wee bit on the competitive side (understatement) I was always anxious to track my progress and improve my work habits. I wanted to make sure I was as productive as possible.
One of my longtime writing friends is the New York Times bestseller, Debbie Macomber. I’ve always been blown away by Debbie’s work habits. When I first asked her she was writing four days a week– taking Wednesday off for other writerly pursuits like marketing, interviews, meetings, etc. I think she still does that. On each of her writing days her goal was twenty first draft pages. And she was serious about meeting that goal. Once, when I flew up on a Friday to spend a long weekend with her, she hadn’t finished her pages so, instead of just shifting the undone pages into the following week, she arranged for me to go antiquing with another friend while she hunkered down to complete her goal. Twenty manuscript pages equals 5000 words. Pretty impressive.
As I began tracking daily output I found it varied depending on where I was in the book and how much pre-writing (research, character development for fiction, anecdote gathering for nonfiction) I had accomplished. In the beginning of a book– before I really knew the characters well– I was hard-pressed to get 2000 words per day. That’s called ramp time– the uphill climb. But deeper into the book, when the story just flies onto the page I have no trouble with 5000 words a day. On a tight deadline I can even go considerably higher than that. So when someone asked my daily output I’d average it, saying 2500 words with gusts up to 7500.
I asked several of our Books & Such authors to share their writing goals. I got such great stuff from them I need to make this a two-parter to get it all in. We’ll start hearing from them today and continue next Tuesday.
Ann Gabhart: When I first started writing many years ago, I kept a diary log of what I had accomplished each day to try to keep me accountable. I had young children then and sometimes those entries weren’t what I hoped to accomplish, but I kept setting goals. Now over 40 years later, I still think in pages instead of words since when I started writing everything was typewriter. So when I’m working on a first draft, I set the goal of 5 pages or approximately 1500 words. Doesn’t sound like much but I’ve written a lot of books that way. As the old saying goes, slow and steady wins the race.
Cynthia Ruchti: When my plan is working well, I divide the project’s word count (novel or nonfiction) by the number of weeks remaining until the due date. I set weekly goals rather than daily word count goals. At the beginning of each week of the calendar, I write the number of the chapter I should have completed by then. Second week of February–I should have completed through Chapter Ten. If I’m only on Chapter Seven, I know that week will need to be a heavier writing week to catch up to the overall word count goal. What that plan does for me is give me more flexibility within the variations of my family needs, my job requirements, and marketing responsibilities. No two days look alike for me. But a weekly word count goal helps keep me oriented to where I am but with enough flexibility to survive the days when no words get written.
Olivia Newport: I have developed a pattern of 1,000 words four days a week, either in the morning or the evening. Then I aim for 6,000 on the weekend, for a total of 10,000 words for the week. All this is based on careful front end work plotting and planning before I start writing so that I know what that next 1,000 needs to do to move the story forward.
Jill Eileen Smith: my word count is determined by the date I set to finish a first draft. For the longest time, aimed for 1000 words a day, 5 days a week, but now with double deadlines and life interruptions, I have upped that count to 2-3K per day in order to finish by my self-appointed deadline. I’m exercising in the mornings now, which gives me more strength to sit longer at the computer, so it’s not an impossible goal. One thing I have learned through the advice of a friend is to try (when possible) to sketch out my scenes for the next day the night before. I do this in a notebook by hand, and it makes cranking out those 3K words a lot easier the next day. But I’m also looking forward to going back to 1K. Writing too fast has its drawbacks, especially when juggling multiple points of view. But that’s why I love rewrites. At least then I have something to work with, rather than having to pull it out of my imagination.
Sarah Loudin Thomas: When I’m writing that first draft I aim for 1,000 words a day on average. Which means sometimes I write more or less (or none), but aim to have around 7,000 at the end of each week.
So how about you? Do you set word count goals? Page count goals? Are you a fast writer? A painstakingly slow writer? Did any of these techniques for writing productivity help?
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