Daily Word Count Hacks
So how many words should you be writing every single day? Speaking of which, just how important is it to be writing every single day? These are questions every writer faces.
In his fabulous book On Writing, Stephen King suggests writing 2000 words every day. At least that’s what he does. I’m guessing he writes even more than that on some days. If your dream is to write more than 70 books in your lifetime, I would say that’s sound advice. I’m not sure I have that many books in me. Maybe 10. No more than 20.
A common number you’ll also hear is 1000 words per day. If you've ever participated in NaNoWriMo, you’ll know the goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s around 1700 words per day. If you miss a day, you’ll have to double up at some point. The object of NaNoWriMo is to complete a first draft of a book in the month of November. You can apply the same principle any month of the year, of course. But there’s something about the camaraderie of NaNoWrimo that makes November special.
I heard one writer say his daily goal is to write at least 300 words. You've read just over 200 for comparison. This is very doable. The writer said he keeps his word count goal low to avoid any feelings of guilt. He hits his 300 mark, he has no regrets. If he writes more than that, all the better.
Personally, I’m not convinced word count is the best goal for a writer to have. At least in and of itself. So here are 3 hacks to up your daily word count, but without actually having to count words.
1. Use Talk-Text
Admittedly, this feels like cheating. It works best if you already have a good handle on what you want to write. For example, I spoke most of this blog post into my iPhone's Notes app. But I had a head start. I already posted a video and a text-based image to Instagram earlier in the week. So the ideas were ruminating for a few days. This is a great hack if you want to get a good first draft started. It doesn't feel like writing, because technically it isn't, but it still accomplishes the same thing. You're getting your thoughts out of your head and onto a screen and document. Isn't that what writing does? Then you can email the document to yourself or air drop it to your desktop to polish and finish it later. At that point, it will require actual writing.
2. Be Project-based
There's a saying that goes something like this, "I hate to write, but love having written." Not sure who was the first to say it, but I kind of agree. Sure, I have those days when I get into that coveted flow state. Those are fantastic times. But generally, the joy comes when I'm done. Like really done. I've crossed the finished line and reached some kind of aesthetic perfection. Something good enough to release into the world. A polished piece and finished product. So instead of worrying about how many words you're pumping out, think about what needs to be accomplished. Maybe it's to finish a chapter, a single scene, a piece of dialogue. What I like to do is have a goal in mind of something I want to finish. But once I do, I don't call it quits. I begin the next thing that needs to be done. This gives me something to work on the next day.
Rinse and repeat. You complete a section of a project, then end your writing day with beginning the next section. Do this enough, and your large project will eventually run out of sections to work on.
3. Longhand journaling
Lastly, I always encourage writers to include longhand in their daily practice. There's something stifling about keeping everything in the computer. It doesn't allow your writing to operate the way your brain does. But longhand works a bit more like your actual mind. You can be messy, you can brainstorm, you can draw arrows, write things completely out of order, write things that have nothing to do with what you're working on. You don't have to worry about the presentation of it.
I got heavy into longhand after reading Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. She has this practice called Morning Pages. Basically, it's dumping out all of the excess thoughts in your mind onto paper in order to free up some mental real estate so you can be more creative and productive at that point. It's sort of like clearing the cache from your internet browser. Whether you're frustrated with your spouse, your kids, have a million errands to run, taking care of a sick parent, problems at work, it doesn't matter. Whatever is jumping around your mind like wild monkeys and causing you stress and anxiety, Morning Pages allow you to journal all of that out of you.
Not only do I find the practice therapeutic, but I also find that it gets the creative juices flowing. Sometimes I'll be dumping my frustrations onto the paper and then find myself doing some freeform word associations. Next thing I know, I'm writing an entire story. You can write page after page when you're writing longhand. It's not so easy to count your words, but rest assured, you are way above anything you can pump out on the computer. On several occasions, both James Patterson and Joyce Carol Oates have admitted to writing everything longhand. I totally get it. So grab some paper and a pen and literally start thinking (and writing) outside the box.
To sum up, writers can get needlessly obsessed with their daily word count. Truth be told, I don't even write every single day. But I do believe in developing a system of consistency. Know your project goals and work towards finishing them. If you have an idea of what you want to say, practice using the talk to text utility on your smart phone. Lastly, get into the habit of writing longhand. The words will pour out of you. It will be hard to stop the flow. You can transcribe the best parts to a Word doc later.