What’s in a Word Count?

Those two special words that every writer loves and dreads to hear: Word Count. Put a positive at the front and it can be a successful day and boost the motivation of any person. Put a negative, well, you get the picture.

But what is the right word count?

There’s no right or wrong answer here. I’ve read craft books from writers who could sit down and do the job for one hour one night a week and still accomplished great things with their works. I’ve read the same from writers and listened to talks from writers who will sit down in that chair right there (kudos if you just got that reference) and go for fourteen or fifteen hours. I, for one, can’t remember the last time I was awake and functioning for that long—let alone writing.

When I attended North Dakota State College of Science—where the roads are currently shut down to travel because of a blizzard—I sat down to challenge myself to National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo. While I was at Science School, I was earning my Associate Arts and Science degree, aka my generals. If it wasn’t and English or history class, I didn’t care. That year I finished NaNoWriMo in eleven days. Eleven days!

I still don’t know how I did it. And I’ve been unable to complete one since.

For NaNoWriMo, the goal to make 50,000 words in the month of November means a word count of 1,667. If you write a minimum of that every day, you’ll make it.

Now, I know there are people who write 5,000 words a day and some who write 500 words a day. Here the secret, it’s about consistency. If you write 5,000 words one day and 20 the next—you’re still writing! It can help to set a daily goal (or however often you can write). That way you’ll fall into a system.

I usually aim for 2,000 words a day—which honestly can be difficult as all get out some days.

But writing is writing. Good, bad, or so horrific you want to bleach your brain so you’ll forget it, writing is still progress. And that will all add up. It might not be comprehensive, but it could contribute to a story down the road.

It might take a while for you to find the right word count or time amount that fits you best for writing, but the longer you try to find your golden number, the better you’ll be at falling into a routine.

I realize that some people can’t find that number. One day it’s a ton of numbers followed by two weeks of nothing. I’ve been there, boy have I been there, and it can be difficult to swing out of that slump. There’s no key to that. You just have to sit down and write. Write a little at a time. Write a lot at a time. Set a Pomodoro style timer—this works the best for me.

It’s all about finding what’s comfortable for you. If you try and push yourself too hard, you’ll burn out faster than a match in the middle of a Minnesota blizzard—that’s really, really, fast, in case you’re wondering.


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