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Word Counts and Mind Tricks

When I made the commitment to write my first book, I was goal-oriented and disciplined as all get out. Every day after work I applied BIC for two consistent hours - no exceptions. Anything less than 2,000 words a day was unacceptable. I was obsessed, and it was a blast.

Now that novel's edited, revised, beta-ed, re-revised, and floating in the Magical Land of Query. On to the second book.

But my old system's not working for me this time around. It's not lack of time...I have more now than I did when I wrote the first book! For some reason I just couldn't sit down and write. 2,000 words was daunting - I couldn't even break 1,000.

Then, inspired by the always-fabulous Holly Lisle, I set a simple goal: 250 words a day. And if I missed a day, oh well. 250 the next day, no making up for it, just moving onward. Easy as pie.

The logic is, of course, that even if you only write one sentence a day, eventually there will be a completed first draft. Any words are better than no words at all.

And 250 words is a pretty attainable goal for anyone - as of this sentence, I've already written over 150 words. But changing my mentality about my word count goals had a funny effect.

For several days now, I've hit 800-1000 words in one sitting without breaking a sweat. Writing is fun again. Something about going from "I only made half my goal today" to "I freaking QUADRUPLED my word count goal for today!" makes it a lot easier to sit down and write. Never mind that the numbers are the same.

So what about you? Do you have any tricks or tips for getting some kind of writing result?
Michelle Schusterman

Michelle writes books for kids, screenplays for a tv/film production company, and music for anyone who'd buy a "groove matters" bumper sticker. She lives in New York City with her husband (and band mate) and their chocolate lab (who is more of a vocalist). She is the author of middle grade series I Heart Band - 2014, and The Kat Sinclair Files - 2015 (both from Grosset).

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  1. I use page count. 5 pages seems so small, I tell myself I can do at least that. What usually happens is I get into the story and blow right past that, but then if I do squat the next day, I don't feel so bad.

  2. I agree! I have a goal of 1,000 words a day.. I know I can do 2,000 or even 3,000 but I keep my goal at 1,000. The way I look at it, 1,000 words a day means I have completed the first draft of a 60,000 word novel in 2 months. That's not bad! Then everything extra I write is just a bonus!

  3. I think I need to switch to smaller goals. Because some nights a larger goal is so daunting I'd rather not even deal with it.
    Thanks for the great tip :)

  4. So glad you're finding writing fun again, Michelle :D

    I don't use word count as a goal for myself. I give myself a certain time period to get through each chapter (ok, so technically that'd be word count, since there are a specific amount of words in each chapter...but it varies.)

    When I was writing Unthawed, I at first had decided I should do a chapter every day, but I felt overwhelmed. So I decided that I needed to do one chapter per week, and I ended up writing a chapter every day or two, closer to my original goal.

    Funny how the brain works.

  5. Megan- you're welcome, and yes, that's exactly it! 250 words is just so much more doable, it's almost harder to blow it off.

    Page counts are a great idea, Lee. Hadn't thought of that.

  6. Lol, Lee confused us a while back with her page counts.

    Anyway, I'm a word count a day girl, but I also forgive myself when I don't meet my goal. It's a goal, after all, not a requirement. I also find it helps to give myself a vacation day once in a while to recharge. I'll still be thinking about my WIP - writing scenes in my head or developing character backgrounds - but I won't let myself write a word. The next day I'll feel excited to write and blow past my goal.

  7. I don't stick to a word count so much as a word count goal.

    If I'm going for a 70,000 word goal as opposed to a 100,000 word goal, I know I need to get to each part of the story at a different time. So instead of having a word count goal, I usually just worry about finishing every scene I begin in one sitting. Even if I go back and change it later, at least I have something whole I can ruminate over.

    Doesn't mean I still don't angst over where my word count is. First draft= words go up. Second draft= words go down. ;)

  8. My goal is real simple: one page a day. I don't go by word count because I hand write first, then type it up later. I write while I'm at work--on my breaks and at lunch. If I can get past the one page, I'm good. More often than not, I do more than that, though.

  9. "Any words are better than no words at all."

    This is so, so true. Sometimes I feel dejected if I only write about 50 words in a day, but then I always remind myself, "Hey, at least there ARE words."

    What helps me is to write a first draft by hand. No matter where I am, I'll always have a notebook in hand, writing in bursts that don't seem like much until I finally add them up at night. I can usually clock in at around 1000 words or more this way.

  10. Wow, just reading all of these is so cool. Everyone has such different methods of getting to the same end result: a book.

    (And Heather, my hand is cramping at the mere thought of writing an entire first draft by hand! That's awesome!)

  11. I am writing a book with Holly also. I am already further into this one than I have ever been on any other project.
    Since starting I have produced my goal of at least 250 words a day and, predictably, gone past that many times.
    Being my first book and still lacking 100% belief 'I can do this', 250 is ideal. I am more focussed on just finishing than the time it will take me to get there. On the days I am not inspired and do not want to write, I persuade myself, 'it's just 15 minutes in front of the PC and then you can hit the road. What's 15 minutes?'
    And of course, by the time I reach 150 words, I have usually run into some inspiration.
    Besides the word count, the daily comments by other writers taking part in Holly's 'game' are a great help.

  12. Hi, SCBrazil! That's awesome, I'm glad it's so motivating for you. Holly rocks!

    Good luck with your book! :)


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Item Reviewed: Word Counts and Mind Tricks Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Michelle Schusterman