Take It From Me

Over the last eight weeks, we’ve told you to try to write a million words, so how about some tools to help you get there. If you wish to make writing into a career in whatever way, it will benefit you greatly to establish a routine. Sounds simple, but honestly this will be one of the hardest parts of the journey. 200,000 words into mine, and I’ve only recently started to settle into one.

Some of the delay can be attributed to my irregular work schedule and my unique day to day responsibilities, but when I get down to it, it’s mostly that good habits are hard to form. It generally takes thirty days to establish one, and it is a lot harder to write every day for thirty days than you may think. Some days the only time you have to write is time you should be sleeping. Some days the words just aren’t flowing, and the act of writing feels like beating your head against the wall. Other days the words flow like crap from a force fed goose, and are worth about as much.

It’s supremely discouraging, but if you can push through it, it’s more than worth it. Because if you want to make it as a professional writer, there’s going to be a lot of times when you’ll have to make yourself write even though you’d literally rather do anything else. If you can master that skill while you are still striving to be published, it’s going to save you a lot of headache and frustration once your writing starts hitting the shelves.

So, establish a habit. Awesome! So how much should you write? Great question! The answer: it’s up to you.

Not helpful, I know. Let me explain.

The general consensus among published writers (more specifically, published writers of novel length work) is that the average professional daily word count is about 2,000 words. If you have no context, that’s just a number, though. So let’s put it into perspective.

The average number of words on a single page in a novel on the shelves is about 250. So, 2000 words equals out to roughly eight pages. Quite a bit to write in a day. Let’s take it further. A typical novel generally averages out to between 90,000 and 150,000 words. Meaning that if you write 2,000 words a day, 5 days a week, the gestation period for you first draft will be between 9 and 15 weeks, assuming that everything goes perfectly, and the plot never derails, and your characters all behave themselves. It will, and they won’t, but that’s another post.

All of that said, it would seem that when you are trying to engrain daily writing as a habit that you should shoot for 2,000 words a day, right? Some might tell you yes, but I personally disagree. Writing 2,000 words a day is not easy. Especially since the vast majority of us who are trying to break into the market also have day jobs, and families, and other non-writing responsibilities. So if you set your minimum daily word count at 2,000 words, there is a good chance that you will fall short quite a lot.

Missing your word goal every now and then is fine, but when you find yourself struggling to meet it every time, it is extremely discouraging. I know because I’ve been there. I could barely ever meet that goal, and I beat myself up when I didn’t meet the expectations I set myself. I was damn near having panic attacks when I made myself sit down to write because I was terrified of not meeting that goal. I felt like a failure every time I did, and I started to question whether or not I was cut out for it.

But then I realized that I was missing the point.

I was valuing quantity over quality, and that’s just not the way to go. What’s the point in setting a lofty word count goal if it just discourages you and makes you want to write less? So finally I performed a miracle and gave myself the most important thing any serious artist can. A break.

I set my daily word count goal much lower. 250 words. One single page. Easily achievable and non threatening. I can sit down and write 250 words. I know I can, and that’s the point. I sit down every day, and I achieve my goal. Every. Single. Time. And you know what? I write a hundred times more than I did when I had a high goal. Because I hit 250, and I know that I’ve met my goal, and almost every time I keep going. 500. 1,000. I hit 2,000 a lot actually, but now I feel proud of myself when I do, not like I’ve just run 2 triathlons back to back.

The day may come that 2,000 words will be as easy to me as 250 is, but it is not this day. And that’s okay. Because I’m doing what I can. I’m going at my pace, and I’m still achieving my goals. So if you’re struggling, take it from me. Give yourself a break. Do what you can, because even a little bit of progress is still progress, and you should be proud of every single word that you write.

So what about you guys? Tell me about your personal routines, or struggles with routines in the comments below.

Comments 1

  • This is really good advice, Alex. I have a bad tendency to set a goal/deadline and if I miss the deadline I stop trying. I set a 2,000 word goal and it was a dismal failure. I’m going to try setting the 250 word goal and just try and ingrain the habit. Then move the goal higher. Thanks.

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