April has come, and that means wrapping up the awesome Being A Prolific Writer series by my friend and colleague, M.S. Wordsmith! If you haven’t read her first three posts, read the first here, read the second here, and read the third here.
In my third guest post, I brought up the difference between our long-term and short-term goals, and the necessity to consider both. It’s vital to have some sense of where you want to end up in the long run, but if you merely focus on where you want to BE without being realistic about where you currently ARE, chances are you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. And often, it is constant disappointment that makes us quit.
In today’s post, I want to discuss another question I ask when trying to figure out what my clients want from their writing—How many words do YOU want to write per day?
Figure out YOUR ideal word count
- The 1k+ Writing System: How to Effortlessly Write 1000+ Words – Per HOUR
- The 2kH Formula: How to Instantly Write At Least 2,000 Words PER HOUR
- 5000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter
- 10,000 Words A Day: The Definitive Guide to Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing Every Day
These are just a few of the books published in the last couple of years that stress the importance of learning how to write not only better, but also faster. 10,000 words a day? NaNoWriMo just became a piece of cake!
I am not against writing better, faster. On the contrary: what’s not to love about learning how to write better, faster? If you could write 10,000 words a day, think of just how fast your career could pick up. Can you imagine how many words you would be able to write? A week? A month? A year? And if you could write 5,000 words per hour, you’d only need two hours a day!
Plotter word counts
Trust me when I say you won’t be writing 3,650,000 words a year if you figure out how to write 10,000 words a day. And not just because you need weekends. When we want to measure ourselves against the people who say they write so many words per hour or per day, we first need to understand what it means to write 1,000, 2,000, or even 5,000 words in a particular timeframe. These word counts are plotter word counts.
What kind of word counts? Plotter word counts. No-one is hitting these hourly or daily word counts throughout the year: they start writing those amounts of words after they’ve outlined their new novel in such a way that, in Libbie Hawker’s words, ‘all it needs now is words’. In that period, once the researching and the thinking and the plotting and the outlining is done—and before the editing of the project commences—that’s when these writers start producing crazy numbers. And afterwards? Most writers need a break to refill their well of creativity. Even the most prolific of my clients do (even though they don’t like to admit it).
The creative process
There are different theories on how many stages the creative process actually has, and I’m not going to argue whether there are four or five or even more stages here. No matter the amount, all models amount to the same: they start with what is often called the ‘preparation’ phase—the research period—and they end with the ‘implementation’ or ‘elaboration’ phase, which is when the actual writing takes place. In other words, there are at least three or four stages we go through before we reach the point where ‘all it needs now is words’. That means we have already spent quite a bit of time on our projects before we can actually start counting words.
When we are new to a genre, or are writing in genres that need more time in those first few stages, we’ll spend even longer not counting any words than those authors who know a genre by the back of their hands, or write in genres that don’t need elaborate world-building or endless fact checking. Imagine being a fantasy author starting a new series… You’ll need more time developing your world and figuring out what you want to say about it than your fantasy author friend who’s working on the fifth book in a world already established.
Counting words and/or counting minutes
So, before you start hitting yourself over the head because you don’t write 3,650,000 words a year, figure out how many words you want and can write considering your particular circumstances. Not all day, every day, but in that particular period when ‘all it needs now is words’. If you don’t make those words duringthe researching, the thinking, the plotting, the editing, and the refilling of your creative well, that’s OK. You’re not supposed to anyway.
And, if you do want to make sure you invest daily in your writing career when you’re not producing new words, do what many of my author friends do: figure out not how many WORDS you can write but how many MINUTES you can devote each day to your writing and count those instead. This way, you can track your progress and remind yourself you are doing the work, even when no new words are appearing on the page.
While the Internet and our online and offline communities are an invaluable resource, and I’m utterly convinced that we, as writers, cannot do without, we should always keep in mind that goals, no matter how many people seem to share the same one, are not universal. All goals are personal, and we shouldn’t get caught up in following dreams that aren’t necessarily our own. Instead, we should take a moment to reflect on what our personal goals are, what we want from our writing, and to what extent our personal circumstances can accommodate those wishes.
What do our finances look like, and how does that influence what our current goals should be? What path are we on, and where do we want it to lead us? What means do we need to get there, and what is realistic for us at this particular moment in time to eventually get to that end? If we’re unwilling to ask ourselves these kind of questions, and keep comparing our own circumstances to those of others, how will we able to fully enjoy the wonderful ride that is the writer’s life?
Each time I find my creativity blocked, or despair over the slow pace of my writing, it’s not because I haven’t fully embraced the path I am on: it’s because I momentarily let myself be distracted by prominent voices in the field telling me to do things differently. And I should, if their goals were mine as well. But they aren’t, and all I need to do is keep reminding myself of that. And you should too.
Enjoy the ride. Your ride.
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