Counting the Days: Make Your Writing Time More Focused and Productive with a Daily Word Count
It seems like every writing convention you attend, every tips website you browse (hello!), and every one of your favorite authors floats the idea of writing to a “daily word count.”
It can seem esoteric. Why does everybody seem to think that setting and meeting arbitrary daily goals is helpful, or even possible? Is this just some rhetorical trend that lets writers sound like they’re actually doing work? But if that’s all it is, why do so many respected authors swear by it?
Let’s take a look at the theory!
What is a “Daily Word Count”?
It’s a pretty simple idea. A writer sets a minimum number of words they want to write every day. Because every writer is different, there’s no perfect number everyone uses and lots of ways to keep track of progress.
Michael Chricton, author of sci-fi titles such as Jurassic Park, wrote a staggering 10,000 words a day while alive. Ernest Hemingway wrote a much more modest 500 words a day…but he also had to count them manually on his typewriter, which is definitely extra labor.
Perhaps you’re still unconvinced. Maybe you’ve tried a daily count before with limited success. Why should writing goals be any more effective than New Year’s resolutions, after all?
Oh, ye of little faith. There are plenty of reasons writers incorporate a daily word count in their regimen! Let’s chat about a few of them.
Consistency Beats Spontaneity
Most people view consistency as a rarity in art. This can seem especially pertinent to writing, with authors like George R.R. Martin waxing eloquent on the belief that creativity manifests in spontaneous burst of inspiration and enthusiasm. Take a look at this segment from an interview he did with Stephen King:
Martin has done groundbreaking work in television and Sci Fi, and his bestselling Song of Ice and Fire series redefined the fantasy genre. However, like many less decorated writers, he seems exasperated (or even intimidated) by the raw productivity of fellow best-selling, genre-defining speculative fiction writer Stephen King. Leaving aside debate about whether King’s vast catalogue of publications are hit-or-miss in quality, there’s no argument that his personal daily count of six pages a day (about 1,500 words double-spaced), ensures that he has published an almost ridiculous quantity of fiction in his time.
Giving yourself clear goals and a minimum quota to reach ensures you don’t keep your critics or your fans waiting (and complaining) about the next release being postponed for another year… or the rest of the long winter.
Indeed, a big reason many best-selling authors consider a daily word count essential is….
It Helps Meet Deadlines
It makes sense that if you’re producing a minimum number of pages daily, no matter how few, you’re going to make progress over time. The moral of the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare, “slow and steady wins the race,” applies to writing fiction, too.
The author who relies on bursts of inspiration rushes to churn out as many pages as possible, knowing full well that once the fire dies out, their manuscript will be left untouched for weeks, or even months. Their work schedule is almost completely out of their control. While the amateur writer can survive like that, the publishing world is all about meeting deadlines. Try explaining your editor’s schedule to your muse – or vice versa!
The discipline and structure a daily word count provides is far better than the terror of facing days of being unable to work while your deadline rushes towards you.
You might worry that a daily word count regime, and the practical process of putting your butt in front of a computer every day, could turn writing into a chore. Your creativity is powered by passion, even if you’re worried about your paychecks. Fear not, because it turns out the mere act of “forcing” yourself to write, well….
Developmental psychology seeks to answer a lot of chicken-and-egg questions about the human experience. But you’re thinking about your writing life, not your taste in food or whether you had empathy as a toddler.
Psychologists have your back. They’ve done studies on a central question in this Daily Word Count debate: Does creativity enable writers to produce content, or does the act of producing content enable creativity?
What psychologists, authors, and yours truly discovered was that if “inspiration” had vanished by the time an artist needed to start back up on their project, simply settling down and going back to work would, eventually, rekindle the embers. It turns out you can manufacture motivation and inspiration.
Maybe you left your aspiring debut novel sitting for a week or two. Holidays, surgeries, exams, and day jobs can all disrupt the creative process. When you come back, you find yourself much less sure. Maybe the premise of the world is a little dull, or the magic system too restrictive, or you just wish you’d picked that other story seed way back at the beginning.
Don’t panic, don’t despair. You have the exact tool you need. After a few days of grudgingly churning out your minimum daily words, you’ll find yourself falling in love again.
It’s Easier Than Ever to Follow a Daily Word Count!
Luckily, you are not Hemingway! Since you’re alive and working in the 21st century, you don’t have to squint at your manually-typed pages every few minutes, counting the words by eye. (Though no one’s going to stop you, if that’s the way you’d rather go.)
Almost every word processor, paid or free, will enable you to simply click “tools” or “review” to check a document’s word count (from apps such as Open Office and Microsoft Word to online services like Google Docs or OnlyOffice). If you don’t feel like doing the math to work out how many of the project’s total words you wrote today, there are plenty of browser and mobile apps out there for free.
Free Daily Word Count Apps
NaNoWriMo (They have their own word count calculator that helps you calculate your progress on your current novel!)
Now go forth and write, writerly friend ~