Setting word count goals

Too High

Are you ready for a controversial opinion?

I don't "get" NaNoWriMo.  I haven't since I first tried out a NaNo club in college. Strangers sat next to each other, unblinking eyes glowing in the lights of their laptops, caffeine-addled hands clacking against their keys. I didn't find myself inspired.  I found myself choking in the capitalist-inspired write-at-all-costs-or-you're-trash mentality. 

I packed up my laptop and went back to my dorm. I never looked back.  

Here's why: I get to know my characters as I write, forcing me to revise my outline as I go. Sometimes I have to stand in the shower for unreasonable amounts of time and think about what should happen next. And let's be real, sometimes I just need a break from writing. NaNo doesn't allow space for those moments, and it certainly doesn't support writers in the long, hard revisions that need to follow a first draft.  

NaNo is so ubiquitous that I worry that writers who, like me, draft on the slower side might believe they have to complete this challenge to qualify as a “real” writer.

You do not have to be able to write 50,000 words in a month to be a writer.

You do have to keep writing, revising, and rewriting month after month.

Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. As exciting as writing 50,000 words is, it’s probably not the end of your novel, and writing that much in a month may leave you with mistakes that won’t be so fun to clean up later. . .

Too Low

All throughout college, I drafted and revised the heck out of a Contemporary YA novel with three first-person points of view.  I set no word count goals and had no idea of when I would be done writing it. While I did get to a pretty standard word count (75,000), it took me two years to get to draft 1, and the revisions never seemed to end.

Writing was a nebulous thing that I did when I felt like it. I was sure that my writing was better when I felt “inspired.”

Narrator: It wasn’t.

Writing should be treated like a job, because it is. Take a look at the “total editing time” in the Word document with your novel. You do not want all of that to go to waste.  

Just right

Here’s what I did for my second novel: I set a goal of writing 15,000 words a month. This comes to about 500 words per day, but I gave myself the flexibility to write more on the weekends and less on weeknights. I also gave myself the flexibility to write more on some days (like my work’s floating holiday) and less on important personal days (like my boyfriend’s birthday).

500 words a day was steep at first. The first month was hard. But eventually, I started looking up at the end of the night with 700 words written, and I still felt like I had more to write. It proved that writing is one of those things you need to practice to get good at. Now, as I’m in between drafts, my hands are itching to write.

I didn’t stick exactly to my writing goals, but nevertheless, in six months I had finished an 85,000-word first draft. Given the floundering first novel that took me two years to draft and endless cycles of revisions to give up, this was a miracle. This process not only gave me a more polished, cohesive first draft, it gave me confidence. For the first time I felt like I could really do this professional writer thing, with its steep deadlines and word-count expectations.

The numbers are arbitrary. What matters is setting a goal for yourself and pushing yourself to stick to them. Good luck!