We all wish we had more time to write. Those of us who have secondary jobs, or have yet to make any significant earnings from their writing, still has to put food on the table, pay the bills. Plus we all have family and friends we don’t want to shun (well, maybe a few we’d like to shun). These and other factors limit just how much time an author has to write on any given day. Sure, we can avoid social media and the internet, shut off our phones and the television, shut the bedroom door—all to seclude ourselves from the outside world while we write.
What about wordcount discipline? I’m not talking about writing every day. I’m referring to how much you get done during your specified writing time. Do you set a goal, or just hammer at the keyboard until you run out of time or story? This will differ from person to person, but the question remains: what are your expectations for how many words you can eke out of that imagination in a given period?
Mine are pretty high.
I’ve heard of famous writers who settled for only 500-1,000 words a day. Writers whom I admire. That doesn’t mean you should settle for the same output. These are individuals who don’t work for a living, and have much more time to write than a guy working fifty hours a week. Stephen King, an undisputed master of fiction, claims to write at least 2,000 words a day. Given his output, I believe him. I also believe him, because I’m capable of that too. Are you?
Don’t give me the excuse that “I only wrote 700 words today, but they are good words”. If it’s a first draft, then all of the words are crap until you polish them in the second and at least third drafts. Without exception. Now, if you only had time to write those 700 words, then fine. But most of us writers have more time than that. And writer’s block? I don’t believe it exists, any more than I think there’s a fat guy in red at the North Pole. Either you’re a writer or an excuse factory. Choose.
So now that I’ve stepped on a few author’s toes and riled you all up, you might wonder what my wordcount goals are. Here goes. This isn’t bragging, or creating a yardstick I think others should measure up to.
Once I’ve sat down to write, here’s the wordcount I make myself achieve before I stop:
Flash Fiction: I rarely dabble in this length, but it goes without saying that when I do, I finish it in the same session.
Short Story: At least 2,500 words; usually double that for me, and 99% of the time I complete the story the same day I start it. The other 1% only happens when the power goes out.
Novelette: Most of my novelettes end up being fewer than 10,000 words. 50% of the time I complete these in the same sitting. Otherwise, I write roughly half of the story, then complete the rest the very next day.
Novella: Usually try to finish these in a week. I don’t write many novellas; most fiction markets don’t accept such a high wordcount. If I have a story that needs to be this long, I bump it up into a novel. Then I really have fun.
Novel: Once begun, I always shoot for AT LEAST 3,000 words a day. For me, 3,000 words is the size of my average chapter. So a chapter per day. Usually I work on a novel’s first draft every consecutive day until it’s done. Just blast through it. No excuses. No regrets. No bullshit.
My personal best is 11,000 words in one day. I wrote the first draft of ‘Inheritance’, 97,000 words, in 13 days. I was unemployed at the time, true. But I didn’t stop to watch television, post on Facebook, or allow any other distractions to bother me. And yes, that first draft needed plenty of revising. Yet the overall structure, scene order, and characterization were all there. It wasn’t wasted work.
Oh, and my output with a day job? A 106,000 word novel within a month. How? Because when it came time to write, I did.
Again, this isn’t boasting. All of this work hasn’t made me rich and famous. I state these numbers to make a point: I use my allotted writing time to the upmost. Oh, sometimes I write awful stories, ones I’d never let anyone read. There are plenty of stories, though, that I am proud of. Stories I’ve gotten published. This isn’t a ‘quality vs. quantity’ comparison. It’s about getting the most out of what time you have.
Maybe I’m lucky; who knows. The question is: if I can do it, why can’t you? What’s stopping you from giving a more serious effort? If I ever reach the point where I’m happy with just 700 words a day, then I might as well give up. I have so many stories to tell, and never enough time to write them all.
So the next you time you sit down to write, don’t settle for a trifle. Get out as much as you can. It’s like exercise: this week you can only lift so much weight, but the next week, you’re able to lift a little more. And then a little more. It adds up. Don’t make it a numbers game, don’t focus on it as you write. Let the story flow. Ignore the pressure, learn to love that blank white page on the screen. Why? Because you’re about to fill it with something you think others would want to read.
Now quit reading this blog and write something.