Why Daily Word Count Goals Sucked For Me

I don’t know about you, but I’m the sort of dude who can’t shake an idea once it worms its way into my brain. Take last year for instance, when I had the totally insane idea of going back into the Army. I’d hit the Twinkies a little too hard after getting discharged and had packed on some chubbiness as a result (in Army-Speak they call it being a “fat body”). Those pounds meant I was way outside weight standards so I needed to get back into fighting trim if I wanted to re-enlist. So, I made a decision to burn the fatness and set out to do the deal.

Zip forward about five months from that point–I’d lost seventy pounds, was hitting the gym seven days a week, and could run eight miles in about an hour and fifteen minutes. Not too shabby, right?

When I decided to write a book in September of 2011 I took to it the same way I did with losing weight. I set down a jam plan to plot for a month, write for three, and have the thing done by January 1, 2012. I broke out the TI-83 (my super awesome calculator) and figured out that I’d need to tap out about 1,100 words every day to hit my 100,000 word goal. Totally doable, right? You know it. I figured it was going to be easy as lying in Confession.

Well, a couple things happened as a result of my plan. I got the writing done–way to go, me!–but most of it sucked worse than an episode of Ghost Whisperer. See, I had worried so much about my word count tally that I stopped focusing on the quality of what I was putting on the page and just focused on the number of words. I kept telling myself, “Get the thing written and worry about the rest of it later,” but that was so totally stupid. By the time I finished I had a giant manuscript with a crappy plot and more things wrong than I knew how to fix. But can you bet your sweet cakes that thing was done on time. Oh, yeah. I meet my deadlines.

My experience with the first draft showed me that writing a book is something I need to take my time with. That’s not to say I don’t work on it everyday, because I definitely do. But I try to work to time nowadays rather than word count. Setting a goal for how many hours I’m going to work is the method I’m digging right now, and it seems to be working. My pace is slower, but I feel like what I’m putting down is better.

What’s your method? Do you slam out the story as quick as you can and sort the mess later? Or are you the plodder, writing the way my grandpa used to eat a slice of denture-unfriendly pie?

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5 thoughts on “Why Daily Word Count Goals Sucked For Me

  1. I did Nanowrimo and I loved it. I even started a week late so my daily word count was ridiculous. I remember one exhausting night- I had just hit 2,499 but needed 2,500 so I added “yes” to the end of the paragraph. Yes.

    The result? The first draft was a little insane. But since I’m a pantser I had a better idea of the plot after I finished the book anyway. I could then craft it the way I wanted it- I cut characters, chapters, and weird side-plots and made some beautiful story and character arcs (if I do say so myself). 😉 It was my first book, though, and it hasn’t sold yet so I am by no means an expert. I’m excited to see what other people say…

  2. I slam for anywhere from 2-5000 words, then edit so that it makes sense, then slam again from the point of finished edits onwards. Rinse and Repeat until finished.

  3. I plot until I have an errorless, loophole-less plot, and then I write, like clockwork, 1,000 words a day until the story is finished. I like to have the entire plot finished and complete before I begin; it helps me plan better. But usually by the end of the story the plot is never like how I planned it in the beginning anyway…

  4. I have mixed feelings on word count. ON one hand if I don’t set a daily goal, I tend to get distracted with a million other non writing things – like reading other people’s blogs about writing – LOL! On the other hand, and you know this is the one that aways gets us in trouble; during NaNO, I started a few days late but being an overachiever, felt it necessary to always exceed the recommended word count. I typed fast and furious – my typing has gotten worse because of it, and pounded out nearly 80K words during November. Unfortunately, a third of my writing went into my trash file. I wrote on the fly, taking the path of a ” pantser” when I’ve already established that I need to be a planner. It was my first try at NaNO, and I will participate again. I learned one important thing – I am capable of producing far more words per day than I had been. I think setting goals is important, but quality words are my goal now.

    • Quality of words is where it’s at for me too. I’ve started to journal a lot before I ever set down to typing. I find it makes me think about where the story is heading, what needs to happen, and what is making my characters do the stuff they’re doing.

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