Today, I wanted to talk to you about word count. Like many others at the moment, I’m reading Rachel Hollis’ new book, Girl, Stop Apologizing, and one of the things she talks about is her super-human-powered focus when it comes to writing (as well as, um, pretty much everything else). She focuses on word count, cranking out something like 2500 words per writing session. (2500 words is 10 pages,) To do this, she removes herself from all distractions, writing in a coffee shop, and she cranks it out.
To be clear, I’m not saying that you should be writing that much—not by any stretch. (More on this one in a sec.) I’m using her story as an example, since I’ve been hearing so much about word count lately, and I’m guessing you have, too.
So what’s the skinny? Is focusing on word count something you should be doing? Should you be sitting down to write 500 words? 1000? 3000???
Maybe, and maybe not.
If you’re writing a book, aiming for a specific word count every time you sit down to write can be a great way to reverse-engineer your writing schedule.
However, if you’re just starting out or are unclear on your writing goal for that day (the specific scene or section you’re sitting down to write), trying to write X amount of words might take you down the rabbit hole. Without the right focus, it’s all too easy to write a bunch of junk in a misguided attempt at hitting your word count.
I’ve done this way too many times. Without a clear focus, I can write a bazillion words, most of which won’t end up in the final manuscript because they don’t really apply to the focus of my larger story.
That’s why I don’t personally follow word counts, because I know from experience that I can write a lot of crap just to fill up the page. What works better for me is to give myself the goal of finishing a particular section.
However, this is something that’s come with practice. Remember: I’ve been writing consistently for the past 20+ years. It took me a while to figure out what works best for me. And when it comes with writing, it’s always easier to look at someone else and say, Hey, I should be doing it that way. They’re a real writer. They have a published book, yadda yadda yadda.
I see this all the time at writing talks. Audience members always want to know what the writer’s writing routine is. They want that secret to success.
Well, let me tell you what that secret is (cause it ain’t as sexy as you might think). That secret is a) sitting down and writing consistently and b) figuring out what works for you.
Simple, but not easy.
So experiment. Try writing with a specific word count goal and see where it takes you. Try writing with a timed goal (i.e.: one hour a day) and see where that takes you. What works? What doesn’t? Where do you need to course-correct?
The system that’s most productive will be the one that works for you.