Progressive Word Count Goals

Writer's Block
Image by Drew Coffman

I have a pretty big confession.

I’m abysmal at keeping up with writing goals. But before you say to yourself, “Thanks for the heads up, I think I’ll try another blogger,” bear with me for a moment.

I tend to get very stressed by abrupt changes in my routine, especially if those changes involve a large commitment. I bowed out of every NaNoWriMo I’ve every attempted, and elaborate plans to adhere to that old adage of ‘Write every day if you want to be a writer’ have come and gone with much fanfare and frustration. I’ve been doing better with the blog, but fiction still eludes me.

The all or nothing mentality is one I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember. Every time I sit down to write, I feel like I need to quickly make up for all the years I ‘should have been’ published. I tell myself, “Okay, if I write 2,000 words a day for about 45 days I’ll have the first draft of a full-length novel. Then two or three months to edit and send it out, so maybe I can hear back from a publisher about six months from now if I start right away…”

I set myself word count goals that I know, deep down, will paralyze me in a few days after the excitement of starting a new plan wears off.

Recently, having taken up running again, I thought of how I developed that habit in the past. I’d lace my shoes, rain or shine, and hit the pavement. Even though I couldn’t go very far at first, in the beginning I fostered that habit by starting off small. Going by the saying that you can do anything for just a few minutes, I began by giving myself incredibly easy goals like, “At least go once around the block. If you’re miserable, you can stop after that.” In short order I noticed that once I’d spent a few weeks lacing up those shoes–no matter how cranky and unmotivated I was–there came many days when I was heading out the door before my brain even caught up and realized what I was doing. Adding a few minutes each week was exponentially easier than getting started had been.  And just like that, I became a daily runner.

That’s where the progressive word count goal comes in. I’ve set myself a fiction writing goal of 500 words a day for a month. It goes against every impractical instinct I have, and in the back of my mind I can hear the seductive whispers suggesting I push it to 1,000 day, or 1,200 a day, or better yet 1,500 a day. Maybe even that old elusive goal of 2,000 day?

But I’m not going to get lured into dangerous waters by that voice this time. 500 words a day for the first month, to get into the habit of writing every day. And then 200 more words each additional month until I get to a more productive pace. It’s the best compromise I can think of, as I know myself well enough to know I’ll feel like I’m treading water if I try to write a whole book at a pace of 500 words a day. I’m giving myself a few days to pick a project and jot down some points where I can jump in, and then I’ll be starting on August first.

I won’t for a moment pretend I have the wisdom of a professional author; far from it. But I think it’s a modestly reasonable plan and I invite anyone who, like me, has been caught up in yo-yo writing habits, to give it a try.

6 Comments on “Progressive Word Count Goals

  1. I keep jealously reading about the writing practices of other writers – professional, casual, and everything between – with jealousy, and it’s ironically what I came to write about today: my non-existent writing process!! Now I feel like I should start running again too… one thing at a time! Good Luck!!


  2. Sigh. Yes, I’m now aware that I wrote “jealously… with jealousy.” That wasn’t ironic, it was distracted writing. Nothing further, your honor…


  3. No problem. I tend to have trouble with keeping my word count goals; so I know the struggle all too well! 😀


  4. Oh, gosh, I’m sorry, I thought I replied to you days ago. I’m a scatterbrain.

    Thank you! I’ll be sure to post my progress (or lack thereof…) every once in a while to keep me accountable. And we all have those distracted moments. The court will grant you clemency in light of your reputation as a model citizen. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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