Writing Productivity And Word Counts

Pen Writing

When I first started writing, I decided it was important to develop the habit and follow the repeated advice to ‘write every day’. To begin with I would time myself by setting an alarm on my phone to make sure I spent at least a few hours a day writing. This quickly became a chore for me though. Every writer knows that some days it comes easy and some days it feels like drawing blood from a stone. Forcing myself to sit there for hours at a time on those bad days, desperately trying not to watch the clock while I tortuously got nowhere was unproductive, and more importantly made me unhappy with what I was doing. I love writing and somehow I had managed to turn it in to a chore.

So after a few weeks of struggling, I decided to change my approach. I stopped writing for set amounts of time and instead gave myself a target word count every day. I mentioned in one of my posts last month (A Writer’s Daily Word Count) that Stephen King writes 2,000 words per day without fail. Well, that seemed doable so I stole his goal and made it my own. I quickly found that without time pressure I was having fun again and enjoying putting pen to paper. If I wanted to take a break or do something else for a bit then I could it without feeling lazy because I knew I could come back to it later and still hit my target by the end of the day.

I’ve found that writing 2,000 words in one sitting can sometimes be a slog. By the last few hundred words my wrist is killing me, my handwriting is illegible, and I’m scrawling as quickly as I can just so I can finish and take a break. So now instead, I split my writing up in to smaller chunks. I’ll write about 1,000 words per sitting, which roughly works out to about the length of each scene in my book. This is a comfortable measure for me – I’ve found I can easily get past 5,000 decent quality words per day without fatigue while taking this approach. If I sat down and tried to write that amount in one sitting I would inevitably burn out, write rubbish, and feel drained.

So it took me a while, but I seem to have found my stride when it comes to balancing productive writing. How do you choose to measure your writing – do you use a timer and write for a certain amount of time, or instead opt for a target word count? If so, how much do you aim for per day? Do you break it up or blast through it all in one sitting?


© 2015, Gavin Zanker. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Photo by Ramiro Ramirez licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

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