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"Hard is not hopeless." - General David Petraeus

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Writer Essentials: Discipline & Word Count Goals

Any of us who have even remotely considered writing a book wonder how in the world you take on such a ginormous task. There are as many ways to go about it as there are writers. But one thing essential to every method out there is the production words and the completion of a manuscript. To do that, you absolutely must exercise discipline.

For the first six years of my novel-writing life, I lacked discipline. Oh sure. I did finish one manuscript in that six years. I set a goal for how much of my non-day job time should be spent on writing. But I never demanded word count goals from myself. And the results speak for themselves.

For a whole host of reasons that exceed the scope of this particular post, I decided 2011 needed to be different. In 2011, I wanted measurable results. I wanted tangible progress. So I did the one thing I had failed to do each of the six previous years. Set strict word count goals for myself.

The result? I have already written more in 2011 than I did in the whole of 2010.

My recommendation? Set DAILY word count goals. And honor them at all costs. Yes, some people set weekly, or even monthly goals, so that if they miss a day here and there, that is fine, because they can make it up during that week or month. That's fine if you already possess an incredible amount of discipline. But if you are just starting out writing, or if you haven't established a track record for yourself, or even think you *might* fall off the wagon, I strongly recommend daily word count goals.

Why? In the first place, it will shut your internal editor up. Your internal editor is a welcome fellow---on second and subsequent drafts. But during the process of writing a first draft, he is scum! To see a pictorial representation of this scum, click on this link:

(okay technically this is the Lamisil Monster but I say it's the spittin' image of the Inner Critic).

Second, daily word count goals will clamp down on your predilection to leave off on your writing under the guise of doing research. Yep, books need lots of research, but you still have to write the book, and instead of stopping and starting, you can insert notes in your manuscript for things you need to follow up and research later.

And third, writing to a daily word count keeps you in the flow of the story.

And I'll even throw in a fourth reason. For me, sticking to a daily word count goal makes me a happier person over all. Does that sound strange? Maybe it is. But I feel more joy in my life knowing I have committed and followed through on the page every day.

I know that some of you are thinking, "Well that's all fine and good, but I don't have time to write every day." I've repeated that mantra myself on more occasions then I care to count. But here's my challenge to you. Do you have 15 minutes a day? Do you spend 15 minutes checking email? Watching TV? Standing in line at Starbucks for your favorite exotic coffee? Then you have time to write.

It is absolutely amazing what you can write in 15 minutes. Thanks to my wonderful Lord who provided me with the ability to buy a laptop late this past summer, I now have a transportable computer. I get two 15 minute breaks at work and in those 2 fifteen minute breaks, I can usually rack up 600-700 words total. Sometimes more.

I challenge you. Set daily word count goals. Protect them fiercely. Honor them. And see what it does, not only in establishling a joyous daily habit, but in lifting your spirits when you see what is possible with discipline and commitment. You will be amazed. Then come back and post a reply here. I'd love to hear your story.


Heather said...

This month, I had a dream. Of this dream, I had a near complete book's worth of material. Of course it was spotty, but it was inspiration, characters and I enjoyed it. So much that I overslept trying to finish it.

I got up and wanted to tell someone about it so badly that I wrote it down.

A friend commented that I should make a book out of it. So, that's what I'm doing.

For the first time, I have set a daily word count goal (I'd never had a goal, really--"just write") and I am feeling amazing for it. Except that my kids got chicken pox and I haven't even hit half of my daily count today. I way overreached yesterday, so I'm covered, but it's still a major blow. I have been utterly unable to concentrate to get back into the rhythm/flow of it.

Still, it's great to see I'm not alone!

B.K. Jackson said...

Keep at it, Heather. You can get back on track!

I fell off track myself this week. I hit a spot in the novel where I had done very little research and got stumped as to how to proceed. I was kicking myself today thinking "You fool! Sure, you may need to stop and do some research on this novel, but there are two other manuscripts you want to write this year, so get your word count in on them!"

So now that I've given myself a good swift mental kick, I'll get my word count goals back on track for the week.

Best wishes to you in your writing journey.