Why Word Count Goals Can Be Destructive

Word count goals are the trusted aids of many a writer. With the ever-present call of duties, relationships, and even just sweet inertia, it’s often comforting to have set word count goals every day. Write 1,000 words, write two pages, write one scene, one chapter—and you’re finished. You can abandon your writing for the day and move onto other things, safe in the realization you fulfilled your obligation as a writer for one more day.

However, for some writers—myself among them—word count goals can prove more problematic than they’re worth.

Behold the Dawn by K.M. Weiland

Why Word Count Goals Might Be Getting In Your Way

For a very short time, when I started writing my medieval epic Behold the Dawn, I decided word count goals might be a helpful aid. My goal was to write 800 words every day—or approximately one page.

It was a count that fit well within my already established productivity level, so I knew I could handle it without a problem. No doubt it would be satisfying to jot my word-count total in my writing journal every day—and watch the total count compound over time.

But that isn’t what happened. Instead of watching my fingers flying over the keyboard, hammering word after hundreds of words into my manuscript, I ended up spending an inordinate amount of time watching my word count instead.

Am I there yet? Have I reached 800 words? Am I even halfway there? Between the ticking clock and the blinking cursor, my word count ended up severely squashed. Eight hundred words a day was no longer an easy accomplishment; it was an enemy to be conquered.

When to Avoid Word Count Goals

It took only about a week to figure out that word counts were causing me more grief than productivity. I work much more effectively under a time limit, instead of a word count. Instead of forcing words that don’t want to come, instead of blathering through 800 words, just for the sake of reaching my goal, only to have to throw half of them away the next day, I prefer to force myself to sit down at the computer for a set amount of time every day (two hours in my case) and let the scenes and characters dictate the word count.

Some days my word count barely scratches 400, but, with the necessity of reaching a set goal no longer threatening me, I’ve found that the words tend to flow and most days I clock in far beyond my original goal of 800 words.

If you find you’re focusing more on your word count than your words themselves, you might want to consider releasing yourself from what could end up being a habit destructive to your productivity.

Update

I wrote this post several years ago and actually have used word count goals to good effect on other projects. As always, deciding whether a tool is right for you has everything to do with what you’re trying to accomplish–and then begin aware of the effect that tool is having on your writing and creativity.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What has been your experience with word count goals? Do you find them helpful–or not? Tell me in the comments!

Why Word Count Goals Can Be Destructive

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. It looks like my own writing method is rather extreme. 🙂
    5250 words in 4 hours. This is my daily norm. Sometimes it’s doubled.
    This means about 3-6 chapters per day.
    Yes, it’s perfectly possible, with no loss of quality.

  2. Jack Orchison says

    I hand-write my original, so no pesky word counters to worry about. I do tot everything up at the end of each session but where I stop is dictated by whether or not I have reached the end of a scene or chapter.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I do my outlines longhand before moving to the computer for the first draft. The lack of a word count is one of the reasons I like longhand for that first step.

  3. My personal goal is to write 100 words a day and I force myself not to count my words until I am dome writing. Mostly I’m just trying to get the habit of writing every day no matter what, so the word count is my little steps to the bigger goal.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Smart. Consistency is the key. If you can learn to be consistent with even a small word count, that will pay huge dividends in the long run.

Trackbacks

  1. […] when I can trust myself not to be a lollygagging, space-gazing daydreamer. As I hinted above and wrote about more thoroughly here, productivity-specific goals can sometimes end up compromising both the quality and the overall […]

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