Do you give yourself a daily word count to hit? Have you thought about smashing that rule to pieces?

I’ve been writing for two decades so you may be surprised to hear that I’ve never given myself daily word counts. But before I elaborate on why you might want to follow suit, I do think a daily word count works for some people. Reasons:

  • It forces you to maintain discipline
  • It helps you meet deadlines (if you have them)
  • It makes you feel good about your work
  • It is a tangible measurement of progress

But here’s what I think happens sometimes when you impose inflexible word counts on yourself:

  • You get stuck/blocked
  • You write uninspired drafts
  • You become too frustrated
  • You sometimes feel like a failure
  • You write before you’re actually ready to do so

I like that last point the most, because sometimes you’re just not ready to write the thing you want to write—as crappy as that might feel. Sometimes you need to live life, get some experience, and find inspiration. Sometimes faster isn’t actually the goal, and sometimes you’ll finally release a torrent of words after a long drought.

For me, daily word counts force me to write when I don’t want to or when I don’t actually have anything to say. So how do I make progress, you might ask, if I don’t use word counts? Well, I set broad goals for myself instead. Here are some recent examples:

  • I want to release a book of poems. I’m going to continue writing them as they come, and then when I have enough, I’ll comb through them and see what’s there.
  • I want to finish a draft of my second book by the end of 2021. I’ll make sure to write a page or two as often as I can, and try to target 5,000 words per month, but if I run out of ideas or am uninspired, I’ll stop until I have more to flesh out. This is okay. I can adjust my date if necessary, because uninspired work is not what I want to produce.
  • I want to submit some poems to a few literary journals. I’ll do this within the next three months. I’ll find some suitable journals first, and then I’ll identify some pieces to submit.

Sure, this means it sometimes takes me longer to get a project done. But the draft I do write is much stronger than the one I’d write if I forced my brain to string together words it hadn’t quite figured out. It’s also a much less frustrating process.

And I’ll leave this little nugget here too: You do NOT have to write every day to be a “real” writer. I’ve had people tell me I need to write every day. No, I don’t. What I need to do is to write regularly so that I continue to work on my craft, but I don’t need to write every single day – and neither do you.

What do you think? Do you like word counts? Hate them? Have you tried it both ways? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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My first book, Halfway There: Lessons at Midlife, was released on August 18, 2020 by Warren Publishing and will be re-released on February 16, 2021 by White Ocean Press. To read an excerpt, check out reviews, see the author Q&A, or find links to buy, click the Learn More button.

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