Daily word counts are a pretty standard goal for lots of authors. Me, I’ve been aiming for 2,000 (and failing for the most part) for quite some time. That’s Stephen King’s purported word count. Ernest Hemingway had a much more modest 500. Anne Rice has the more ambitious 3,000, whereas Michael Crichton claims the extreme 10,000.
As I said, I would be satisfied with 2,000, but no matter how long I stare at the blank screen, I often fail to hit that limit. Or, sometimes, with work and other obligations, it’s just impossible (one reason plenty of writers use a weekly rather than a daily word count).
Writer’s Block. Our ancient nemesis. It affects the best of us. Consider Franz Kafka.
Maybe you’ve heard of him. He’s written some pretty classic stuff like The Metamorphosis, Amerika, and The Trial. Pretty famous guy, too. Apparently, though, he hit that writer’s block pretty regularly. Here are some of his diary entries:
- JANUARY 20, 1915: The end of writing. When will it take me up again?
- JANUARY 29, 1915: Again tried to write, virtually useless.
- JANUARY 30, 1915: The old incapacity. Interrupted my writing for barely ten days and already cast out. Once again prodigious efforts stand before me. You have to dive down, as it were, and sink more rapidly than that which sinks in advance of you.
I feel it. In my soul.
So, how do you get that old word count? Here are some tips I have:
Lots of writers “pantsers.” They prefer to sit in front of a page and just write whatever comes. There may be some vague plans, some scene or event they want to get to, some character they want to get to know, but ultimately, they’re just seeing what happens.
And that can be fine, but…
The first time I did NaNoWriMo, I hit 50,000 words and then had completely no idea what to do. I had been pantsing the whole thing. I knew I liked these characters, this scene, and a basic idea of what scenario I wanted to play out, but what I didn’t have was an end. I got to a place where my ideas had played out, and I had no idea where to go from there. How was I supposed to end this thing?
Outlining could have helped.
Outlines are guidelines, and you can do it in different ways. It could be a list of scenes, a series of plot points, or a group of plot points one has to hit at some point. It can be a bare list or a huge plan of every scene that will take place.
Aside from helping figure out the basic arc of the story and giving you a chance to foresee plot holes, the outline gives you something else: it tells you where to go next.
When the word count hasn’t been hit, you’ve got a guide for where you can punch out a few more.
I just said outlining helps with word counts, but, pantsing can to.
Before I write an outline, I pants a bunch of scenes. Those scenes may never get used, they may be from well before or well after the story taking place, or they could exist anywhere within the story’s timeline. The point is to get to know the characters and they world they like in. It’s also a great way to generate new ideas for a story that may have grown stale or too stiff.
Pantsing is a great way to exercise your writing muscles, too, as it lets you play in ways you might not were you dedicating those words and paragraphs to a particular story.
And, frankly, even if you end up deleting the words entirely, I still think it counts toward a word count goal. Any writing is the practice you need to become a better writer.
Try a Different Project
This, you gotta be careful with.
I love knitting. And I’ve been knitting this one octopus for damn near a year now. And it’s a pretty cool looking octopus, but I am just. so. tired of this thing.
I’ve interrupted this octopus to do other things. Sew a quilt. Cross stitch. Crochet. Paint. I have put this octopus aside so many times, I’ve probably 6 months of progress on it. I could have been done already, but I just. Couldn’t.
Writing can be like that. Sometimes I don’t want to work on The Blackwells. I stare at the outline I’ve got, I stare at the file of it, and I find myself just. Ugh.
And then I don’t hit my word count.
Sometimes (and I do mean, please be careful), you just need a break. In those instances, I have a couple other pieces I’m working on. A short story I want to publish here, maybe, or working on my NaNoWriMo plan.
It allows me to keep in the habit of writing when I’ve just gotten tired of the story I’m working on. Look, even the best meals gets boring if it’s the only thing you eat everyday.
I think this only works if you’re willing to put deadlines on yourself. For The Blackwells, if I haven’t got a scene to post by Monday, I don’t let myself play with another story.
Use Your Awesome Stuff Folder
I’m completely behind having a physical or digital Awesome Stuff Folder. It’s your little cauldron of inspiration. It’s your reminder that you’re a good writer. It’s a great compilation that reminds you that you love writing.
Those scenes you wrote while you were pantsing? Throw them in here if you aren’t going to use them. When you have writer’s block for your story, go back and re-read them. It’ll get you excited again or give you new ideas.
Finished your recent WIP and need to start something else? What else is the Awesome Stuff Folder for.
Just can’t keep going on with the story you’re working on? Awesome Stuff Folder has some stuff for you, too.
Keep an Awesome Stuff Folder.
Generally, once you finish a first draft, you should let it sit for a while before you start editing it. You gotta take a step back from it, so that you can look at it again with fresh eyes.
And that’s fine.
But let’s say you wrote WIP A six weeks ago, and now you’ve finished WIP B. What do you do?
You gotta edit at some point.
So, start editing WIP A. If it’s 10,000 words and you count 2,000 a day, divide it up over 5 days, and call it good for your word count.
Editing is as much a part of writing as just writing. Use editing toward your word count. You have my permission, and encouragement.
Word counts can be intimidating, but they don’t have to be. We all have to measure our progress somehow, and word counts are a great place to start.
The above tips should help you punch out that word count when you’re hitting writer’s block. Use them up as much as you need.
Good luck, my lovelies, and just keep writing.
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