Word Count Goals: Why This Targeted Writing Method Isn’t For Me

Writing the first draft of my YA fantasy novel has gone through many stops and starts over the years. There have been a lot of trial and error to figure out what writing practices worked and didn’t work for me as far as getting the bulk of my story written. A common piece of advice given by writers is to create a word count goal.

A word count goal is simply the practice of coming up with a total number of words you want to write for the day or week. It could be anywhere between 2,000 to 30,000 words depending on how ambitious the writer wants to be at getting the pages of their book written.

By setting a word count goal, it’s meant to maximize your time and put you one step closer to finishing the draft of your work in progress. While having a target number to aim for is great and all, it just isn’t for me.

I have tried it, thinking this is the standard all writers should approach their work to ensure the rough draft gets finished, but I only found word count goals to be intimidating and unhelpful to stay motivated with my book. I know I could start off small, possibly aim to write at least 1,000 words, and then gradually increase the count as I go. But the pressure of even getting a small amount of words written in a day or week was too much, and has often turned me off from touching my story altogether.

What if I didn’t reach my word count goal for the day? Does that make me a failure? My word count goal is so puny compared to what other people are doing. Wouldn’t that set me back in my ultimate goal of getting an entire story written?

When I did try it at the time, I was super pumped to knock back those goals and make progress with my writing. Or so I thought. Instead, reaching for a word count goal made the writing less fun and took me away from focusing on just getting the story written. It was one of the reasons why my YA fantasy novel had been shelved for years until about four years ago when I made it my mission to finally get it done.

Now my approach to writing my story is to carve out an hour (sometimes more) during the weekends and write until the hour is up. If I’m really in the flow, I would go past the hour. Not only has this worked for me, but I have finished chapters just by setting writing time goals instead of specific word count totals.

Keeping a scheduled writing time goal, versus a word count goal, has helped me stay focused on my writing even on days when I feel blocked creatively. Sometimes it means I’ve spent an hour writing two or three paragraphs. Maybe a single page. While that may not sound like maximizing my time to write huge chunks of my story, it does keep me writing. That’s far more important than trying to hit an elusive word count for the sake of meeting my target.

Word count goals may be the tried and true method for a lot of professional writers to get their story finished, but it’s not for everyone. At the end of the day what matters most is finding a method that works for you and sticking to it. Even if it might take you longer to get to the finish line.

What common writing advice have you heard and tried that wound up not working for you? How did you go about accomplishing the same goal without necessarily following what the professionals have said worked for them?

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