What to Do If You’re not Hitting Your Word Count Goals

A lot of writers have the greatest of intentions to write more things. We come up with all sorts of goals and plans to get over writer’s block and form a productive routine. Then…

…we buy fancy notebooks and pens and don’t use them to write.

There are three main fixes for not hitting your word count:

  • Simple fixes.
  • Big-picture fixes.
  • Testing and making adjustments.

If a simple fix can improve (however temporarily) your word count problems, you’re probably on the right track in general. Most of the tips for addressing problems with your word count fall into this category, and include things like:

  • Making a regular time for writing in your schedule, rather than waiting until you have time or “feel” like it.
  • Going to a special place (like a coffee shop) or having a special routine (turning on the same piece of music) that you’ve trained your brain to know that it’s time to write now.
  • My current favorite piece of advice: scheduling an hour for writing, but telling myself that I only have to write for 15 minutes…but I can write longer if I want (and only if I want).

If simple fixes aren’t helping, you might have a big-picture fix on your hands.

Are you trying to everything for everyone but yourself? Are you constantly putting out fires at home and at work? Or are you doing things that satisfy you and are legitimately more important than writing?

If writing is always at the bottom of your list, then maybe you should stop worrying about word count goals, and just write to please yourself, when and how often you want. Being a published writer is a huge investment in time and brain power. Maybe you just don’t have a lot of extra resources right now to invest in it.

But let’s say you suspect that you have the time and energy to deal with writing on a regular basis, but you always seem to miss your mark.

What you have ahead of you is testing and making adjustments.

Here’s a plan for finding out what’s actually broken:

  • Write down what your actual priorities are, in order.
  • Take a few relatively normal days, and write down what you did and for how long you did it. Track your time for at least a week.
  • Add up the time you actually spent, and list it in order from the most time spent to the least. You may want to use general categories, as in “social media” or “volunteering.”
  • Make absolutely sure that you have separated out anything from your writing time that isn’t writing, and, if you’re publishing your own work, anything that isn’t directly related to publishing your own work. “Being on social media to promote my author brand” needs to be separated out.
  • Compare the list of your priorities with the list of how you actually spent your time. If they don’t match up, either your priorities need to be adjusted, or your schedule does.

First, look at social media and games (particularly phone or tablet games).

Then, if you have your most mindless forms of entertainment under control, take a look at your daily tasks. How much time do they really take? In particular, I have a habit of telling myself that I can cook “whenever,” and then I’m shocked when cooking takes more than zero time—time that I made other plans for.

Daily life is important! It should be high on your list of daily priorities. If you don’t give yourself a reasonable amount of time to do what you need to do, just plain life will disrupt everything else on your schedule.

It seems strange to say this, but writers tend to be overachievers who beat themselves up over the slightest failure: give yourself time to live.

Beyond making sure you’ve given yourself a reasonable amount of time to do what needs to be done, you can also accept that life is full of compromises and decide to do a less-than-perfect job at your daily tasks—let the laundry build up for later and feed the kids cheese, grapes, and crackers for supper tonight.

A third big category is volunteering. Writers tend not to know exactly how much of their time they’re volunteering. “I’m just reading this book for a friend who needs reviews” is volunteering. Being an admin for a Facebook group that isn’t directly promotional to your work and your work alone is volunteering. Getting wound up in a friend’s drama about not being able to write is volunteering. Trying to help someone else design their book cover is volunteering. Writing stories for anthologies that don’t pay for the time you spent writing is volunteering.

You do need to network in order to get ahead as a writer.

But if you spend more than five to ten percent of your free time on volunteering, it’s probably time to start gently weeding tasks off your to-do list.

A final point, on drama.

Fiction writers, no surprise, love drama.

Social media is a pure, unending stream of drama.

Getting over-involved in “helping other writers” is drama.

Trying to handle other people’s problems for them and make their lives easier (at the expense of your own) is drama.

If you move most of the drama out of your life—if you stay out of other people’s drama and focus on helping out during genuine emergencies and only when you’re actually asked for help—if you enjoy a little taste of social media now and then but don’t get involved when someone is wrong on the Internet…guess where that drama goes?

Onto your page of fiction, where it belongs.

It’s easy to spend our time on the first thing that catches our attention. It’s easy to tell yourself, “I just need to work a little extra overtime…every day this month.” It’s easy to look at all the things you could be doing…and blow off your writing.

I know that writing can be difficult. Not every day when you sit down to write is an easy day at the page.

But wouldn’t you rather be writing, even if the keyboard feels a little rusty? Wouldn’t you rather be creating a world of your own, where the characters have interesting drama? Wouldn’t you rather go on adventures, fall in love, overcome adversity, or explore a new world?

Wouldn’t you rather sink into a routine where you struggle with the page some days, but others the words really fly?

Wouldn’t you love to feel like you’re the master of your own creation, where everything works the way the world should work, at least for a while?

Wouldn’t you particularly like to feel your characters tear loose from your control, and develop into people that feel more real than the ones surrounding you in your real life?

And wouldn’t you love to get to a point where you’re able to give your manuscript—or even your published book—to someone else and have them be just as delighted as you are with your work?

Wouldn’t you like to hear these words:

                                                           Your story kept me up all night!

It can feel silly to track your time, to list out your priorities, to stop and measure your intentions against your actions. It can feel uncomfortable, too, especially when you start having to tell other people “no” or “I’m sorry, I’m busy.”

But it’s less awkward than having to face the one thing worse than a blank page…

not writing at all.

Give yourself a little breathing room around your word-count goals. Don’t force yourself to hit them. Use them as a measuring stick!

If you’re not hitting your word-count goals, first try that trick with promising yourself you’ll write fifteen minutes, then stop if you like. If you still feel miserable and overwhelmed, then give yourself a break entirely—wait a month, or two, or six. Take the time you need.

But if you’re somewhere in between, where a quick fix doesn’t quite do it, but you’re not ready to throw in the towel…

…it’s time to find out what’s eating up your time, and make a few adjustments here, a few adjustments there…

…until you find a point of balance, so your writing is a small point of serenity and contentment, whether or not the words are flowing.

Now, do me a favor. This is my first post on the Writing Craft website, and I could use some love. Would you leave me a comment with any tricks or tips you use to manage your writing time? (Or ones that you’ve tried and hate!)

Thank you! And may the writing go well for you 🙂

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