The Pros and Cons of Word Count Goals

Those of you who have been with me for a while already know that I’m an active Nanowrimo participant and advocate. I’ve participated in Nanowrimo six times, and the event has really changed my life. I wrote my first first first draft of a novel during Nanowrimo when I was eleven. It gave me confidence that yes, I could write a novel, and yes, I could finish a novel. I went out to events with my mother, who’s also participated a few times, and I made lots of friends. I’ve written up to 300, 000 words in the month of November. And I’ve always had fun.

I’ve also attempted Nanowriye three or four times, and this summer I signed up for CampNanowrimo. But I’ve discovered that word count goals, as much as I love them, are not always the best goals to have when you’re writing. So I’ve made a list of the pros and cons of word count goals. I’m not talking about daily word count goals here, I’m talking about goals like writing 50, 000 words in one month.

Pros

-A word count goal, particularly one that you’ve told everyone about or that is part of an online challenge like Nanowrimo, forces you to write.
-It’s a definitive goal with a set time period, which helps you accomplish something.
-It’s easily divided into smaller chunks with a calculator. (Or if you’re really smart, without one.)
-It helps you focus on writing the story itself and not on the individual words.
-It helps you force aside your inner editor when you’re writing a first draft.

Cons

-It’s hard to sustain throughout the year.
-It doesn’t incorporate editing as part of the goal, and sometimes you really do need to just sit down and edit something, pushing other projects aside.
-It usually makes for more editing when you look at it later due to more typos and bad word choices. And more run on sentences.
-It makes you focus simply on output, not on the quality of output, and is dangerous to do all of the time.

Conclusions

Despite my background in Nanowrimo, I’ve learned that I shouldn’t set a high word goal every month. Somebody who’s in it just for fun, maybe. But somebody who’s serious about publication sometimes needs to focus on editing or preparing for–or participating in–writing workshops and conventions. Sometimes you really only should be writing a little bit every day to keep in practice. Every once in a while, you need to take a day off. When you set yourself high word goals all the time, you often set yourself up for disappointment. We can’t push our lives completely aside all year to write incredible amounts. Sometimes, we just have to take it slow.

Do you like to set yourself high word count goals? What other kinds of writing goals do you set for yourself?

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About Dianna Gunn

I am a freelance writer by day and a fantasy author by night. My first YA fantasy novella, Keeper of the Dawn, is available now through The Book Smugglers Publishing.

Posted on August 24, 2011, in Goal setting, Novels, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I love having the pressure of specific goals during NaNo, but the rest of the year, it just doesn’t work for me. NaNo takes huge effort and discipline that I don’t have the energy for the other 11 months. I do try to set goals, but they tend to be pretty flexible — finish this story by the end of the month, etc. The things I’ve learned from NaNo are more valuable than word counts. The most important ones are more focus on self-discipline, and the knowledge that I *can* do it. Oh yes, I’ve also learned that I’m a plotter, not a pantser.

    • Hi Catana!

      It’s so true. Especially when you’re not a pro yet, you can’t push too much of your life aside for writing every single month. You have to allow life to get in the way sometimes (but only sometimes) and besides, if you push yourself that hard all year you’ll probably just burn out.

      The best thing Nanowrimo taught me is that yes, I can write a complete novel.

      Thanks for reading,
      ~Dianna

  2. Greetings!

    Well … I am a *huge* fan of Nano and like the above poster, seem to get more focused writing done during Nano and Screnzy than during the rest of the year. Oddly, I seem to be able to write as much as I set the goal for … 50, 100 or 150K. I have a pretty good idea before hand how much time I can set aside and then plan to write that much … having said that … I’m a plot pantser more or less. Which is great fun.

    Do you like to set yourself high word count goals?
    -Variable. Outside of Nano, I just try to get things written where I can. It is a focus of mine and so I try to find ways of building in writing into my week/month. My work blog forces 300 words every two weeks. This is fun b/c it’s sort of like a drill sargeant saying to a recruit – give me 100 push ups! Nano has built up my writing muscles so that I can punch out words at a fast rate – stream of consciousness – and then I can go back and edit something.

    What other kinds of writing goals do you set for yourself?
    -Because I am not an author / have it as an immediate goal, I am flexible with my goals. Nano/Screnzy are necessities. Then my work blog. And of course, all of your exercises (or most of them). I am quite aware of creative activities and make sure I have them in my life.

    This year was also the first year I edited something … 🙂 … my play. That was fun.

    Regarding the writing goals … I think there different writing ativities that should have different time/word goals. So … first drafting could have a word count/month. Editing could have a page goal / month. Query letter writing X letters per month. Then combine a month of time to balance out the sub activities … 50% drafting, 45% editing, 5% query writing.

    Rates and combinations can always be mixed as needed.

    Great post!
    Cheers!
    RP

  3. RP,

    Don’t get me wrong, I really do love Nanowrimo. I’ve just realized that my dreams can’t be attained simply by writing a lot–there’s a lot of rewriting and editing and networking and marketing to be done–and that I need to focus on non-word count goals during the rest of the year.

    It’s interesting to see how you weave creativity into your life. The pursuit of writing for fun is completely different–and, really, much less complicated–than the pursuit of writing for publication. And as much as I can’t wait to say that I’m a published author with a dozen books under my belt, there’s a part of me that isn’t looking forward to the deadlines and the constant push. It only gets more complicated when it’s your real job.

    You’ve got a good idea of the balance of writing and editing. Right now I’m working mostly on editing–both short stories and Moonshadow’s Guardian–but I’m also doing writing exercises, blogging, and research/planning for my next few short stories. It’s important to always keep the muscle active.

    Thanks for stopping by,
    ~Dianna

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