Writers are frequently given the advice to make an effort to write a certain word count a day. This is good advice and a steady pace of, say, 1000 words a day, will lead to finished chapters, finished short stories and over time, to a finished novel. I remember once setting myself a 1500 word a day goal to finish a book for a deadline and to my surprise, it turned out rather well (if I do say so myself).
However, it isn’t a pace I could keep up and still churn out a series of well written novels. Sometimes the inspiration is there, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes we just don’t have the time. While I strongly encourage setting aside a time of day to sit down and write every day, there will be limits set by day jobs, family needs and other interference, especially around holidays or special occasions.
My first full length novel, Dance of the Goblins, was written mostly in 500 word bites in the hour between 5am and 6am, when it was time for me to get up to get ready for a day job. No one makes a living from their first novel (well, almost no one) and many of us hold outside jobs well into our writing careers.
Apart from that, inspiration isn’t always on tap. Sometimes a burst of creativity can have me writing furiously for several hours and result in 2500 words in a sitting, sometimes I have to work out what happens next and I’m lucky to get that 500 words before quitting for the day.
I’m not the only one. Several famous writers have been quoted that they write 500-600 words a day, including Ernest Hemingway, Carol Shields, Arthur Hailey, Graham Greene, Ian McEwan, and Michael Robotham. There are times when just getting your characters from point A to point B in the story takes all your energy for the day.
It is easy to feel inadequate when so many advice sources cite 1000 words a day as a goal, or even more. Stephen King famously quotes twice that for his daily output, but he’s sitting down and writing for six hours a day as his full time job and has been doing it for a very long time. Practice improves performance, though not always.
I’ve been a published writer since 1987, long before self-publishing came along. My most recent project is a short story for a Smugglepunk anthology that I was invited to write for and even with a basic outline in my head, this one has been crawling along. Some days I’m lucky to squeeze 100 words out of my addled brain. Why? Because some projects just work that way. Some flow fast, some creep along.
I think part of the trouble with this one was trying to fit too much plot into a tight word count, but after double checking, the maximum is actually twice what I had mis-remembered, which is a real relief. I had got within 100 words of my perceived limit and we hadn’t even encountered the dragon yet! Now that I’ve found I have another 3000 words to work within, it will hopefully flow faster.
I know a lot of people enjoy doing NaNoWriMo and pushing themselves to do 50,000 words in a month, but it’s something I’ve never entered and probably never will for the same reason I don’t do reading challenges: I don’t like pressure. I write because I enjoy it, just like I read for pleasure, and pushing myself too hard robs me of some of that satisfaction. I love those times when I stop for the day and go do something else, then suddenly a flood of inspiration sends me furiously writing notes for what has to happen next.
Others may thrive on pushing themselves harder and I’m good at working to deadlines, but we have enough stress in the world without beating ourselves up if one day fewer words flow. The important thing is that those words made something happen.
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