Word Count Goal vs Time Goal

Recently, I read an article by Joe Warnimont called ‘Word Count or Time Goal? Which Gets More Writing Done?‘ which presented several famous authors’ most efficient methods of churning out words. And it got me thinking about how I write: do I set myself a word count or time goal?

Every writer knows that writing is a discipline, and a severely tough one too. Sometimes I bemoan the fact that I am a millennial born in the internet era. The internet. The biggest distraction ever. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely thankful for it. I get to stay in touch with my friends all around the world; information and entertainment are at the tips of my fingers. But it’s particularly detrimental to my writing pursuits.

I have to admit, I don’t write every day. I probably should. One of the main reasons for starting this blog was to help me develop a habit of writing routinely. Now that I’m back into the flow of academic life, it’s even harder to maintain said routine. I was talking with a fellow writer and English Literature student who told me she doesn’t sleep until she writes a page of her novel. She’s currently at 70+ pages which I think is well impressive. Should I aim for something similar? Could I keep it up?

I did a pretty good job of writing daily this past summer though, frequenting the Starbucks at Kawagoe station with a cup of coffee or cocoa and reclining comfortably on their sofa chairs, forcing my fingers to type key after key while listening to the incessant chatter of students, businesspeople and the occasional foreigner punctuating the Japanese conversations with English exclamations. But then again, that’s my ideal environment for writing. It’s obviously different when now I’ve got hundreds of books to read and essays to write.

I tried both methods this summer. Here were my initial impressions:

  1. Word count goal: Like Stephen King who churns out at least 2000 words a day, I similarly set myself a daily goal of 2000 words when working on my novel. It started off well, and I would hit my daily word quota within 2 or 3 hours, fuelling myself with the initial flurry of excitement and inspiration. But after a week, I gave up despite having 14,000 words. I felt like I was simply typing 2000 words of bullshit and questioned if this was indeed the right method. Should I spend more time on a lower word count goal to produce higher-quality writing?
  2. Time goal: I switched to a time goal and dedicated a solid hour of writing each day. However, this meant being extremely conscious of the time, constantly glancing at my watch as if in a boring class, listening to the lecturer drone on and on, anxious for the seconds to tick by. There were occasional days of pure inspiration when I would write longer than the stipulated hour, but mainly I felt much more inhibited by the time goal than the word count goal.

As is the case with most things, I’ve come to the conclusion that one needs to find the right balance between the two. I don’t want to be limited by either daily word count or time goals, which will naturally result in more self-loathing and self-condemnation if I don’t reach them. But I do realise that I can’t just write only when I feel inspired; what would happen if I was only inspired once a month or even once a year? I believe that writing takes effort, but I also believe that you can’t neglect inspiration. The proper combination of effort and inspiration can be deadly.

Obviously, the most important thing is to ensure that you write. Write something every day. Be flexible. If you allocate a time right before you sleep to write, but you feel inspired in the morning, don’t wait till nighttime! Don’t beat yourself up for only writing 100 words, but do set a reasonable goal. Aim for a word count of 500 or 1000 words. Aim for 30 minutes or one hour. Once you feel comfortable with this particular routine, increase it gradually.

Write. If you don’t, you won’t progress. Even if you write one word, that’s still progress. Really, it’s up to you how fast you want to progress. There’s no denying the more you write, the faster you’ll become a better writer.

Okay, if this seems like I’m eluding the question, it’s because I am. My writing habits are erratic, I don’t particularly have a set routine. I still don’t know what’s my best and most efficient method. But I will write and write and write, as much as I can, whenever I can, whether I feel inspired or not (but hoping for more of the former).

Neil Gaiman sums it up nicely:

There’s no magic answer, I’m afraid. This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.

What is your preferred method of writing? Are you most efficient with a word count goal, time goal, something in between or something completely different?

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4 thoughts on “Word Count Goal vs Time Goal

  1. As a teacher: Blog once a week. As missionary: Newsletter once a month. As a professional: Whatever communication needs doing (comments on student papers, department communications, parent letters…). As a friend and family member: Many emails. As a person: Daily journal. It’s not the same because I’m not aiming for a publisher. But I’m always using the skills I have to communicate and to learn, and honing them as I do. All of life is communication. All of life is growth. And all of life is a dance of quality vs. quantity, negotiated by a nearly infinite variety of combinations of personalities/gifts/circumstances. Do it with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

    Liked by 1 person

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