2. Word Count

We writers can get a bit weird about word count. It can be helpful to track it, because unlike so much of the writing process, it’s quantifiable and solid. A long project can feel insurmountable, but writing 500 words is do-able. If you write an average of 250 words per day (that’s about the length of this post, not including the exercise and quotation), within a year, you’ll have a draft of 90,000 words, which is the size of a standard novel.

Of course, there’s a lot more to writing a novel than getting words down. There’s structure and theme and voice. The better I get at writing fiction, the more time I spend looking off into the distance, my fingers motionless over the keyboard. I’m more thoughtful about it. Unfortunately, this has not resulted in my needing fewer drafts, but it means that every draft is stronger than a younger incarnation of me would have written. I dare more, and I can hold more in my hands.

All the same, if I don’t get the words down, I don’t get a draft finished.

So I try to strike a moderate path. I do track my word count when I’m drafting; these days, I use Pacemaker to make sure that I’m on track for my goals. But I keep the daily goal achievable, and I leave myself time to think. What word count goals do for me is to force me to actually get a little bit down every time I sit down to write, and that keeps me moving forward. Even 50 words, on a writing day, is better than zero.


Write 50 words on your work in progress, or about your life at the moment. This will probably be about three or four sentences. That’s 50 words you didn’t have before. And it’s proof that 50 words is almost always possible.


“But when people say, Did you always want to be a writer?, I have to say no! I always was a writer. I didn’t want to be a writer and lead the writer’s life and be glamorous and go to New York. I just wanted to do my job writing, and to do it really well.” Ursula Le Guin, from an interview in the Paris Review.

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