Number of Words

The Importance of Number of Words in Writing
Do you write a lot of words in one day or do you set limits?

For a long time, I wrote as much as humanly possible in one day, time permitting, in the worry I’d run out of writing time in the future. During this time the word count was the sole way of measuring my progress and forward momentum. This mindset can be understandable: after all getting enough words down to equal the size of a novel is one of the biggest challenges facing writers. I was of the mind that by keeping writing going, I was on track, and I think this is true to some extent.

Now I like to think it depends less on how many words I write as it does on what progress I’ve made in terms of thinking, planning, and moving my story forward. As a result, I’ve felt the benefit of limiting how much I write each day. Keeping 1,000/2,000-word limits sustains my interest in the story and ensures I’m not exhausting my mind, imagination, and interest. I hope this method can improve my first drafts. However, one disadvantage of this is that I do need to keep regaining my bearings in my story, from where I left off, which is more of a problem than when I was writing thousands more words each day.

My advice

Because of the need to regain bearings, it can often be a good idea to keep a plan, or a few notes that are relevant to your current position in the story, such as any facts to keep in mind and where you intend for the story to go in the next scenes.

Tackling a large story by thinking of it in terms of word count is possible; I’ve done it myself. Indeed, the story’s completeness can be measured by the final word count. However, I feel the approach can be stressful, exhausting, and time consuming. In the end you’re left with a mess of a first draft that could have been avoided with patience and planning. In contrast, thinking of a story in terms of tasks to do that can be done one at a time takes the pressure off, and some of these tasks lead to a few thousand words or more anyway and the word count builds automatically, and at least this time you’ve put more thought into the story in advance of the writing sprint.

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