Producing Word Counts

First, a fair warning. I don’t expect there to be any new posts next week due to a long overdue and very much needed vacation. The blog will return with vengeance (or, just as likely, with more soapbox rants from yours truly, and hopefully with some good news) during the week of March 26th.

Good. Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, we can get back to the usual fare in this corner of the web. Today’s topic is writing technique, or, to be more specific, how the writers write.

An average novel is anywhere between 80,000 and 100,000 words. While there are some extremely prolific writers who can knock out a novel in a week, the majority of us must contend with demands of real life – jobs, families, other endeavors amongst them. This ensures that most writers in the same boat as yours truly have fairly limited time to write. And herein lies the conundrum.

The one thing many of today’s most popular authors have in common is that they are relatively prolific. While there are exceptions, most well-known authors write at least one, and in many cases several books per year. And the authors who are still trying to get into the big leagues are under additional pressure, since realistically, they cannot expect a large payday over a single novel, and have to produce a constant stream of works to keep the royalties flowing. So an aspiring writer hoping for publication should consider spending very significant amounts of time writing, or otherwise learning how to write consistently and reliably. After all, no one likes writers who miss deadlines, especially if they have to do significant editing or are writing commissioned works.

Personally, I have found that a degree of writing discipline is mandatory to get anything finished. Anyone can start a story with solid, descriptive language, or with great premise. Finishing the story, that is the hard part, and for me, the only way I am able to consistently finish my novels is by setting daily word quotas and ensuring that I write at least that much.

My actual word quotas depend on the specific circumstances. If I am writing more or less at leisure, with no pressure (i.e. the story is something written with no intention of ever publishing it), and with very little free time, there is a good chance I will set my quota to something as little as 1,000 words a day. If I am writing with a deadline (which, at this point, is self-imposed), I adjust my quotas accordingly. Usually those quotas ranged anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 words per day, allowing me to produce finished novels relatively quickly.

One thing I should note is that the quotas are the “bare minimum” numbers. They are not an excuse to stop writing, but merely the benchmark I expect to exceed every day I write. Even 1,000 words a day quota often results in 5,000-plus words written, while higher quotas are also exceeded accordingly.

There are definitely arguments against this approach. Everyone has their share of good and bad days; sometimes, writing just does not come naturally, and anything written on such a day has a chance of being subpar. But this is why it makes sense to edit one’s works after they are completed, or at a time when inspiration is flowing more freely. It is easier to edit something that was already written and plotted out than it is to write something from scratch, potentially creating a bottleneck stopping the progress of the entire project.

These, of course, are my opinions only. I have found this method to work well for me, and to get me ready to produce good word counts quickly – at this stage I am confident of my ability to produce 5,000 and more words per day on consistent basis, which is going to be necessary if I am ever commissioned to write for a specific publisher or project. It may not be the best method for someone else.

With this in mind, for those of my readers who have writing aspirations (or just write for fun), how do you manage to consistently produce high word counts?

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