Target Word Count

The Russians have a saying: if you stranded at sea in a rowboat of course you should pray to God, but don’t stop rowing. There are a lot of misconceptions about this wonderful muse who gives inspiration to creative people and sends them running to their desks to joyfully turn blank pages into beautiful prose. Don’t get me wrong; there is a muse, but she usually doesn’t show up until you’ve dragged yourself to your desk, against all odds, and started to work. Then maybe, sometimes, she comes to help. If not, you just keep at it, sometimes worried that it’s all a useless effort, but no matter what happens you keep at it.

People have tried different things to this end. Some write for a set amount of time each day, or write for a set period of time. Some write a chapter a day, or a certain number of pages or a certain number of words. Robert E. Howard used to imagine that Conan was standing behind him ready to lop off his head if he didn’t keep writing. Whatever works. For me, the primary tool is target word count.

I try to set a tough but reasonable goal depending on my schedule. For a while it was 2000 words per week. Currently it is 1000 words per day. The nice thing about writing every day like this is the continuity and momentum that drives you along and makes the work easier. Some days I don’t finish those 1000 words until 9pm, or I write them half asleep in the chair, but I get them done. On the best days I’m done before lunch. I have better luck if writing is the first thing I do. I wake, I eat breakfast, then write. If I get distracted anywhere along the line, it can very easily turn into a long day.

Do not fall into the trap of thinking that you need inspiration to begin, or a clean desk, or a full night’s rest, or just the right pen, but find out what works for you. All you need is to just start and keep at it. It’s so simple, so beautiful, and often so damn difficult. But if you do it you will accomplish something. And sometimes, often when it seems least likely, the muse will come and bless you.