The Roadblock of Word Counts
By Stephen Zimmer
Being the writer of an epic fantasy series, and an epic-scale urban fantasy series, generating a sizeable word count for a novel is something I am fairly familiar with. Yet I never lose sight of the fact that writing a novel echoes the process of building a house or other significant structure, in that it is put together piece by piece, day by day, over the course of time involving many variances in productivity and elements. Some of those elements are large, and others are small, but all are components of the end result, and that is what I want to discuss here in regards to writing.
Now that I am on the verge of having my seventh novel released, and being a guest panelist at many conventions and conferences, I am finding myself increasingly in situations where I am talking to writers who are just starting out on their journey. One of the subjects that often arises in conversations is the issue of word counts, and what kinds of daily goals some writers set. This is a process that becomes very focused upon during an activity like the well-known NanoWrimo, which definitely stimulates a desire for setting a daily word count goal in the quest to write a novel-length work over the course of a single month.
I’m not here today to talk about the pro’s or con’s of something like NanoWrimo, but I am here to discuss the idea of word counts and what I’ve personally observed with many writers. I realize that many wonderful and well-established writers advocate setting a word count goal for every session. As every writer is different, this route may indeed work well for some, but I don’t think it is helpful to view this method as an absolute one-size-fits-all for all writers. In a nutshell, I’m not a fan of setting a hard word count for every writing session, and I have some reasons I’ve gleaned over the years as to why I feel strongly about that and do not recommend it for many writers.
Ultimately, I believe that it is much more important to focus on writing regularly, than it is to focus on a minimum word count figure. Whether you get 250 words done or 10,000 in a writing session, it is much more important to establish a regular rhythm of writing. Building upon your writing project daily is perhaps the most optimal goal, but many things in life can get in the way of being able to carve out a chunk of time on a particular day, so the key I advocate is to make sure you are on a regular pattern that is as close to daily as possible for your own circumstances.
I have seen many writers become highly daunted by the idea of word counts, and it affects them enough that they end up not writing as a result. I always try to get them to focus on the idea of writing regularly, and ignoring word counts, just so they can see how a short story or novel can build up even if you are only able to find time each day to write 500 or 1,000 words.
My books in the Fires in Eden series, especially, and the Rising Dawn Saga, go well past 200,000 words, but many of the increments in the creation of those novels involve days where I only had time to do a 700 or 800 word count session. Yet each and every day I know I am building my work, no matter what, and I feel that instills a positive, pro-active mindset that will keep you on course until you cross the finish line. I urge you to never, ever forget that those small word count days are building blocks that become part of the whole.
I’ve also found my writing to be much stronger when I am writing on a daily basis than when my writing sessions get a little scattered over a week or two due to special work circumstances. The process of walking away and returning fresh to your work regularly helps you to see things you might need to brush up or correct much more clearly, and it also gets you into a good mental zone continuity-wise for the project you are working on. Even further, it gives you a feeling of accomplishment, even if it was a low word count day.
Contrast this with a situation where a writer with a heavy work schedule, family obligations, and other factors in life has set a hard word count goal whereby they begin to regularly find themselves falling short of the mark. Instead of focusing on the regular progress being made, the writer will often tilt towards the negative of not having met their word count goal. Over the course of time, a level of frustration begins to mount and they slow down further or halt altogether. I’ve watched this happen, and in every case it was simply a matter of the word count goal not being met that caused the frustration.
After seeing so many writers either slide into non-activity, or worry themselves to the point that they never leave the starting gate to begin with, I think it would be much healthier for a great many beginning writers to simply put the full focus on writing regularly, whether that means 200 words on one day, 600 the next, and 2,000 the day after that. Write on a schedule keeping you as close to daily for sessions as you possibly can, without any set word count goal, and you will amaze yourself as you see short stories, novellas, and novels alike take form and be completed.
Writing regularly and often is, in my view, the most important thing by a long shot. If you have been daunted by the idea of completing a novel due to having a busy schedule with family and work, or if setting a hard word count goal has not worked out well for you over time, I advise you to simply focus on writing on a steady schedule without obsessing about how many words you have written in an individual session. I have more than a hunch you will be pleasantly surprised by the end result!
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Thanks so much Stephen for being with us today, I really enjoyed this post and hope all the readers out there does as well.
About the Author
Born in Denver Colorado in 1974, Stephen Zimmer is an author and filmmaker currently residing in Lexington, Kentucky. The Exodus Gate, the first book in the Rising Dawn Saga, was Stephen's debut novel, published through Seventh Star Press. Stephen's independent films as a writer/director include the indie feature Shadows Light (Modern Fantasy/Supernatural Thriller) and the horror short film The Sirens (on the Indie Movie Masters Festival of Horrors Vol. 1 DVD)"