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Why I Stopped Counting

Daily word counts work...until they don't. Here's why I quit writing by the numbers.

· Writing Tips,Writers Life,word count,NaNoWriMo

Happy New Year! I love that brand-new feeling I get every New Year's Day. There are so many exciting possibilities for the year ahead. What are your goals? Perhaps to write that breakthrough novel? Or to finish the book that's been languishing on your hard drive for far too long?

By now, you've probably heard the 2,000-words-per day recommendation for finishing a first draft. You're supposed to religiously write 2,000 words each day without worrying about quality (revisions happen later). This daily goal has become something of a sacred cow when it comes to writing advice. Beginner writers often assume (like I did, when I first started) that 2K-per-day is the only way to write if you want to ever finish a novel or be successful. If you've ever participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), then you know all about 2K-per-day. But does it really work? Is this the single greatest key to writing success?

In case you haven't figured it out yet, here's the not-so-secret truth: many authors don't use a daily word count goal at all. In fact, giving up your daily word count goal might just be the best move you ever make as a writer.

So, hold on a sec, you might be thinking. Stephen King himself writes 2,000 words per day! Clearly it's working for some authors, right?

Without a doubt, the 2K-per-day goal can work well. For one thing, the goal is easy to measure. You know if you had a "good" day of writing, even if you didn't love what you wrote. This is a great way to finish a novel if you've never managed it before. That's why NaNoWriMo sets 2K-per-day as it's daily goal (and very humanely schedules for days off, too).

And if you're lucky enough to write full time, a daily word count acts like an on/off switch. You know when you're done for the day. It also propels you forward, fast. You can finish a first draft in a couple of months or even less, and therefore meet those looming deadlines.

But if this is the only writing process you know, then what do you do if it stops working? Or if it never worked for you at all?

2K-per-day worked for me on my first several manuscripts. It worked really well when I had a super short deadline to finish The Thirteenth World, the sequel to The Corridor. But after that, it didn't work so well. When I started a new project, I felt like I was spinning my wheels. I was forcing myself to write even though the concept wasn't really coming together (despite a really nice outline, I might add!)

I felt burned out and frustrated. And worst of all? I felt like a failure. I'd managed to write several manuscripts using the 2K-per-day process! Two of them had been published! So why wasn't it working anymore? What was wrong with me?

Instead of inspiring me, the daily 2,000 word goal became a straightjacket that I was desperate to get out of. I had to take a break.

I ended up deciding to set aside that project, and after a couple of months, I was ready to work on something brand new. I did use the 2,000 word goal, but only for spans of about one week to ten days at a time. I'd get to the next plot point in my story structure, and then I'd take a break to do some revisions, refine my outline, and plan for the next section of the book. I admit, I was afraid that I'd lose the line of the narrative or that my momentum would fizzle out. But the opposite actually happened! I felt energized during my drafting periods, and the finished manuscript ended up much more polished than if I'd plowed straight through. And the most exciting part? That novel, UNDER GLASS AND STONE, is coming out later this year!

But as for my next project? I won't find out what works until I get there. Maybe I'll write 1,000 words per day. Maybe I'll set a time-based schedule instead, writing for an hour each morning or an hour and a half at night. Maybe I'll use a process I haven't even imagined yet. Who knows, I might find myself back at the 2,000 daily word count at some point. But I'll only do it because it works for that project, at that moment.

Here's the truth: there is no one way to be a writer. The process that worked for you before might not work now. And what works for another author might not be a good fit for you. The only way you'll know is to try out different methods and find yours. If you're struggling, or if you're feeling burned out, then be willing to switch things up. Each project might be a different experience, and that's okay.

What process works (or doesn't work) for you right now? Does your writing life look the same every day, or do you like to change things up? Let me know on Twitter @anwilliswrites or on Instagram @morningcoffeeforwriters. And happy writing!

Have you heard the news? My latest novel, gothic mystery UNDER GLASS AND STONE, is available for pre-order! Right now the ebook is just $3.99! Find it on Barnes & Noble and Kobo, as well as Amazon and Apple Books.

For five generations, Evelyn's family has lived in the same small brick house, shadowed by the mansion across the street. Her Nana filled her childhood with stories about Byrne House: tales of missing children, of lovers gone mad. Then one of the boys in Evelyn's junior class disappears. Evelyn is the last person to see him, just a pale face in Byrne House's tower window. Only Alex, a mysterious newcomer, shares her suspicions about Byrne House. Alex believes that this latest disappearance is tied to the mansion’s past. But Evelyn has no idea how far she and Alex will have to go to find the truth. Or what she'll have to remember.

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