Going Under, the first book in the Something in the Water series, arrives Tuesday, September 5!


WordBird Tips for Meeting Your Word Count

WordBird Tips for Meeting Your Word Count

Meeting a word count be daunting for a writer; it often feels less like a goal and more like a limitation. However, most writers will agree that it can be a great way of measuring progress. In a metric-obsessed world, where we count footsteps to ensure we’re getting our daily exercise and hits to websites to determine how much advertisers will be willing to pay, writers crave something that gives them some sense of accomplishment. When we set goals for ourselves, we create achievements. A writer who hits their word count might as well get an “achievement unlocked!” graphic flashing across the screen.

Word Count: 500.

On your way to the next writing goal!

            But the days when you can’t write, when the words won’t flow? Those days can make us feel like miserable failures. After all, we set a word count goal and we fell short. Maybe not by a lot, maybe not by a little. Some days, we might find it impossible to write. If you find yourself in this situation, try some of these tips.

 Free Write

Sometimes, our biggest problem is that we simply don’t know what to write about, or even what we want to write. In that case, it’s usually helpful to start free-writing. This can mean starting something anew, doing a “warm-up” exercise, or even starting a new scene to allow yourself to begin with a clean page.  The key here is to just start writing. Whether you’re writing part of your story, an exercise, or something you’re just going to trash, free-writing will help you get the words flowing. I’ll often type things like “blah” or “I have no idea what I’m doing,” which can turn into a free write session about how I have no idea what I’m doing. Once you’ve tapped into your ability to write, you can move on to your story; often, a little bit of free writing is all it takes to get us in the writing groove. Once the words are flowing, it becomes easier to meet your word count.
Don’t: Let your free writing be overly negative. “I have no idea what I’m doing” is only good so long as you remain positive. If your free-write session becomes a spiral of negativity about how you can’t write, you’re not good at writing, and so on, leave it.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Full disclosure: I’m nitpicky. If I make a typo in a word, I go back and retype it—the entire thing. Luckily, I’m a quick typist! But this kind of stuff can really bog you down when you’re trying to make your word count. Don’t worry too much about the small stuff—that silly typo or out of place period can be fixed later during editing. (You are editing, right? Right?) Even if you’re having trouble finding the right word or getting the phrasing of a sentence, slap something down and move on. The point of the exercise is to write as much as you can to hit that word count. Tightening prose, changing words, pulling out crutch phrases is all the work of editing. And it’s easier to edit when you’ve written too much than to try make something longer by adding in later. If you’ve ever written a university paper, you know just how true that is.
A graph showing word count progress.

My progress from NaNoWriMo last year.

Use Notes

Have you ever had the experience of getting a great idea in the middle of the day, then completely forgetting it when you actually sit down to write it? You try desperately to keep envisioning your scene or scenario until you have a chance to get back to your computer, but by the time you get there, you’ve been distracted by a hundred other things and the idea has evaporated. There’s an easy solution for this: Use notes. While you may not have the time to write out a scene, you’ll likely have a chance to jot down a few notes—whether in a draft email or on a scrap piece of paper—on your lunch break, while you’re at the grocery store, or anywhere else. That little note, as insignificant as it may seem, can be the difference between tweaking your memory to write a great scene and completely losing the idea. The best case scenario? You have a bit of extra time to flesh out your notes a little more and your idea is a half-written scene before you send it off to yourself to finish later.

 Become a Dictator

Another problem writers have is time. Like the idea of writing notes to yourself for future use, the idea of using dictation software can help us save time and get more written. Let’s say you’re on your daily commute to work and a fantastic idea flashes through your mind; however, you know it’s going to be another 45 minutes before you can jot anything down because you’re stuck in traffic behind the wheel. If you’re using a hands-free set (as you should be), you can tell your phone to take a memo. Whether it’s a few lines to remind yourself of your epiphany later or a fully-fledged scene, dictating your story means you can get those ideas down faster. Better yet? Some people find dictating much less intimidating and easier; they communicate their ideas more freely and efficiently while they’re speaking, rather than typing or jotting down on paper. Sure, you’ll need to do some very careful editing later, but in terms of getting a first draft down, dictation software can be a lifesaver for busy writers.

Location, Location, Location

You may have heard about studies that say we perform better on tests when they’re conducted in the same place that we initially learned the material; for example, if we studied underwater, then our exam recall will be better if the test is also performed underwater. This is because information can be tied to a number of triggers, including location cues. Other studies have also shown that drug addicts’ highs are tied to their location; a drug user that shoots up in the same place has a higher tolerance than if they change their location. In fact, a change of location has a lot to do with drug overdoses—the user injects their usual dose, but can’t handle that amount due to the location change.
So it should make sense to you that location can have a huge impact on your writing—including how much you write and the quality of what you write. Seek out different locations and try to determine a good location for you. It might be at home in your office, or it might be at your local café or library. Once you’ve found a place you can be productive in, try to accomplish your writing there are often as possible.

The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique developed out of studies that show human beings have relatively short attention spans. Across different industries and jobs, we tend to be most productive when we work in bursts of 30 or 50 minutes. Set yourself a timer for either of these times and focus on nothing but your writing. After the timer goes off, reward yourself with a short break—to grab food, water, or even to check your messages. Then reset your timer and start again. This tends to result in more productivity—a higher word count, in our case—than when we try to maintain intense focus for periods of longer than an hour. After that mark, we tend to get distracted.

Establish a Routine

Much like writing in the same location has an effect on how much we can write, so does when we’re writing. Try to make time for writing in your daily routine, and try to write at the same time every day. If you want to get up early and spend an hour writing before breakfast, make a habit of it; if you write for an hour before you go to bed, make sure you do it almost every day. Be sure to keep track of how many days in a row you write; a habit takes about 21 days or 3 weeks to form. Keeping a routine helps your brain know when it needs to be creative; it will help you get ideas when you actually have time to write and it should cut down on the brilliant “middle of the night” or “middle of the day” ideas that disappear when you really need them.

Stop Mid-Sentence 

Don’t stop on a period; instead, leave your writing hanging when you’re ready to pack it in for the day. That way, when you come back to it the following day, you’ll have somewhere to pick up instantaneously. Rather than trying to figure out what comes next or what the next scene is, you can slip right into that unfinished sentence, kickstarting your creativity.

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