Don't Force the Suck: Why I Quit Word Count Goals

BlogHer Original Post

If you don't use word count goals, you need a different way to keep yourself on track. I use time minimums in the beginning and incremental revision progress later in the process. Writing the rough draft is harder for me than working on revisions. That blank page is just horrifying. Not knowing how the story will end is just horrifying. When I'm in the rough draft stage, I have to set a timer like I'm twelve and writing a book report and force myself to at least think about my novel for an hour. Sometimes 46 minutes, because psychologically that's easier. I might keep going after that timer dings, or I might rejoice and run off to read someone else's way better novel.

If I force myself to just think about what's going to happen for an hour, I understand my book better than if I'd written five thousand words that drift slightly the left of my intended plot.

Once the revisions begin, I go for incremental progress on my scenes. Some scenes are more screwed-up than others. Some need slight tweaks, and some might as well be tweaking. If, when I'm finished, the revision is one draft of one scene better than it was the day before, goal accomplished. Even if I only changed three words.

Doing anything other than staring at the television takes motivation. We humans naturally gravitate toward activities with clear rewards. If you want to make time to write, stop beating yourself over the head with goals and focus on how awesome it'll feel to create something totally original and all by you. It's important for both you and the people who live with you to understand that you really like writing. Writing makes you a nicer, better, more actualized and interesting person, not because you've decided you have to spit out 1,667 words every day in November but because it gives meaning to your life.

To quote the great Chuck Wendig, giver of excellent writerly advice (and prolific writer who actually does use word count goals, whatever), here's how to get the time you need to create.

You will not get the time you need to write unless you ask for it.

It’s that simple.

Nobody’s psychic. You want to write, you need to tell your wife, husband, children, pets, live-in love-slave, robot butler — “Hey, I really need an hour today to do this because it’s important to me.” Part of it’s because everyone assumes it’s a hobby. They assume you’ll fill your copious free time (HA HA HA FREE TIME GOOD ONE, ME *self-five*) with writing as you would if you were building model airplanes or doing Nude Sunbathing Full-Contact Sudoku.

Writing isn't a hobby for you, is it? Isn't it more ... your art? Own your art. Then, once you've explained to those people who love you why you're writing that novel, look deep inside yourself and ask yourself which story only you can tell. Think about why only you can tell it, and write that down in a sentence. Even if you've only got seven words on the page, if you can determine why only you can write your novel, you're halfway done.

Rita Arens is the author of the young adult novel The Obvious Game & the deputy editor of Find more at


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