Word count goals are magical. They motivate and push us to reach levels of productivity we didn’t know were possible. They are fun for those of us who like to measure progress, and meeting those goals feels amazing. But when we consistently overreach and do not hit our goals, it can be disheartening, and when we push too hard to hit a number, we aren’t always focusing on the quality of the work. That is the dark underbelly of word count goals.
Now you’re thinking, how do I set word count goals that avoid all that bad stuff? By setting goals that are tailored to your specific circumstances.
Too often, we start by thinking about the finished product. We say, “I want to write a 90,000 word novel in two months. So if I divide 90,000 by 60, then I have my daily word count goal.”
No, my friend. Sadly, that is not how it works. To set productivity boosting writing goals, you start with how much you can write and how much time you have to write, not your target word count for your novel.
Here’s how I do it. As always, you have to do what works best for you! Some writers thrive without any word count goals at all.
1. Figure out how many words you write per hour.
Sit down for an hour, write, and track how many words you write. Do this 3-5 times throughout the week at the times you would normally write, and then take an average of how many words you wrote.
I write approximately 1,000 words per hour. My range is pretty wide (500-1,200 words) depending on where I am at in my story, how many times I am interrupted, and how distractible I happen to be that day (squirrel!), but I know 1,000 is a pretty good estimate in typical circumstances.
2. Calculate how much time you have to write.
If you are setting a weekly goal, look at your schedule for each day and decide how much time you have to devote to your writing on that day. Write it down. You can write it in your planner, on your calendar, or on a scrap piece of paper, but write it down. Ideally, you would schedule your writing time into your planner, but I know not everyone is that precise with their time (and neither am I some days).
3. Do the math.
If you write 1,000 words per hour, and you can spend ten hours next week writing, then in theory, your goal should be to write 10,000 words, but…
4. Create tiered goals.
Word count goals should be somewhat realistic if you want to avoid the dark underbelly, but I am a dreamer, folks! So in an attempt to curb a tendency to set overzealous goals, I set a low, medium, and high goal.
Whatever number you figured in step three should be your medium goal because it is very likely you could hit that goal. But we all know life is unpredictable, and that carefully crafted plan for writing could go up in smoke within a matter of minutes. You could get the flu, you could sleep through your alarm, or heavens forbid, your child could give up naps.
The low goal is there to help you keep going, even when everything is going to hell in a handbasket. My low goal is usually half to three-quarters of my medium goal. If the medium goal is 10,000 words, then the low goal would be between 5,000 and 7,500 words. If I am coming off a rough week, I go with the lower number to give me a motivational boost when I reach it.
5. Write down your goals and tell your writer friends!
Write down your goals someplace you will see them every day. Your planner, a whiteboard, the refrigerator, your bathroom mirror. I post my goals on the blog weekly for accountability. Respond in the comments with your goals for added accountability, or tag me in your post on IG! I can’t tell you how helpful it has been to have a community of writers encouraging me and supporting my goals. Find your people, and let them support you.