One of the most repeated pieces of advice I see in writer’s magazines and other online writing sites (including my own) is to write every day. You’re thinking, “Well, duh…” and so am I. Of course you need to write every day. If you want to master anything, from sports to arts, you need to work at it and you need to practice; otherwise you won’t improve.
I’m not criticizing that part of the advice. I am, however, about to criticize other part of that statement: The “write x amount of words every day” part.
Write Every Day
Stephen King, for example in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft says to set the “modest” goal of 1000 words per day and then worry about everything else (edits, revisions, outlines, etc.) later. I’ve always felt that is not only poor advice, but for new writers it’s potentially dangerous advice. Yes, you need to get the words cranked out and part of the x-words-per-day goal is to train you to do that (as well as train you to write without constant self-editing) but if you focus only on word counts, I truly believe you’re setting yourself up for failure.
For part-time writers especially, setting a goal too large will lead to setbacks or feelings of failure. It’s just like exercising. When you start up for the first time or return to the gym after a long break, you go full steam, working out five days a week, never missing a scheduled session. And then life happens. You miss one workout. Then two. Then you start making excuses and blaming circumstances “beyond your control” and then you feel like a failure. And then you quit, because it’s just too damn hard to keep up the schedule.
The same thing will happen to writers who start out with a fixed daily word count goal. What happens when real life gets in your way and you miss your 1000 words? Write 2000 the next day? 3000 the day after that? Unless it’s November and you’re doing NaNoWriMo, that is no way to write.
So what’s my solution?
A daily writing goal, based on what your schedule for that day looks like. Set your priorities, and base your goal on that. And don’t make your writing goal solely about word counts. Make it about what’s most important. Sometimes the most important thing you can do for your writing doesn’t even involve actual writing at all.
So to use myself as an example: With three young kids at home, time is, shall we say, limited. I have to use it wisely and the only way to do that is to prioritize.
Plan ahead and come up with one or two must-do tasks that you are certain you can complete within the time you have allotted. If, for example, you only have one hour of uninterrupted writing time, then tell yourself you’ve got to write, say, 500 words with a one hour time limit.
If you’ve got two hours, split it up. Write for an hour, edit for an hour, or whatever. Everybody is different, but one thing is for certain, and that is if you plan in advance exactly what you need to get done, and how much time you have to get it done, then it will get done.