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Setting a Daily Word Count: Helpful or Hurtful?

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One of the most highly debated things in writing is whether or not you should set a daily word count. Some writers swear it’s the greatest thing they’ve ever implemented, while others curse having a daily target like it slaughtered their first born child.

So, which of these sides are right? Is setting yourself a word count actually helpful or hurtful?

Truthfully, it depends on what kind of writer you are!

If you’re someone who works best or feels more efficient by setting yourself goals, you may find that setting yourself a word count can help keep you on track to get everything want to get, done.

If you’re someone who tends to procrastinate, setting a word count might also be helpful for you. Having that goal might be just enough pressure to nag at you while you’re ‘wasting’ your day watching TV and help you get off your butt and get going.

On the other hand, if you’re someone who has a lot of anxiety or tend to beat yourself up if you don’t make your goals, giving yourself a daily word count might just be setting you up for failure. If you end up being busier than you’d like or something unexpected happens or maybe the words just aren’t flowing that day, having a goal that you’re constantly not reaching won’t do your mental health any favours.

You need to know what kind of writer, and person you are in general, before you can ultimately decide if setting a daily word count is a good or bad idea. All writing advice needs to be tweaked to you, personally. You are the only person who can hold you accountable for reaching – nor not reaching – your writing goals. Advice is just meant to help you, but if you read something that makes you snort and go, “Yeah, right.” then skip that particular thing!

If you’re not sure whether or not setting a daily word count would benefit your writing, test it out for a bit first! There’s no rule that says you have to keep doing a particular thing if you don’t like it. Try it on for a few weeks or months and then see how you feel about it after. If it made you more productive or you liked it a lot, great! Keep it up. If you find it added unnecessary stress to your life or you didn’t actually stick to it, dump it and try finding something else.

You also don’t have to get that specific with setting yourself a word count, either. This might sound cliche, but being a human, setting some sort of goals is just something that makes us function better. We need something to strive toward. It’s unfortunately just the way things work. But, if you know what kind of goal setting works for you, you can essentially hack yourself into being more efficient.

For example, if setting a daily word count is too much pressure, try setting a weekly, monthly or yearly word count. Or, if that still sounds like too much pressure, or you’re worried about little things like spiraling because you gave yourself a 1,000 word count goal and you only managed to write 995 words,  try setting more generalized goals for your writing. Like “I’ll write 2 short stories by the end of the week”, “I’ll write 3 articles a day” or “I’ll finish a chapter each month.” The goals you set will of course depend on what kind of writer you are – blogger, novelist, short story fictionalist (is fictionalist even a word? Well it is now), etc. – but no matter what kind you are, I’m sure you’ll be able to find a type of goal that’ll work for you.

It will also depend on whether or not writing is your career or more of a hobby. I’m not going to say it’s not important to set goals for your hobbies, but if it’s your job and you find yourself feeling behind, you might want to not be as lenient in your goal setting than if you were someone who writes more casually.

Not getting fired or being able to keep a roof over your head are great generalized goals, but you may find getting slightly more specific if writing is your livelihood (or you want to make writing your livelihood) is better for you long-term.

Specifically for me, I don’t set myself a daily word count, or monthly, yearly, etc. Since I’m a blogger and short story writer first (and I have wicked procrastination skills), I give myself more leeway in my goals. Mine are more general: I work on articles and short stories Monday to Friday, then leave the weekends for scheduling promotional posts, working on my current book (or whatever other big yearly project I’m working on, like a text-based game), coming up with new merch designs and socializing.

I find giving myself this more casual weekly goal is great because this means I could for example, write 3 articles one day,  write 2 short stories another, and not feel as badly about ‘only’ getting a Photoshop tutorial done a different day. All my work is still getting done, and it’s enough of a schedule to keep me organized, but not so scheduled I feel suffocated creatively, which in turn minimizes the amount of time I spend procrastinating.

Of course this system isn’t perfect. Unexpected life changes, and/or the holiday season tend to wreak havoc on my work schedule, but if I stay the course for more of the year than I don’t, I tend to stay a few months ahead of when the posts and short stories go up, so I actually give myself some leeway for life events.

It’s like I’ve given myself the gift of time, and honestly, couldn’t we all use a little more of that?


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