Thursday, July 11, 2013

Guest Post: How Great Advice Ruins a Writers Day!

Today's guest author is Jane Smith. Jane and I have had some interesting conversations about art, writing, and being an indie author. Visit her website for thoughtful and helpful insights into being the new writer on the block.

Jane Smith

I’ve had a few conversations with Tali about writing and enjoyed them all. I recently made a huge step in the right direction with my writing process and when I asked if I could share it on her blog, she said “Yes!” So, here it is:

Over and over again, you’ll see the writing advice, “Write 1000 words per day and you’ll have a novel in 100 days!” Mathematically, this is correct. Boom – 100,000 words. And maybe for seasoned and prolific authors, this policy may work. I’ve read Stephen King’s On Writing, but Stephen King I am not! Maybe after another 20 years of writing and dozens of published works I can boast his daily word count and its ratio to published works. However, in the meantime, I’ve always struggled mightily with the advice “Write X amount of words per day”.

I don’t create 1000 words a day, at least not of polished material, and it always made me feel rotten. Then again, other days, I write 2000. Some days I read and read and write stream of consciousness. Often, after editing this material, I find the best gems. For me, my creative process just didn’t gel with “Writing X amount of words per day.”

Yet, and here is the cruel Catch-22 of this ubiquitous advice: to “Write X amount of words per day” is great advice! It’s great advice because there is no more certain truth in writing than putting pen to page. You must produce. And I can sit down and produce. On the other hand, I had no control or knowledge about how much I was producing (daily or weekly) and how long it was taking me. And so…

I teamed up with a friend of mine who is one of those computer programming wizards. He runs huge projects with strict deadlines, measurable midway project points and concrete releases dates during which clients judge their performance. As a result, her breaks long term projects into tangible tasks to be performed weekly, daily or even by the hour. I needed a bit of this in my writing process. Perhaps not too much, but a bit wasn’t going to hurt.

And so, in short, I gave myself a boss.

It was one of the best things I’ve ever done for my writing. We set up a weekly meeting and my deliverable was a timeline. At that first meeting, we discussed everything that I planned to do the following week. The timeline was a constantly evolving (working) document and at the next meeting, we discussed the previous week and the upcoming week. This is not a critique or editing partner. He wasn’t even interested in the quality of my writing; however, he was interested in a well-run project.  

I inserted “1000 words a day” as a placeholder in a daily slot. However, I only considered it a task name. After 8 weeks of these meetings, I discovered a few very interesting things:  

If you were just measuring word count (just words typed) I was WAY over a 1000 words a day. However, after several weeks of the timeline, I took a document which I considered my polished rough draft (the best material of the past 8 weeks) and discovered I had a 24,000 word document, which meant I was producing 3,000 words a week or 600 words a day (again, of polished material). Besides finally discovering hard data about my daily production, it allowed me to create a projection of time for the entire project. I also created names (or categories) for different writing periods (creation, editing, polish editing, etc). As a result, I began to measure output against my own output and not against the advice of others, which didn’t even apply to me! An enormous weight had been lifted.

I hope this inspires ideas for those writers who struggle with the advice to “Write X amount of words per day.” Producing writing consistently is imperative, but you must discover your process and tweak accordingly. For some, maybe most, writing is not a simple linear process and producing the same amount every day doesn’t work. Be curious. Play with your process. Good luck!

What tricks do you use to get to your word count?

Come visit me at… where I write about how paper art and erotica do dirty deeds in the world of adult dating.

Best of luck with your writing and many thanks to Tali Spencer. 


  1. Oh geez, thoughts about word count. Nobody has spilled any ink on this subject! Thanks Tali for having me to your blog today. Hopefully, we'll have a few comments come in and learn something from all those brilliant writers out there.


  2. Well, I'll weigh in and reveal that I don't count words at all. I just sit down and hammer away at my keyboard until I have to stop to cook dinner. :D I just count the buggers up when the story is finished. But I have a lot of writing friends who track their word counts obsessively.

  3. I think perhaps it's because you're confident and can hammer away. Insecure writers like me need to know what kind of progress we are making, if any! And so, I play the game of figuring it out.