Don’t Aim to Write a Set Number of Words each Day

You’ll often hear famous writers discuss how they try to write a set number of words per day. Setting a word target for your day’s writing can be useful. If you stick to it, you’ll complete your first draft in a reasonable time.

But you must make sure you don’t fall into the trap of writing words just for the sake of writing words. This is an easy mistake to make.

It boils down to this: you want to write 1000 glorious words by the end of the day. But you can only think of, say, 493 words that actually progress the plot. Those other 507 words become padding; bubble-wrap that bulks up your story without contributing any value. Apart from a few hours of popping the bubbles, but let’s ignore that for the purposes of this metaphor.

I made this mistake with the first draft of The Aeon Academy, my work-in-progress novel. I measured my day’s success by the number of words I spewed onto the (digital) page. Sure, this is a good way to get into a writing habit. It will help you finish a first draft. But once you finish the draft, you’ll probably find lots of unneeded scenes. And by unneeded, I mean that you could cut them out right now and the plot wouldn’t change.

So how do we fix this problem?

The solution is simple. Rather than aiming to write a set number of words each day, aim to write a set number of scenes each day. Now, I say scenes, but even one scene a day will get your first draft finished in a reasonable time, although you’ll sometimes take a few days to write longish scene. The details aside, having a scene/plot-orientated goal beats a word-orientated goal, because you’re more likely to write relevant rather than unneccesary stuff.

“Rather than aiming to write a set number of words each day, aim to write a set number of scenes each day.”

Another nice bonus of having a scene-based aim is that your writing gets more concise. Why? Well, you’ll try to use less words to write your scene, because that’ll make it quicker and easier to meet your writing goals! Having a word-based target, on the other hand, bloats your writing as you desperately try to fill the pages of your novel with mind-numbing prose about nothing that just goes on and on and leaves your readers wondering if you will ever stop or if you’re ever going to write something that actually affects the plot and –

Okay, I’ll stop there. See, if I wanted this article to be, say, 600 words, I could’ve kept rambling. But because I just want to finish the article, I’m glad when I fall short of my word target. I hope you’ll feel the same way.

What are your thoughts on scene vs word-based writing goals? Think I’ve lost my marbles? (I haven’t; they’re in a big jar on my desk). Do you have a better way to avoid writing unneeded scenes? I’d love to hear your opinions!

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