The Journal: A Great Motivator

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* Topic: A Great Motivator
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quote of the Day

“Write about what you know, and what do you know better than your own secrets?” Raymond Carver

Photo courtesy Markus Winkler, Unsplash

Topic: A Great Motivator

This will be a little rattled and fragmented, but I think the advice is there and sound, so bear with me.

One of the articles I linked to recently contained some good advice on writing, but it also offered some advice that I thought was not so good. One of the things the author thought was less than productive was using a daily word count goal.

Whether you use word counts as a goal or not is strictly up to you. Whatever works for you is fine, but I personally recommend setting  a daily word count goal. I know others use weekly or monthly word count goals, but really everything boils back down to how much you can get done in a day.

I could never use “write a novel in a month” as a goal. Too overwhelming. But I’ve written back to back novels in as little as two weeks each, and I’ve often written a novel in a month. I did that with a daily word count goal.

But back to more long-range goals for a moment:

I could say my weekly goal is to write 15,000 words. I don’t care for that. It’s far too easy to wake up on the last day of the week with only a few thousand words written because, after all, I have a whole week to reach my goal.

So if my goal was 15,000 words per week, then I’d have to do some math. How many days during the week will I (plan to) write? Five, with weekends off? Then I’ll need to write 3000 words per day on those five days. Seven? Then I’ll have to average 2143 words per day for those seven days. (The average is what’s really important.)

Or I could say my monthly goal is to write 60,000 words. That’s fine, but again I’d have to do some math to break it into smaller, more attainable chunks. I literally don’t know anyone who can sit down and write 60,000 words. But I know several people who can write 3000 words per day for 20 days a month. (Or 3000 words per day for 30 days a month, for a total of 90,000 words.)

Having a daily word count goal is a great motivator and a great way to learn to discipline yourself. Its sole purpose is to drive you to the chair when you might not get there otherwise. And when you DO get there, it’s a way to make sure you Keep Coming Back (my first mantra).

Because if you have a goal to attain, you can’t reach it unless you sit down and make an attempt in the first place.

And say during a break something catches your attention and you’re tempted to scratch the rest of the day and do something else. Maybe you’ve written 1200 words or 2600.

If you have a daily goal it will be there in the back of your mind goading you to go back to the computer and knock out the remaining words before stopping for the day. That’s how useful it is.

There are a few keys to be aware of:

1. Don’t just type words for the sake of hitting a word count. Put in your mind that your goal is whatever number of “publishable words of fiction.”

2. Set your goal a little beyond your comfort zone. It’s easy for me to type 2000 words of publishable fiction in a day. So I set my daily goal at 3000 words. I know I can go over and above that, and I often do. But I have to stretch myself to get to 3000 words. And until I do, the day doesn’t feel complete.

3. On the other hand, be realistic. You want to reach a little and make yourself stretch, but don’t set your goal so high that you will seldom or never reach it. My goal is 3000 words per day, but a 1000 or 2000 word goal is just as useful. Whatever stretches you a little.

4. Maybe most important, your daily word count goal is important only as an average, and only over writing days, meaning days that you actually sit down and write.

5. Figure out a personal formula to attain your goal. I never consciously think about the need to write 3000 words in a day. Here’s what I do:

a. First I read back over what I wrote in the previous session (either yesterday or earlier the same day) and allow myself to touch the story as I go. (This is the “cycling” I talk about. I don’t consciously “look” for things to fix. I just fix whatever pops out at me as I’m reading.)

b. Cycling gets me back into the flow of the story. It also gets me excited about wanting to find out what happens next. When I reach the blank place in the page, I just continue the story. When I look up again, I’ve added a few to several hundred more words or so.

c. That’s when my personal formula kicks in. It’s difficult for me to think about writing any four-digit number of words, but it’s easy to think about writing any three-digit or two-digit number of words.

So if I look up at the end of a session to see that I’ve only written 843 words, it’s easy to write another 20-some to get past 1000, usually during the same session (before a break). If I’ve written 1252, it’s easy to come back in the next session because I know I only need to write 800-some to get past 2000. And so on.

The story grabs me, and I almost always exceed what I expected to write in a given session.

Note: “Grab” and “sag” are not the same thing. If a story doesn’t grab me when I write the opening, I don’t write it. I move on to something else. If the story does grab me, I write it. There will still be times that it sags. Those are the times when I rely on my other mantra to slog through: Just Write the Next Sentence.

I write the next sentence, then the next and the next. Soon, the story grabs me again and off I go.

Let’s look at a real-time example:

Since I started my current novel back on October 22 (11 days ago yesterday), I’ve had only 9 writing days (again, as of yesterday). Over those 9 days, I wrote 27,134 words of publishable fiction.

For various reasons, I fell short of my daily goal on four of those days and exceeded it on the other five. But 27134 divided by 9 is 3015 words per day. That’s my average.

Sometimes life happens on writing days. Maybe a family emergency crops up. Or you’ll be called away while you’re writing. Or the words just won’t flow like they usually do. Or you decide to take some time off.

For me, every day is a potential writing day, so on days when something else comes up, I don’t worry about taking a little time off. In other words, I write whenever I can because I know there will be days when I can’t.

Reaching to attain your daily goal is important, but as I wrote earlier, maintaining your average is even more important.

To do that, strive on every writing day to reach your daily goal. Some days you won’t reach it (see Days 2, 4, 5 and 6 in “Writing of The Ark” below). Some days you’ll reach it, but barely (see Day 1). Some days you’ll meet it solidly (see Days 3, 8, and 9), and every now and then you’ll blow it out of the water (Day 7).

The secret is to love what you do, love the story you’re telling, and remember it isn’t “your” story. Your characters are the ones living it, so let them use your fingers to tell it.

Talk with you later.

Of Interest


See “Giving an Old Book New Life” at

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1350 words

Writing of The Ark (novel)

Day 1…… 3196 words. Total words to date…… 3196
Day 2…… 1441 words. Total words to date…… 4637
Day 3…… 3284 words. Total words to date…… 7921
Day 4…… 1606 words. Total words to date…… 9527
Day 5…… 2881 words. Total words to date…… 12408
Day 6…… 2819 words. Total words to date…… 15227
Day 7…… 4828 words. Total words to date…… 20055
Day 8…… 3614 words. Total words to date…… 23669
Day 9…… 3465 words. Total words to date…… 27134

Total fiction words for October……… 28084
Total fiction words for November……… 3465
Total fiction words for the year………… 366743
Total nonfiction words for November… 1350
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 167190
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 533933

Calendar Year 2020 Novels to Date…………………… 5
Calendar Year 2020 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2020 Short Stories to Date… 13
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 50
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 214
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31