The Journal: On Daily Word-Count Goals

In today’s Journal

* Sympathy
* Thanks, I needed that
* Topic: On Daily Word-Count Goals
* A Final Word on Goals for This Year
* The Journal Archives
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

First, my heartfelt sympathy for the family, friends and fans of Coach John Madden, who passed away unexpectedly yesterday morning at the age of 85. I was fortunate that I got to witness much of his career as a coach and then as a coach in the broadcast booth. Coach Madden will be sorely missed.

My sincere thanks to reader Larry P who emailed me out of the blue. The subject of the email was “[The] 13 Month Turn” (one of my SF novels), and the email read only “Loved this book. Is there a sequel to it? Also, I’ve read and enjoyed the Wes Crowley series.”

Wow, did I ever need that! Thanks, Larry! And in a way, with his brief email, Larry also informed this post. It will be a long one, as it turns out. My apologies in advance, but I hope you will glean something useful from it.

Topic: On Daily Word-Count Goals

Today is already the 29th of December, and like many of you I’m starting a new annual writing goal on January 1. Unlike most of you (I hope), frankly I’m still in a bit of a funk. I will snap out of it, of course. In fact, Larry P might have provided the catalyst I needed.

Recently in this Journal we’ve been over and over how one reader might love a book whereas another might hate it, with most reader-opinions falling to the plus or minus side in between. I don’t often give ratings or reviews a nod either way, good or bad.

But Larry P enjoyed that little novel so much that he took the relatively rare extra step of finding my email address and actually emailing me. As I said at the beginning, wow, did I ever need that.

Now, my annual goal is to write 1,000,000 words of publishable fiction in 2022. That’s it, and really it ought to be a snap. It’s a good goal, but I’m not fooling myself. It’s no challenge at all for a guy who has no outside job, no small children at home, and really no interests other than writing. Well, and following college football, primarily the SEC. (grin)

Anyway, to achieve my annual goal, I set a daily word-count goal (average) of 2800 words per day. I’ve done better at 3000 and even 4000 words for a goal per day, but I didn’t maintain it for a full year.

And maintaining that daily goal is what really matters. It’s something that’s easy to do, one day at a time. The trick is to never fall short of the goal, and if you go over, run with it. That will pump up your average and tide you over on those days when Life doesn’t allow you to write at all.

Why a Word-Count Goal Is Important

1. My word-count goal drives me to the computer. This is probably the most important thing about it. If I don’t sit down at my writing ‘puter, I won’t write even one word of fiction, much less 2800 words of fiction.

2. Priorities matter. If I make my daily goal my number one priority, it will help me manage my time. For example, if there’s a game I want to watch on a particular day, my writing goal still takes priority. So I either have to get my writing done before the game begins or do it after the game ends. And I won’t risk waiting until after the game ends because we never know what Life has in store.

3. The word-count goal keeps any one project (story or novel) from becoming “important.” When I’m at the writing ‘puter I’m not writing a story or novel. I’m just writing words, striving to meet or exceed my goal of 2800 words per day.

4. Having a word-count goal feeds my trust in myself, and in WITD and Heinlein’s Rules. Writing 2800 words is easy. I just write 1000 words, then do it again. Then I have only 800 words to go, and that’s barely more than 500, and 500 is around a half-hour’s work. Shrug.But if you want, you can write for five half-hour periods in a row (or even not in a row), and then add whatever’s left to make up the 2800 words. Easy peasy, right? Either way, to write 2800 words in three hours or less, you only have to write whatever comes. Then you write the next sentence, write the next sentence, etc.

To write 2800 words in three hours or less, you only have to write whatever comes. Then you write the next sentence, write the next sentence, etc.

5. Finally, having a word-count goal provides me with the perfect opportunity to create and benefit from a streak. How many days in a row can I meet or exceed my word-count goal? The more times I reach it, the stronger it will become, the more important writing itself will become, and the more times I will reach it in the future. Streaks are self-propelling.

A Final Word on Goals for This Year

As I wrote above, my only goals are my annual goal and the rounded-up minimum daily word-count goal that will enable me to reach it. I did not set a goal to write a certain number of novels or stories. There’s a reason for that.

If I set out to write a particular number of novels and/or stories in a year, the pressure from wanting to write even one story to get started might thwart my ability to write the 2800 words per day in the first place. And the whole house of cards would come tumbling down.

As I’ve said here many times before, THAT we write is all-important, but WHAT we write isn’t important at all. So even as I’m re-starting, I’m don’t want to risk making any particular story or novel “important.” Doing so might cause me to freeze-up.

I suspect that’s what’s been going on here in the Hovel for the past month or so. I’ve wanted so badly to write the fifth Wes Crowley Gap novel that, thus far, writing it has been a grinding chore. I’ve had what, three false starts? Maybe four or five? And any of those could have launched me into the novel if only I’d have let it run. I’m having no fun at all. And for me, that’s just silly.

So I’m taking the rest of the year off (all three days, grin). For the second time, I’ve thrown out what I wrote before on WCGN 5.

On January 1, I’ll start fresh, and at the moment I have no clue what I’ll write. If it’s WCGN 5, I will not include anything I’ve written before.

But I might write a sequel to The 13 Month Turn, or I might return to one of my other series or write something completely different. To be honest, this is the first deep, clean breath of creative energy I’ve had in almost 5 months.

I still won’t set a goal of a certain number of stories or novels, but then, I’ve been there, done that. My average time for writing a 35,000 to 50,000 word novel is two weeks. Really, how many folks have written enough to even know how long it takes them, on average, to write a novel?

But if I was just starting out, and if I hadn’t settled into writing a novel in two weeks, I probably would set my sights on writing 2, 3, 4, or even 6 novels in a year, depending on the time constraints of my life. Or if I was a short story writer instead of a novelist, I might attempt 2 or 3 short stories every week, again depending on those constraints.

In another way, I really am just starting out. Or starting out again.

Like some of you, I have to learn (in my case, again) to write into the dark. I have to learn (again) to trust myself. The only difference is that I’ve done it before, so I don’t have to hope it will work. I know it will work, and I know the benefits first hand.

If you hadn’t noticed, at the moment I’m fired up (grin). But on January 1 I might not be. And that brings up another good thing about having a daily word-count goal. If you’re serious about the goal, then you’ll do the work.

Naturally, I hope it’s easy for you. I hope you’ll fly through the writing and past your word-count goal, have a ton of fun and end up wondering where the time went.

But if the writing does feel sluggish at first, use that to your advantage. Know that’s your critical mind struggling against you, and force your way through the struggle to learn to trust yourself. Be determined to win and achieve your daily goal anyway.

To do that, just stick with it. Keep reminding yourself to write whatever comes. And don’t edit. Don’t allow your conscious mind to critique what your creative mind has created. Write it and leave it alone, then write the next sentence, and the next. Soon you will have achieved your daily goal and the critical voice will be slower next time to leap up to try to stop you.

The Journal Archives

Finally, a New Year’s gift for you, if you want it. I have the rough Journal archives in PDF format for every year since 2014. If any of you would like any or all of those, email me at and I’ll send them out to you.

The archives are exactly as they’re published to the Journal, so they’re a little rough. But because they’re in PDF format, you can search them for “Topic” or for particular topics (WITD, Scene, Setting, Characters, etc.).

I probably won’t be back until January 2, when I will report on my fiction numbers from January 1. I wish all of you a safe and enjoyable New Year’s Eve, and us all a much better 2022 than 2021.

Talk with you again later.

Of Interest

See “I Think I Am Ready” at Note “I’m going to make each month a mini-challenge inside the big challenge.” That’s how to do it.

See “Indestructible ‘Black Box’ will record our planet’s demise in minute detail” at Wouldn’t it be awkward if, instead of the planet succumbing to global warming, it was struck by a massive meteorite? One that was attracted by, and hit precisely at, Earth’s Black Box? (grin)

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1750 words

Writing of (tentative title, novel)

Day 1…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX

Total fiction words for December……… 10865
Total fiction words for the year………… 636749
Total nonfiction words for December… 12150
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 203560 (corrected)
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 840309

Calendar Year 2021 Novels to Date…………………… 13
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 1
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 3
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 66
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: In this blog, I provide advice on writing fiction. I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. To be crystal clear, WITD is not “the only way” to write, nor will I ever say it is. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among myriad other topics.

2 thoughts on “The Journal: On Daily Word-Count Goals”

  1. Harvey, I’ve long been biting my tongue on this, being aware of the struggle it must be/have been for you, trusting that you would eventually work your way through it all, knowing you certainly didn’t need any added pressure on you to get it done (which wouldn’t be my place to provide even if you did need it), and believing that you know I’ll always have your back in whatever you do/did about it. But maybe I’ve been patient long enough and perhaps now would be a good time to say what’s been on my mind all this while, not in chastisement but simply by way of whatever friendly motivation it may provide at this point: Dammit, Harvey, write something! Anything! I wanna hear a story, and it’s high time we both were getting back to our “work” of having fun! (grin)

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