It’s annoying, right? Infuriating too. When was the last time you didn’t beat yourself up, because you struggle to fit enough writing into your day to meet your word count goal and put words down? When was the last time you weren’t left feeling guilty that you hadn’t done any writing at all?
If the drive to write is there, eating away at your thoughts, it may be a case of having too high a daily word count goal and not enough genuine time to write.
I want you to be able to judge when you’ll have a lot of time to write without kidding yourself. I don’t want you to think you can do more than you can in thirty minutes and beat yourself up because you’ve barely put any words to the page.
And remember – word counts aren’t actually for beginner writers, despite the accepted idea that they are and will suit every writer. They’re a strategy for encouraging forward momentum and tracking your progress for the experienced writer. So don’t sweat it on the days you miss your writing goals – things happen; you’d be surprised how many writers think they can hit 2000 words a day, every day of the whole year and thought they took into account their daily activities, their down days and perhaps even family emergencies. Just take an evening to read a book for fun and start again tomorrow.
Today I’m going to show you how to stop kidding yourself about how much writing you can really get done, and give you a few tips to increase how much you write. We’re going to take a look at some author and work out the easy maths behind picking your own realistic goal.
NOTE: I have a gift for you at the end of this article to help with some of the suggestions to improve your writing average.
Nail Your Word Count Goal Every Time
Let’s get started by looking at one of my favourite fantasy authors:
Jen Williams (The Copper Promise).
@Draebox Ooo blimey. It depends on my mood, usually. Probably between 1000 to 1500 words, roughly.
— Jen Williams (@sennydreadful) October 7, 2016
(1000/60=16.66 words per minute.)
This answer reveals that on average, Jen writes 16.66 words per minute. From asking around, I’ve noticed that this appears to be around the average for daily writers.
So let’s take a look at the maths. The primary thing we need to know is how many words we write on average per minute – that way, no matter how much or how little time you have, you know the rough average of what you can put to paper and can keep realistic expectations.
Let’s grab that 1000 words and the 60 minutes that Jen tends to do those in.
1000 / 60 = 16.66
And that’s how you work out your minute average. Let’s take a peek at a few more:
Bridgett Morigna (The Dreams)
@Draebox Lately I’ve been writing in 25 minute sprints and getting 600-700 words, so in an hour I write 1.2-1.4k
— Bridgett #NaNoWriMo (@bridgettmorigna) October 7, 2016
Bridgett writes fremium stories over on her website, with a strict self-imposed deadline of every Thursday. This helps her to keep going, but let’s look at the maths here too.
600 / 25 = 24 words per minute. Which would mean 24 * 60 = 1440 words per hour.
Dave Higgins (Seven Stones)
@Draebox Probably ~1,000 words writing & ~3,000 words editing
— Dave Higgins (@David_J_Higgins) October 8, 2016
Let’s practise that maths again:
1000 / 60 = 16.66 (the same as Jen Williams).
@Draebox no problem. Had to think a little but my wcph ranges between 400-600 right now. Usually gets higher as I get into a groove.
— Daniel Diaz (@ValeLywoud) October 7, 2016
400 / 60 = 6.66 words per minute.
Daniel is a member of my free Writers’ Club. Let’s imagine that one day he decided that he would aim for 1440 words a day to be like Bridgett, but he didn’t take into account that he has an hour and thirty minutes to write on that day. In this scenario, Daniel would fail because he would need to increase his words per minute by ten (to reach 16.66). He would first need to ensure he had increased his words per minute average before trying to reach this goal.
Georgina Makalani (The Raven’s Dawn)
@Draebox Hey – my average word count is around 1500-1800 words an hour.
— Georgina Makalani (@GMakalani) October 8, 2016
1500 / 60 = 25 words per minute.
Ingrid Sundberg (All We Left Behind)
@Draebox If I’m doing a first draft and in the flow, then I do 1000 -1500 words an hour. I don’t often write for more than 3 hours a day.
— Ingrid Sundberg (@ingridsundberg) October 7, 2016
Again, we’re seeing an author that has an average of 16.66 (going from her lower word count offered). If we were to instead go from her 1500 word count per hour, the math would look something like this:
1500 / 60 = 25 words per minute.
Nikolas Rex (Wielder of the Flames)
@Draebox sure! I can usually write 800 – 1000 words an hour during a good writing session
— Nikolas Rex (@nikolaskrex) October 7, 2016
That maths again: 800 / 60 = 13.33 per minute. We’ll look at two more authors and then we will look at how you can discover your word count per minute and how best to use it, followed by a few tips to improve your word count averages.
Liana LeFay (Countess So Shameless)
@Draebox When deprived of social media, I avg about 800/hr. ☕️If I’m caffeinated, closer to 1K. I’m most productive in the morning.🌞
— Liana LeFey (@LianaLeFey) October 7, 2016
800 / 60 = 13.33
Erin Bedford (Hunter)
@Draebox usually around 2000 depends on how much I’ve planned before hand and distraction.
— Erin Bedford (@erin_bedford) October 7, 2016
2000 / 60 = 33.33
How to Determine Your REAL Average Word Count
- Pick a rough time that you can find every day for the next seven days, make sure it’s the same amount of time in one block of time (this is important because otherwise you will have stop-starts affecting the word count).
- Make a note of how long those times were and record the date and word count you achieve.
- Work out your average: TOTAL WORDS / NUMBER OF DAYS
Now work out your average per minute. WRITING AVERAGE / NUMBER OF MINUTES YOU USED.
Now you know how many words you write on average per minute, you’ll know how much time you really need to meet your daily, weekly or monthly goal.
So if you’ve been aiming for 1,000 words a day, but you’re only able to spend 30 minutes a day and your average word count per minute is less than Jen Williams’ 16.66, there’s an unrealistic aim shooting at your author goals.
Readjust your goal to the time you give to your writing every day so you don’t have a reason to beat yourself up.
Want to improve? I’ve got you covered.
What You can do to Grow Your Word Count
Before You Write
The following tips are those that are best used before you continue or start writing your story. You don’t have to do them all, but you may find a mixture to be more helpful than doing just the one. You might also find doing one of these tips on one day, and a different one the next also proves valuable.
Think Over the Coming Scene
This tip is great for when you’re not able to write yet, but you know you will be writing soon, or after you’ve written and you’re thinking about tomorrow’s session. Writers that are also parents are particularly fond of this strategy, because being one of the leaders of your household can take up a lot of free time.
Mindless Tasks to Mind’s Eye
If you finished strong in your last writing session, you’ll remember where you are at in the story and what happened in the scene you wrote. As you’re walking, listening to the friend that never lets anyone else speak, wiping your kid’s bottom or doing some other usually mindless task, think over the next scene you need to write – what need to happen? Does any of the conflict get resolved? Are any of the stakes on show? Do they characters learn anything to help them (clues for example)? Can you imagine one of their conversations in the next scene? Over time this will become second nature to you if you don’t do it already, and you won’t even need to consciously ask questions – the ideas will flow and be visualised in your mind’s eye.
Brainstorms and Mind Maps
Before I write a scene or even a chapter when I’m not sure how to advance, I use either a brainstorm or what starts as a brainstorm and turns into a mind map. Most recently, I’ve used these for the publication draft rewrites of Shotput of Power. Here’s some for those curious. Notice how I keep things pretty simple – I love colour but I opt not to use colour so I’m faster. By using brainstorms, I can organise the information (turning it into a mind map) but the ideas also don’t need to be immediately connected, and can be arranged into the spine of the story (what other writers may call their beats, plot outline, story sequence or story thread).
These are great for both pantsers and plotters, as well as those that do a bit of both like me. Most of the brainstorms and mindmaps I’ve included below from Shotput of Power’s publication draft rewrite had huge chunks that ended up in the story through different ways, or didn’t happen at all – I use brainstorms and mind maps just to unlock the possibilities. Sometimes I’ll then write the next bit of the spine, or head straight into the manuscript and write up what happens in the spine afterwards.
Notes and Bulletpoints
Another writing strategy for both panters and plotters is to quickly write a few notes or bulletpoints. Going back to Shotput of Power, I’ve an example of this too:
This is great because it encourages you not to focus on the how or minute details, but on the essential information you need to write the next scene.
Brief Your Characters
My main series is great for this, as one of my characters holds a rank as a law enforcer and specialised soldier. If you have a character on any mission in your story, or a character who is accompanying a character with a quest, it may be possible for you to talk out loud and “brief” them to determine what they would next. This can be a little difficult to get used to, so here are my tips to get you started:
Pretend to be someone they look up to or report to.
Start the conversation or briefing by recapping on what your characters know, what they’ve done about it and what they just did in the previous scene.
Remind them of their aim, goal or stakes (whichever gets you to imagine their response in more detail).
Ask them why they’ve not managed to succeed so far, what they think they need to do next and why they’re thinking that is their next move.
This should give you a rough idea or a detailed idea about what your characters will do in your next scene.
Remember Your Character’s Conflict and Stakes
Every story should be propelled forwards by two things – your character’s conflict (the what of the story) and your character’s stakes in that story (what forces them to take the action that they do). Beginner writers often struggle to write because their story has no defined conflict, or stakes for the character who they’re writing about within that story. Instead their writing meanders aimlessly, following the character, going on tangents that become fluff to be removed in later versions and feeling flat to readers.
If you cannot pinpoint the conflict for your story (even just as a bulletpoint), this will slow you down.
Take 30 minutes to write a short paragraph for each:
Character – introduce your main character.
Conflict – introduce the conflict that is creating the story, making the story worth the reader’s interest.
Stakes – what propelled your character to take action against or for the conflict?
Here’s an example from one of my newest ideas for a spin-off of my main series:
Character: Geary is the head of the detectives in Wisner City responsible for solving the violent and bizarre murders that take place. As a retired member of the First Legion, he hoped accepting the duties of a detective would let him continue to protect and serve the citizens of his kingdom, a kingdom he adores.
Conflict: As Geary opens an investigation into a sixth ritualistic murder, he learns that his senior officers have been finding ways to mislead his team so their cases remain unsolved, even though they are starting to look connected to one another.
As he and his team investigate their commanding officers as quietly as they can, they discover a plan that sickens Geary to his very core – they, along with some ex-army sorcerers, are planning to kill three more to start a magic chain reaction to give his commanding officers a legion of undead from the city’s population, turning Geary and everyone else into an unthinking pawn.
Stakes: As Geary is fired for getting too close, he discovers that the undead legion is perfectly designed to overthrow the kingdom’s king as he is escorted to his annual conference with allied royalty from around the world, and giving his commanding officers and their allies control of the kingdom through an emergency clause. Realising the magic ritual will kill not only him and his team, but his young family as well, Geary once more must pick up his sword and go against the men that would see his city murdered and his kingdom’s peace destroyed.
Admittedly, this needs fine-tuning and tweaking (like explaining how the royal official captain wouldn’t become in charge of the kingdom). That fine-tuning will happen the further into the story I get once I start writing it (I haven’t yet). I usually find the sweet spot to write it like the above is at the first draft of chapter three.
You’ll often find perfect examples of this on bestsellers’ back copy blurbs, such as Garth Nix’s Sabriel:
In my gift for you, you’ll find more examples of this broken down and explained from the backs of 6 incredibly successful and traditionally published books.
The Five Minute Rule
If you don’t write every day but want to be a serious author, it’s time to start increasing your weekly average. Force yourself to find five minutes a day to work on your story. For example, if you’re a fan of the snooze button, instead of going back to sleep, grab a notepad and a pen from the side of your bed and jot down some quick notes about what could happen next and why. If you’re having fun ideas you find exciting, you’re more likely to take to the five minute rule and write.
Even if you don’t usually, try listening to some mood music as you write. I’m not talking about Linkin’ Park or Lady GaGa, I’m suggesting soundtracks and underscores – the sort of music you’d be more likely find in a film to evoke certain emotions and reactions from you. I created a playlist on Youtube this year for a member in my Writers’ Club and then shared it with everyone. You can find it here too so you can give this a go.
Write Out of Order
Writing your scenes out of order usually means you’ll be attracted to the most important scenes – the ones that will hold the most to keep your attention and that of your readers. This helps remove the fluff and can help create a much stronger story at the end for those who know their character, conflict and stakes well. This doesn’t mean those scenes won’t later be deleted – in one of the books I wrote as a teen, which was written out of order, half of the scenes were completely removed ten years later during the final/publication rewrite draft.
For the competitive people reading this, find another writer (Twitter is great for this) and write at the same time, similar to a writing sprint. You goal is to beat them by 100 words.
Live Writer Events
Sometimes community and camaraderie can help not only to create lasting friendships, but more words on the page too. Online and offline writing events that also encourage you to write or network with other writers may be all you need to create more words on a weekly or monthly basis. I run a few of these online events every year for free, including write-ins and weekly challenge runs.
My Gift to You
If you’ve read to the bottom of this post, I can tell you’re serious about being an author, so I’ve made you a gift package (yours in exchange for membership in my Writer’s Club). To claim it, head on over to my website.
About Drae Box
Drae Box is an author success mentor and fantasy author whose debut fantasy book reached 10,038 downloads and purchases in eight months and eleven days after its release. For a decade, she has picked apart, researched and experimented with different ways authors can build their success, and she would love to share her knowledge with you.