Driving Yourself to Write
As a writer, our number one mission is to get the word on the page, to tell a story and get readers. I’m not here to explain how to become a good writer or to tell a compelling narrative. There are plenty of resources out there to help you get a foot in the door, but I take such different roads that I’m not even sure I’d be a good resource in that regard.
There are many things that you can do to get words on the page, to drive yourself forward, but the number one thing for me is to know what targets I need to hit. I focus on word count rather than pages.
Pages can lie.
A little fun fact (one which might still be alive and true): a lot of people used 250 words x page count = total word count. This came from a simple belief that you could fit twenty-five lines per page, ten words per line using Courier New font. This doesn’t account for good writing practices, like white space, or eventualities like chapters ending two lines into a page. However, even within the past few years, I’ve heard contest heads say that if a short story goes past a certain number of pages, they throw it away because it has broken the guidelines by being too long. It’s by no means a standard, but it’s an older school thought process.
All this to say: it’s more important to get the words out than to worry about the page. For me, I set a standard word goal for the week (say 10,000 words), then do my damndest to break it. Then, if I do so, I push myself a little harder the next week (say 12,500 or even 15,000). The quickest I’ve ever finished a novel was in 16 days using this method. It may not have been the cleanest or the best manuscript, but the words were on the page and they can always be edited in post.
There are two tools that I’d recommend to help you focus on word count, as well as hit your goals. The first would be a program called Write or Die. The idea here is that you set a word count target or time limit (or both) and, if you stop writing, it will remind you, chastise you, or penalize you for stopping until you hit your goal. Personally, I set it to fifteen minutes with an eleven second “grace period” before it starts deleting my words. Which means that I have to write or I lose all my progress. For those of you that aren’t as masochistic as me, you can also set it to play an annoying sound or to throw a popup on your screen that gently reminds you to write. I’ve never really tried these, instead I opted to just be thrown against the wall and beaten if I didn’t write. To each their own. Just for reference, I tend to write about 750 words every fifteen minutes using this tool (with five minutes breaks in between).
The other tool I’d recommend would be a spreadsheet tracker. These are great for setting specific word counts, within a reasonable time frame. Let’s say you want to spend three months writing your next novel (something that Stephen King does – otherwise he throws out the manuscript because it “isn’t working.”), you could use a Wordcount Tracker to know exactly how many words a day you need to write to finish on time. I personally use Abby Annis’s trackers, though I haven’t been able to dig into the year-long versions yet.
Focus on word count, make it a goal and let the story flow from there. The thing I’ve found focusing on the words rather than the pages is that I tell the story that comes naturally to me rather than fretting about each decision. It allows my characters to breathe and do what they need to accomplish instead of me mucking about with their lives. Of course, letting your characters run your story for you is an entirely different issue.
Justin D. Herd is a Fantasy Noir author, who has been writing novels for ten years. He absolutely loves dark, twisted stories that take readers into unexpected places. Horror movies are his passion and he often takes stories to task for not logically thinking out their concepts. His home has been invaded by three eccentric cats, one of which is obssesed with all things digital. He is married with two children.