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One Trick that Helps With Meeting Daily Word Count Goals

Thursday, November 29, 2012


By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I recently finished writing THE END of a novel. I wrote almost half of the book during the month of November for National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo). I'd already written 50,000 words of the manuscript during the fall, and decided to challenge myself to finish the last 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo.

This was the first time I've participated in NaNoWriMo. In the past, I've always had one excuse or another for not jumping on the bandwagon. But since I have a couple of editing deadlines on other books looming ahead, I decided to finish my WIP (work-in-progress) in one fell swoop, rather than having to take breaks from it while I edit.

As I was writing furiously this past month, I realized that I've developed one trick (or technique) over the years that helps me meet my daily word count goals most days. The trick works whether I challenge myself to 1000 words a day or 3000. I can still meet my daily goals . . . when I do one small thing.

Here's my trick: I break down my daily goal into smaller 30 minute challenges.

Here's how I do it: I use a sticky note by the side of my lap top, and I jot down how many words I hope to write in those 30 minutes as well as what time I need to have it done by. Let's say at 10:00 am I've reached 80,500 words. On my sticky note I write my next target: 80,800 by 10:30 (which means I need to write 300 words in 30 minutes).

Since I'm a fairly slow writer, I've learned that 300 words is doable for me in 30 minutes. Maybe some writers can do 500. Some might do less. The point is to make the goal achievable.

Then I start writing and don't quit until I reach that 30 minute deadline. I don't allow myself to dawdle every few minutes on facebook or twitter. I don't stop to research or check email. I don't even allow myself a coffee break. I keep my butt in the chair and write hard.

Most of the time I end up pretty close to my goal. And once the 30 minutes is up, I give myself another 30 minute challenge. (Or take a mini break if I've been working a while.) I keep resetting the challenges until my word count goal for the day is met.

The point is that the smaller increment of 30 minutes gives us a tangible, doable deadline. Sometimes an hour might feel too long, and we may get frustrated with knowing how to pace ourselves. A shorter chunk of time helps us stay on track and keeps us motivated and focused.

I finished my 50,000 NaNoWriMo words 30 minutes at a time all month long. Some days I had 30 minutes in the morning, then again in the afternoon, and maybe an hour at night. Other days I had three hours straight. Either way, I always gave myself 30 minute challenges. And it all adds up to a completed book . . . eventually!

How about you? What tricks do you have to meet your writing goals? What motivates you and keeps you on track?

25 comments:

  1. This is excellent advice. Every time I break a task into smaller chunks it feels more approachable and less intimidating. I haven't applied this to writing yet, but you're right, I am sure it will work very nicely. Thank you for the idea.

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  2. It's a tremendous tip, Jody, and one that goes right along with current research, i.e., we are more productive if we "rest" between segments (I believe your agent wrote about this recently).

    There's a cool (and free if you use it online) program that can help: Dr. Wicked's Write or Die. You can tell it how many minutes you want to write and how many words you want to produce. If you stop clacking the keyboard for some length of time, the screen will start to turn red. If you still don't type, a most obnoxious sound will issue from your speakers. The only way to stop it is to write.

    It's a good kickstart if you're having trouble getting going. Congrats on the 50k.

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    1. Thank you!! And that sounds like a great program! I'm definitely going to have to give it a try with my next WIP.

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  3. Thanks Jody. I'm a slow writer as well. I'll certainly give that tip a try.

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  4. I don't use mini goals like that, but I do sit myself down at the same times every day and write for an hour straight each time. I'm usually pretty good at hitting my goals, but I have a lot of natural drive. Focusing on a project isn't hard for me. If anything, I tend to get too focused.

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  5. This post came at a great time for me! I have been struggling (and feeling quite overwhelmed and discouraged actually) about how I'm going to fit everything in my schedule including my writing. I've been working on my writing goals for 2013 and there just doesn't seem to be enough time in the day for everything I need to do! But I bet I'm not the only one with this problem! No matter how I look at it it feels like I can't do it without sacrificing my health, my family, or my writing...none of which I want to do. I'm going to try to grab little bits and pieces of time instead of waiting for that nice uninterrupted chunk of time to write that may never come. This 30 minute goal technique might be just what I need!

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  6. This is similar to the 90 minute increments that Rachelle blogged about earlier this week. I shared on her blog that one of my tricks is writing a scene, then taking a break to do a chore, writing another scene, taking a break to do a chore, and on and on. This helps me do the increments, and it helps me get my house cleaned, which usually looms over my head as I'm typing (if I don't have a plan to deal with it).

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    1. I read Rachelle's blog as well. These smaller increments are much more realistic for most of us.

      Word count goals are easily mapped out on Scrivener. This is something I plan to use now that I've purchased the program.

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  7. I do exactly what Gabe described. It typically takes me an hour and a half (90 min) to write a scene of 1,500 words, so that's how I've been trying to keep up with my goals this month. It works for me.

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  8. I break my writing up into five minute, ten minute, or fifteen minute increments. In five minutes I have found that I can write about 200 words. If I'm really sure of where or the words are just coming fast I can write 250 words in five minutes. However, if I'm that sure of myself, I usually pick one of the larger goals. Ten minutes tends to yield between 400 and 500 words. And fifteen minutes gives me about 600 words or more. I'm not sure I could write for thirty minutes straight without a break, but I think it's awesome that you can.

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  9. I like this trick. I've never tried to count how quickly I can get words on the page; I think it varies depending on how difficult the scene is...maybe I need to try yesterday's trick and outline them. :)

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  10. I love, love, love the 1K1HR group on Facebook. You log in and say you're starting at :30 or whatever. If others are getting ready to write too, they'll join you. Then your goal is to write 1,000 words in one hour. When the hour is up, you post your word count.

    Two awesome things about this. First, it makes me sit down and analyze the scene I'm about to write. What's the point of the scene? Who's in it? Where are they? What are my goals? How will this advance the plot? Who's the POV character? I sometimes even write down snippets of dialog.

    When that hour starts, I'm ready. And I typically meet my goal.

    Second thing I love is the community. People cheer each other on, congratulate each other over word count. Writing is such an all-by-yourself endeavor. Months of it. But to be able to check in with people (oh, yeah, third cool thing! Accountability!) and have and give that encouragement makes you want to keep going.

    Last time I mentioned this on the ACFW loop, the group jumped in size, so we'll see what happens this time! :)

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  11. Hi, I tagged you here,
    http://duffybarkley.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-next-big-thing-blog-hop.html
    in the hope that you would be willing to answer some questions about your next book? Hope you don't mind. I love your writing.

    Dixie Goode


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    1. Thank you so much for the offer, Dixie! That's so sweet of you! But I had my big blog tour earlier and the fall and am currently taking a break from that! Thanks, though! Wishing you all the best!

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  12. I love the idea of a visual. It would hold me more accountable to see the actual number written down, staring at me, challenging me. Thanks, Jody.

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  13. I do something similar. I recognized that I couldn't just sit and write for long periods of time, so I set a 15 minute time limit and tell myself to write for that long and I can reward myself with 15 minutes of Facebook or whatever. It works!

    I found if I'm working hard I can write about 1500 words in half an hour. I type quick ;)

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  14. Yeah...that's a great idea! I've been having like 20 minute word wars where we have to write a certain amount of words in like 20 minutes, with my friend, which is pretty fun and helps gets words on the page.

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  15. I was doing 2 hr writing sprints with CPs and that helped. A lot. BUT 30 mins increments I bet will help a lot more. I am going to try this when I start my next project. Thank you so much for sharing this, Jody!

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  16. Whoo-hoo, Jody!! Congrats! :-)
    So happy that you're so dedicated to your writing. I can't wait till A Noble Groom! No seriously. I know I've said it before but I've been thinking about the book in the last minutes or so and now I'm SOO excited! *Grinning*

    You, go Jody!

    Thanks for this inspiring post.

    :-)

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  17. I really like this idea and have recently started doing something similar myself. It definitely helps to keep me focused and motivated.

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  18. 30 minute writing sessions definitely sound reasonable. I do find myself getting distracted when I'm working on the computer, because I have Internet access. I always tell myself that I'm just going to take a five-minute break to check e-mail or read a couple news articles, but five-minutes turns into fifteen minutes, etc...

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  19. Great tip, Jody! I think it helps to use any gimmick that prods us forward. I like the #1k1hr challenges on Twitter, and my little Focus Booster widget that puts a timer in the corner of my screen. Sometimes, though, the push to meet a challenge, self-imposed or otherwise, can build so much tension that I panic and can't concentrate on the words. Those are the times I have to take a break to relax and refresh.

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  20. Great tips! Thanks so much for sharing.

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  21. Excellent advice! For someone with little kids running underfoot 30 minute increments sounds perfect!

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  22. Thanks so much for sharing this tip - I'll try it soon!

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