An Alternative to Word Count Targets; Writing Legacy

I’ve never liked word counts. The pressure if you’re not on your game, grinding out words as you push your story uphill, or, blasting past your target easily but with the nagging feeling that tomorrow might not be such a cake walk so should you stop and save some momentum for tomorrow or carry on?

If you go for a target, how many words do you choose? The internet will provide you with a wide range of targets and reasoning behind it. If it works for you, great.

I hate them because real life gets in the way so you need to be flexible. I’ve just given my third novel to some beta readers to get some feedback and I’ve completed those three novels without a word count target.

I look at my ‘writing performance’ from the point of view; what have I done today that contributes to my writing legacy?

Sounds high and mighty but what I mean is this; producing written work requires more than simply writing. You have to think, take notes, research, edit, promote and more. You cannot produce a good piece of writing without any of those things yet they’d fail any word count target.

Thinking about a writing legacy also allows space for those really shitty writing days when nothing is going on the page with any kind of cunning or craft. During the writing phase of your project, you do need to sit down everyday and write but when you ain’t feeling it, don’t beat yourself up. This is meant to be fun, for both you and the reader. Close up your laptop, take another look through your notes, have a little think, then sleep on it. More often than not, the next day will reward your endeavour.

I find the most important aspect to getting things written is momentum. Yesterday I may have only edited one paragraph in an hour but maybe that one paragraph required one hour’s worth of editing. Now that really tough paragraph is out the way, I can continue the next day and hopefully be a lot more productive.

On the other hand, on another day I may have written a whole chapter in an hour, but maybe that was because it was a chapter where I knew how everything was going to happen and had a really positive feeling about it. This writing game is swings and roundabouts but I find the carrot of feeling good about doing something everyday, no matter how small, is a much greater motivator and keeps that all important momentum ticking along more effectively than a stick beating you when a certain word count hasn’t been acheived.

I also include side projects as a tick in the writing legacy category. Writing this blog post counts. Maybe a poem I feel the urge to write or a short story.

A different way to look at what counts as part of your writing legacy and what doesn’t is to imagine you’ve died, what will scholars want to save and put in a museum? Poems, notebooks, novels, short stories? Yes. Promotional activities that will hopefully make your writing legacy more valuable? Yes. Shopping lists, emails to your internet provider, that weekend you smashed the Game of Thrones boxset, that weekend you smashed xhamster? No.

Having a day off and reading do not count towards your writing legacy but they are part of a healthy literary diet so have a day off every now and then to keep things fresh, to enable you to ‘miss’ writing and to catch up on some reading too.

…And that’s a tick in the writing legacy column for today.