5 successful authors discuss daily word count goals

5 Successful Authors Discuss Daily Word Count Strategies #amwriting #Nanowrimo #authors

As a first-time NaNoWriMo participant—the worldwide community of writers who subject themselves to bleeding 1,667 words a day or 50,000 words total during the month of November—I was confused about how to keep up the pace the rest of the year. And should I? I asked five successful authors to discuss their year-round strategy and was surprised by the differences and flexibility in approaches. See for yourself…

pintip-onlinePintip Dunn is a New York Times bestselling author of YA fiction. Her debut novel Forget Tomorrow won the RWA RITA® award for Best First Book. Her other books include The Darkest Lie, Remember Yesterday, and the novella Before Tomorrow. Find out more about Pintip’s books here or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

“My word count goals depend on where I’m at in the writing process. I start by writing a fast draft—something I call a “zero draft”—in order to get the story down. At this point, my word count goal is usually between 5k and 10k a day. The most I’ve ever written is 14k in a single day. Then, I rewrite the entire manuscript slowly, using the zero draft as a foundation. At the beginning of this stage, my word count is very low—usually 500 or 1k per day. I gradually ramp up as I get comfortable with the voice and characters and figure out the exact plot. Most of the book is written with a 1–2k daily word count goal. And then, I usually zoom to the finish line by writing 2–3k words per day. The longest stage of this process is the zero draft/slow beginning/plotting stage. This can take anywhere from one to six months (or more!) Once I get the plot figured out, I can usually finish a book in a couple months. Promo/marketing definitely cuts into writing time. My best advice is: Get the words in first!”

ben-onlineBenjamin Sobieck is an author of thriller and non-fiction work, including Black Eye: Confessions of a Fake Psychic Detective (winner of the 2016 Watty award, the world’s largest online fiction competition) and The Writer’s Guide to Weapons, which I have recommended to at least three people to date. Ben knows what he’s doing on Wattpad, so follow him there for sure, his website is a treasure trove of weapons knowledge for writers, and you can follow him on Twitter.
“I used to put a lot of stock into daily word counts until our son was born. I figured the time crunch of being a new parent would either put an end to my writing output or temper it to a glacial speed. Instead, the opposite proved true despite the time crunch. I’m more productive now than ever. Why? Because it’s do or die. I learned that quality of time spent writing matters far more than quantity. When you don’t have the choice to mull things over, you write from the gut, and that makes a huge difference in the end result. I’m not suggesting children are a requirement for maximizing writing time, but I do suggest finding a “do or die” component to light that proverbial fire under your butt. If that equals a daily word count, great. But if you find arbitrary goals don’t give you the writing itch, personalize your motivation beyond assembly line production. You’re not just writing a story, are you? You’re chasing an emerging trend in the market or satisfying reader demand or leaving a legacy or proving someone wrong or something else. Find a way to write from the gut and with fire.”

heather-onlineCurrently living in the Pacific Northwest, my editor Heather Ezell is a Southern California native with an affinity for moving and extreme weather. Though by many definitions a high school dropout, Heather ultimately graduated from Colorado College and is now a freelance editor, sometimes-instructor, and can often be found practicing ballet in her kitchen. Heather’s debut YA novel Nothing Left to Burn will be published by Razorbill /Penguin in Spring 2018. Follow her writing journey via her frequently-rambling blogs, GoodreadsTwitter, and Instagram.

“Oh, word counts! Because my life is in constant flux, generally changing by the month, what’s most key for me is flexibility: allowing myself to frequently adapt my writing schedule. The one time I’ll have a must-hit word count is when I’m speed drafting: those days, I aim for 1500-2000 words. But, more frequently, I instead have a designated amount of writing hours (a minimum of three, pretty please.) Likewise for revising, I’ll have developmental goals to hit but my main attention is in regards to the hours at my laptop rather than the words I haphazardly spit onto the screen. I’ve been writing for some ten years now, and for too long, I let the idea of making a daily word count stall me. The pressure of numbers easily consumes me. And yet it took years for me discover that I’m far more productive when I focus on putting time into my draft, nurturing the story, rather than hitting a word count. Truth: I’m often a slow writer. I’m also often a fast writer. Sometimes, I’m a once-a-week writer, though usually I’m an everyday gal. I usually finish a draft in two–four months. Once, it took a year. Regardless, what’s most important is showing up to the page consistently, whatever that means to my current schedule, and maintaining my momentum—keeping my hands deep and dirty in my story. I highly recommend Forest app and StayFocused for tracking time and accountability—both have been game-changers in my work habits!”

michelle_h-2Michelle Hauck is a fantasy writer, whose Birth of Saints series from Harper Voyager currently features Grudging and Faithful with book 3 underway. Check out Michelle’s books and amazing writing contests on her blog and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads

“I attempted NaNoWriMo exactly once and managed to write 20,000 words in one month. That’s a prolific word-count total for me. Better yet, many months later I ended up with a novel called Grudging that sold to Harper Voyager as a trilogy. To be honest, I’m a very slow writer, and I seldom worry about word-count goals. Instead, I focus on producing a chapter a week—however many words that turns out to be. I just can’t shut off the need to edit as I work, which makes speed writing difficult for me. A chapter has to be perfect before I can move forward. It can take over 10 months to write 100,000 words. I long ago learned to shut off fretting about word counts. But on the bright side, when I’m done with the first draft, I’m done. My first draft seldom needs major editing or much polishing. Everyone has a different style. You just need to be aware of what works for you.”

summerlane_u1a3501-1online2Summer Lane is the bestselling author of 15 books, including the Collapse Series, Zero Trilogy, and Bravo Saga. She just released a new novel, Unbreakable SEAL this month. Summer also owns WB Publishing and is an accomplished journalist. Follow her writing journey here and on Twitter, and check out her books on Amazon.

“When it comes to writing a book, there are a couple of sure-fire tricks I have to keep the creativity rolling and the words pouring onto the page. For a 30-day novel, I like to hit 3500–4000 words per day. When I’m not rushing to get a manuscript done, I’ll do somewhere between 1500-2000 words in a day. I always give myself weekends off—always. My brain is usually creatively drained (and exhausted) by the time Friday hits, so I make sure to have a rest period. I didn’t always understand this when I was younger, but with experience comes wisdom, apparently. Pacing yourself is oftentimes smarter than sprinting, when it comes down to it. My average time to finish a manuscript draft is anywhere from 30–90 days (still quick by most standards, but I like to get things done, savvy? *wink*.) I make sure that nothing cuts into my writing time. Marketing, 5 Successful Authors Discuss Daily Word Count Strategies #amwriting #Nanowrimo #authorsconsulting, teaching—all of that is on the side. Writing is number one, always. Anything that interferes with that is removed from my life! I advise aspiring authors to do the same: protect your writing time as fiercely as you would your newborn child. Keep hydrated, eat properly. Keep the windows open if the weather permits. Office yoga or Pilates will keep you relaxed. Stay focused. Write your goals down and tape them to the wall. Don’t let anything distract you! You can do it.”

I’d love to hear your advice, thoughts, complaints on daily word count goals. Please drop them in the comments.


14 thoughts on “5 successful authors discuss daily word count goals

  1. I believe that dedicated consistency is the REAL trick. Whatever it is a writer commits to (an hour, a word count, a weekly goal), if a writer builds that sort of routine, it’ll all work out. I notice that with all the comments above too. I personally work in what I call shifts. (I actually posted a blog about my writing process). The short version is I do something, take a break, then do something else. But whatever I do, I commit to it. My schedule is full. I wish I could do nothing but write, and I wish that everything I wrote was perfect the first time, but the fact is those aren’t realistic aspirations. So I get my writing done. I generally write 1,000 words a day. If I get more time, I expand my goals. Social media, studying for how to do social media well. Editing. World building. Whatever it is. I work a shift, take a break, and repeat the process. That’s just what works for me. Like these other authors though, they have a routine they stick to. Even if it seems random. Masterful consistency breeds masterful performance. That’s my two cents.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I like the idea of shifts as well. During Nanowrimo, I would sit down for two 800-word shifts after I got going. 1,667 is too much for me in one sitting. I, for the life of me, cannot understand how some people finished 50K in half a month. I finished a day early, and it was a struggle to accomplish that.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Last year’s NaNoWriMo was spent trying to elaborate on an idea for a fantasy book that never came to fruition. I fell short by around 20,000 words. This year I hit 100,000+ because the story is familiar to me. I love the characters, the settings, the rich histories of each character; having something like that, something you cannot get enough of, is a huge step in the right direction.

    Editing is a little awful, but I’m trudging through.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. When November is over, I switch to revising and editing for a set amount of TIME everyday and then write as much as is feasible. While I really enjoy the competitive nature of the word count tracker for November, the rest of the year it is QUALITY over quantity that keeps me going…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good for you. I still have another 25K to go on my Nanowrimo novel, which I may do all in January. 25K in a month seems easy compared to the craziness of 50K in November. The Hop is taking up all my December time this year, and I can’t wait to get back to writing.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I always find the word count goal of Nano a real encouragement and it keeps me going all month – I always try to keep myself two days ahead of the target so I have a cushion for any days I cant write… the rest of the year I really struggle to find the motivation! I think I need a regular Nano to give me a push 🙂


  5. Pintip Dunn and I have nearly identical writing habits and daily word counts. It’s funny, because I cobbled out my habit on my own through trial and error. I thought it was unique. It’s kind of funny seeing someone with an uncanny likeness in writing habits.


  6. Oh I wanted to mention an addendum to my post. I do micro shifts all day. I’ll do 100 words, catch up on Twitter. 200 words, catch up on Pinterest. The numbers are arbitrary. I just do a few paragraphs. This way, I can stay on top of social media. I also get a better word count. I have ADHD and can rarely stay focused long enough for one big stint.


  7. What a great post – I love hearing about different authors’ writing processes. It’s funny how common it is for wordcount to vary depending on where one is in the writing/rewriting cycle. I’m still quite rigid about doing a set amount per day, but maybe it’s not the most creative way to work. Food for thought!


  8. Thanks for this! Comparison of these writers’ different workstyles is fascinating. My big takeaway from NaNoWriMo this year is that focusing on word count takes some of the joy out of the writing process, and it actually *gasp* slows me down. I’ll explore what this means in terms of changing my workstyle next month, but it may take several months to figure out how to stay focused on enjoying my writing time.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s