The Word Count

I’ve been writing about “counts” a lot–pitch counts, word counts…when I get to “blood counts,” cut me off, okay?

A friend of mine, Jessica Park, author of the delightful Gourmet Girl mysteries, posed a question on Facebook a few weeks back. She wanted to know what her fellow authors’ daily word count was. In other words, how many words does each author aspire to write every day? People chimed in with a variety of responses, from “1000words is a great day for me,” to “any amount as long as they’re good.” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the drift. My response?

“If it’s the week before deadline, 45,000. Otherwise, 10.”

I’m really hoping my editor, also a Facebook friend, didn’t see that confession.

Due to the fact that I work full time—or maybe because I have Attention Deficit Disorder—I have a very scattershot approach to writing. If the mood strikes, I’ll put everything aside for an hour or two and write away. For instance, I had a great idea for the current work-in-progress last week, and banged out 5000 words, some of them pretty good, the rest just okay. That’s what revision is for. To my mind right now, though, they are there and they are words and they count. Other weeks, I won’t touch the WIP at all, focusing instead on my paying work, for which I have rolling deadlines and obligations that eat up anywhere between eight and twelve hours every day.

My deadline every year for a new Alison Bergeron mystery is New Year’s Eve. Generally, by about October, I have three quarters of a first draft which I mull over between Halloween and December 1st. Then, once December hits, I kick it into high gear and write the rest of the first draft, focusing on revising while trying to Christmas shop, meet work deadlines, and decorate the house for the holidays. All in all, December is a very stressful month. I usually finish the shopping, I always finish the book, and I never decorate the house to my liking.

I wish I was one of those writers who could sit down and bang out a thousand or so words every day, regardless of whether or not they are good words. I find that the more I write, the better I become and the more I want to write. But life—and work—keep intervening and I have a hard time finding a routine that works for me.

There are things I should do in order to establish a writing routine. Let’s ignore them for the time being and focus, instead, on things I won’t do to establish a regular writing routine:

1. Get up at 4 a.m. Some things are just not worth the bother.
2. Stay up until midnight. How would I get my ten hours of beauty sleep with that bed time?
3. Write on the weekends. This will only happen between the dates December 15th and December 31st. (Remember that yearly deadline?)
4. Write during my lunch hour. Lunch hour? What’s that?
5. Write at the local coffee shop to avoid interruptions. That would involve leaving the house. And that’s just not going to happen.

What do you do to establish a writing schedule? And what is your daily word count?

Maggie Barbieri

6 replies
  1. The Stiletto Gang
    The Stiletto Gang says:

    My best writing time is between 9 pm and midnight. And that's just not enough hours without adding on some weekend afternoons. I wish I could make myself write on command but I have to sneak up on it. You know, jog around the computer, then when no one is looking, make a sudden dash for my keyboard, getting some words out before my brain thinks of something else I should be doing.

    aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

  2. Vicky Polito
    Vicky Polito says:

    I don't have a word count I move toward but a story milestone. I get it into my head, for example, that today I want to get from the scene wherein Jack is headed to the airport to the scene wherein Sara is searching his hotel room for a cigarette and finds the flash drive hidden. Or, if it's not a script, I'll want to move the story from a birthday party to a car wash and more importantly from the element of story that occurs in each place.

    After that, when I stop for the day, I take a look back at what I have, see what should be first to get reworked the next day and usually give some sort of judgment like "hmm, pretty thin for four hours" or "wow, I wonder how much of all this is usable".

    I work most weekdays from about 9a to about 12p and then again from about 12:30p to 3p (tea break and dinner prep), then the last run is from about 3:30p to 5p. That's about 7 hrs a day and it's not a schedule without some flex, but that's the average one. It includes my paid job of ghost-writing and story development for scripts, etc., along with my own fiction writing. If I have lots of paid deadlines, I'll start earlier than 9a and/or there will be evening hours and some less of my own writing gets done. Weekends are the last resort, but they happen.

    The rest of the day I manage our home life: groceries, laundry, dry-cleaner runs, cooking, car maintenance, trips to the vet, gardening, etc. I take advantage of this life-style in that I will break the schedule to go out with friends or do some gift shopping or take a knitting class, etc.

    I feel it must be said that being child free really, really opens up that schedule!

    And that's when I call it a day.

  3. Rachel Brady
    Rachel Brady says:

    I love this post and I've tried everything on your Won't Do list except #1 because, as you well know Maggie, 4:00 a.m. is for exercise. Right? =)

    My version of your coffee shop is the library.

    I've put it all on hold for a while and am shifting to your #4, the lunch hour. It's the only place left I can squeeze in the time.

    I don't really care when you do it, frankly. Just give us more Alison. 🙂

  4. Susan McBride
    Susan McBride says:

    I'm with Vicky in that my object each day is to write a particular scene or transition or whatever, rather than aiming for a certain number of words. When a deadline is approaching (like now!), I try to sit my butt in the chair and write everyday. I'm kind of ADD about it, writing a bit, checking emails, jumping up to do laundry/getmail/runerrands, and then back to writing again. Somehow, things manage to get done. But when I try to pick apart how that happens, everything becomes a little fuzzy! I don't know how people write in coffee shops either, Maggie! I would be people-watching and making mental notes about that instead of working!


  5. Misa
    Misa says:

    Ha! Schedule? During Summer? I WISH. Seriously, I wish. Kids and no schedules is WAY harder for me than kids with schedules.

    I need to get serious with word count though!

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