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Consistent, Small Word Counts Will Get Your Novel Finished

by The Procrastinating Writer on July 1, 2009

courtesy of Bombardier
courtesy of Bombardier

By Jennifer Blanchard

This post was inspired by fiction author Holly Lisle. Holly has been a full-time fiction writer for 17 years now and she’s been able to do this because she actually sits down and gets her writing done.

A couple days ago, she invited the readers of her blog to join her in writing a novel.

Currently, she’s penning her most recent novel, DTD (this is the abbreviation she uses. I’m not sure what it stands for). She is expecting it to run somewhere around 300,000 words.

Since writing 300,000 words using a consistent, but small word count will take her a while, she has invited her readers who are interested in writing a novel to join her in one of three ways:

  • Beginners: Write your minimum of 250 words, five days a week.
  • Intermediate: Pace Holly. Each night she’ll post her word count for the day. That word count becomes your word count for the next day that you write. You take off on days when she’s off and you’ll likely finish your novel before her (since the typical novel is around 100,000 words and she’s going for triple that).
  • Advanced: Pick your own word count, write five days a week and post your progress updates on her blog.

For more details about Holly’s “rules” for writing your book alongside her, check out her blog, Pocket Full of Words.

I was supposed to start writing my second novel on June 15. I decided I was going to put it off until the end of the summer so I could concentrate on other things (namely this blog and finishing my writing productivity tips book that you all have been asking about and waiting for!).

But with a small, consistent word count, I think I can do both–keep working on the other projects I have going on AND write my second novel.

A small word count ranges from writing 250 to 500 words on five days of the week.

That’s it. It’s SO simple.

And writing 250 words is a breeze. Two hundred-fifty words is about one page.

Do you think you can write one page of fiction a day? Do you want to write along with Holly and me? Have you ever written in small word counts? How did it work for you?

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Chad July 1, 2009 at 12:27 pm

I found this article via your Twitter, but the link was broken… so I had to navigate a little.

An interesting idea. I have just recently begun posting 500+- words every M/W/F on my own blog, just to keep me writing. That has turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done to keep going.

Thanks for the post!

2 Tiffani Jones July 1, 2009 at 2:32 pm

I used to use this method in grad school: just sitting down to write, little by little, each day until my finals were finished. It hurt at first but whenever I did my final papers were far better and easier to finish.

Good call. Thanks!

3 Laura Lee Bloor July 1, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Right now, I too am focusing on trying to get back into a steady posting groove on my blog. Most of my entries are well over 250 words. Then we’ll see if I can find some extra time to devote to other writing projects. I definitely agree with the “a little bit goes a long way” approach. I think I’ve said this before, but my own little mantra is “Slow and steady wins the race.” Those lessons we learn as kids are so useful!

4 pea.elle July 1, 2009 at 6:27 pm

I think it’s absolutely essentail to pace yourself toward a writing goal just like anything else.

Recently, I’ve been procrastinating, and blocked, even though I have the gift of free time now to write. (Oh, no..what a waste, huh?!)

I realized I had to do something else to train my mind to see something through to the finish line. I took up running, did timed miles, then a half marathon, then weekly runs. I learned how to pace myself to finish the distance I wanted. “Just one step,” tranlsates into “just one word makes the next word, makes a sentence, makes a paragraph, makes a page, makes a novel….”

Running translated well into writing. I’m still procrastinating now, hence posting on this site instead of writing, but at least I have the mental strength to keep striving toward my writing deadline.

5 The Procrastinating Writer July 1, 2009 at 7:53 pm

@LauraLeeBloor You know, I’m starting to see that slow and steady really does win the race (just like you said). My new writing mantra is: “Don’t get it right, get it written” (James Thurber).

@pea.elle You’re absolutely right! One word makes the next word and the next word…Keep at it. You’ll get there.

6 gin July 7, 2009 at 3:20 am

Quick note for the curious -> DTD = Dreaming the Dead, her current working title. 😉 Some of the scenes she’s told about are sooo intriguing.

7 The Procrastinating Writer July 7, 2009 at 3:43 pm

@gin Thanks for letting us know! I was trying to figure it out, but all I could find was DTD.

8 Andy Bee July 8, 2009 at 10:16 am

I have been working on my first novel since April 2006, fitting it around work, home, family, classic cars and every other distraction that life offers. Rather than try to drop anything, I managed to get hold of an old HP Jornada PDA from eBay, then a Netbook so I could utilise all that ‘wasted’ time that crops up during the day. Five minutes here, ten minutes there all added up to useful time – better than listening to the radio or drumming my fingers. Within two years I had constructed my Mileu (it’s a fantasy novel), developed my characters and thrashed out my plot…and 197,000 words!

I’d like to mention that writing at this slow pace allowed my work to time to ‘ferment’. I firmly believe that if I’d written as if a deadline was snapping at my heels, I would never have achieved a ‘full colour’ novel – more likely a black-and-white version.

Every week I cheered myself up by doing a word count and was consistently surprised by my own pace. Yes, two years is a long time, but compare that to never writing at all..!
Whatever you choose to do, keep plugging away at it and don’t be daunted by that target!

9 The Procrastinating Writer July 8, 2009 at 12:26 pm

@Andy Bee Writing at a slow, but consistent pace definitely allows your story time to ferment and become better and better. I’m glad this method helped you finish your novel. (And thanks for all your comments!!)

10 Gerhi Janse van Vuuren July 9, 2009 at 2:10 am

I have been writing with Holly this past couple of weeks only trying to do more than 250 words a day. I am now over 3000 for my project and the word count keeps creeping up.

Doing it like this (effectively one page a day) is very doable with the only drawback I see so far the fact that you will have to keep the book in the back of your mind for a long time.

But if you are short on time this is the way to do it.

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