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This Writing Life: The Virtues of Smaller Word Counts

30 November, 2012

Everything about my writing life at the moment seems to be geared to making the most of what little time I have free. I’ve written here about having to adapt. I’ve tried a five-day stint of big word counts to get ahead on a novella – which was successful, but is not something I can keep up all the time. I’ve tried, too, just writing on days when I have a significant amount of free time, but that, I’ve realised, isn’t going to be enough.

So, where am I now? It’s time for another experiment. Dozens of writers, amateurs and pros, all across the internet and beyond, espouse the virtues of writing every day. It’s generally been a philosophy I’ve agreed with, as keeping up momentum on a project is vital for me if I want to actually finish things. I can’t count the number of novels I’ve started but never finished, because I’ve taken a break on them and either lost interest or simply can’t remember what I was doing when I go back.

Which brings us to writing every day. Sounds great, right? But where does that fit in when you’ve got a busy life? After steadily increasing my word count over the years to a solid 2k a day, I’ve now had to revert to the tactics of writers everywhere who are pushed for time. The formula is simple: write every day, but write fewer words.

I’ve plumped for 500, because that feels non-scary and easy to achieve. I can write 500 words in 20 minutes, on a good day, and tend to find I’ve either written 500 before I know it, or I reach my target and decide to keep going, because I’m not yet out of steam. As a result, I have been writing every day, and it’s a great feeling.

500 words a day, though, you might be thinking, aren’t going to get me anywhere fast. Well, maybe not fast, no, but consistency is the key. Here’s a quick calculation for you. What’s 500 words multiplied by 365 days a year? 182,500, that’s what, and for 20 minutes a day, I consider that a pretty impressive figure. That could be two short novels, one (very) long one, or one of medium length and a dozen short stories. Although I’m aware that writing every single day might actually be out of my reach, anything close to that output isn’t too shoddy for a year’s work.

So, this is my call to all the busy writers of the world: 500 words a day, every day. It doesn’t sound like much, and it’s not going to win you NaNoWriMo, but it could get you into a habit that’s going to see you writing at least a book a year, and that’s a great feat to achieve.

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