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3 Tips for Achieving Word Count

Updated: Mar 9, 2020

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NaNoWriMo is underway, and with it, writers everywhere are eking out word count.

If you’ve been living under a rock, National Novel Writing Month is an annual writing project which—should you choose to participate—involves attempting to write 50,000 words during the month of November. Crazy, I know.

Let me first make this disclaimer: I have not personally participated in NaNoWriMo. Kudos to you brave souls who have. I’m not a prolific writer, so I’m going to be happy if I can get to 50,000 words in my current book project, and in four months instead of four weeks. That being said, between my personal writing and a recent copy-writing job, this month word count has been on my mind.

Word count.

Oh, how I dreaded those words while I was in school. Some of my classmates struggled to keep their assignments within the maximum word count; I had the opposite problem. I was known for being succinct, and that brevity translated into my writing. I just could not puff up a paper with wordy, repetitive thoughts to meet the required length. Brief and to-the-point—that was my style. Maybe it was because I wasn’t passionate about the Byronic hero archetype or an analysis of Hemingway, or maybe I simply lacked the skills to embellish and develop my ideas. Whatever the reason, I always breathed a sigh of relief when I reached word count.

If you’re one of those people who can just pour out paragraphs on to the page, good for you. I envy you! For the rest of us, I’ve discovered that a little discipline goes a long way when it comes to writing at length. In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, here are some tips to help you make word count.

Break down your goal.

Starting with a blank page can be daunting. Set a daily or weekly word-count goal for yourself. I like weekly goals because when life happens, I can still stay on track by making up the word count on another, less busy day. Do the math to figure out how much you need to write daily or weekly to meet your deadline. For example, if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, and you write Monday through Friday, you’d need to write 2,500 words per day, or 12,500 words per week, to finish 50,000 words in a month.

Make a plan.

Make a realistic plan to achieve your goals. Start by looking at the calendar and carving out times to write in your schedule. Remember, the plan can be flexible. Having “enough” time is a matter of priorities. You might need to shift some priorities, at least temporarily, to make room to write. It might be helpful to plan where you will write as well. On lunch break I’ll take my laptop to the courtyard, on Thursday I’ll go to the coffee shop after lunch until I pick up the kids from school, or tonight I’ll lock myself away in my office.

Seek accountability.

Writing may be a solitary sport, but you need others for support. Tell your spouse or a friend about your writing or word count goals and discuss how they can help you achieve them. Join a critique group where you are required to submit regularly. If you are setting deadlines for yourself, tell someone who will follow up with you.

Speaking from experience, the more you practice, the better you get at churning out those words, sentence by sentence. If you wait to write until you feel inspired, you’ll have some amazing ideas, but you probably won’t have a book. Take those moments of inspiration as the gift they are, and the rest of the time, buckle down and write!


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