The Benefits of a Daily Word Goal

In honour of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for those who haven’t heard of it before), I thought I’d write down some thoughts on the benefits of having a daily word goal.

First, it’s important to point out that opinions are divided about keeping a daily word count. When I was in graduate school, my adviser told me that focusing on writing a certain amount of words per day was the wrong way of going about composition. In his opinion, this led to my writing being, at times, a little unfocused. What’s more, it seemed that a lot of people agreed with him. Needless to say, I didn’t, though at the time I struggled to articulate why that was the case.

While I think there’s something to that advice in regards to academic writing–a focus on productivity can sometimes distract from the equally important issues of focus, clarity, and brevity–for me I just have to produce in order to feel like I’m really writing. Admittedly, some of this is chaff that will get ditched in the final version, but it’s just a part of how I work. I’ve tried to work in other ways, but it just never seems to gel for me.

I usually set myself a pretty high goal, because I know that, as a result of both being able to type quickly and having a pretty strong sense of what my narratives are going to look like, I can usually meet them. Usually, I try to make meeting my daily writing goal the first thing I do during the day’s work. Once I accomplish this, I feel like I can move on to other aspects of the writing process, such as revision and polishing (which, for me, take a significantly longer time than the original composition).

From my point of view, having a daily word goal is particularly important for those just starting on the writing journey, whether it’s part of participating in NaNo, or whether it’s unrelated. New writers often struggle with finding the momentum to keep going, to keep pushing forward, to keep putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and getting those ideas out there. Setting a daily word goal–one that is realizable but ambitious–can give you that added bit of motivation.

Just as importantly, however, it’s a good motivator to help you stay motivated. I’m not one of those writers who has to wait for the muse to hit before I sit down and start writing (if I did that, I don’t think that I’d ever get anything done). Typically, I just sit down at the computer and start writing. For those for whom this isn’t the case, however, knowing that you have an obligation–to yourself if to no one else–to meet a certain goal can be quite an imperative. If you’re so inclined, I’d also suggest joining a group of other writers, either through Twitter (which has a very supportive writing community) or in person. This will ensure that you have a level of accountability, even when it doesn’t happen to be #NaNo.

As with all things having to do with writing, however, it’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all model for the process. If you don’t want to set yourself a goal that’s fine, but if you do, make sure that it’s one that you can reasonably attain. Spend a couple of days just writing, to get a sense of just how many you can reasonably expect to do in a given day. Once you do that, you’ll have a good idea of what you can accomplish, so base your daily writing goal off of that. Then, the key is consistency. Before you know it, you’ll find that you’ve produced a substantial body of work.

A final cautionary word. While I personally flourish when working toward a daily goal, I have to make sure of two things. First, I make sure that, even if I don’t meet my goal, that I don’t get discouraged and let that keep me from continuing. Second, I make sure to build in days off. It’s important to make sure that you give yourself time away from writing.

That’s all for today. Happy writing, everyone!