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Ways To Track Your Writing That Isn’t Word Count

When you can’t seem to make your word count goal, shift to one of these instead.

It’s that time of year again, when all your novelist friends hunker down and spend hours pounding away on their keyboards writing their novels. That’s right, National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) is in full swing.

If you’re not familiar, the event happens every November, and writers spend all month trying to write 1,667 words every day with the hopes of writing 50,000 words of a novel by the end of the month. The non-profit organization that started the internet-famous challenge uses the event to raise money for teaching writing and creativity in various forms. It’s a worthy cause to donate to, so check them out.

But what’s so special about November? Other than November 1 being National Author’s Day, not much. What the challenge does do is get would-be writers into a habit of making writing a priority.

Professional writers (and non-professional ones who write as a hobby) can bang out 1,667 words in no time, but they didn’t start out that way. Writing, like any creative endeavor, is something to be practiced. The only way to get good at writing is by, well, writing. Nanowrimo gives writers a jump start into making writing a reality.

Writing dreams are just dreams until you can see the reality of what you’re building, which is why tracking word count works so well. Having an end goal (50,000 words) and seeing yourself make progress toward it every day can be motivating.

For some people. Not me. When I see how many words I have to write in a day, I freeze. Maybe it’s because I was never good at math, and I have a difficult time conceptualizing numbers, but the thought of having to write to a specific word count makes my brain hurt. I get so stressed out about the amount that I have to write that I begin to lose sight of what I’m actually writing. I begin to write fluff just so that I can make word count for the day, which makes editing that much more tedious.

If this sounds like you, I have a few tips on tracking your progress that doesn’t rely on word count.

Time Goals

Set a timer for 30 minutes and just write. Take a break and do it again. If you look at your word count, it’s likely way bigger than you expected it to be. When you take the focus off the number of words and just write for a few minutes, it’s much easier to reach an arbitrary word count goal.

Scene Goals

Just sit down and write one scene (or two, or three, or however many you’ve planned to). Maybe you have a set number of scenes that you want in your book. Maybe you’re making the story up as you go and have no idea how many scenes you’ll have. Either way, your book needs scenes, and the average book has about 50 to 60 of them.

By committing to writing just one scene every day, you’ll have completed your book in 50 to 60 days. That’s roughly two months! Sure, it’s not a month like Nanowrimo wants from you, but it’s still done.

Chapter Goals

If you like to plan your books before you start writing, you likely have an idea of how many chapters your book will have. The average chapter has about three to five scenes, and the word count of those chapters can be anywhere between 1,000 to 5,000 words in length.

Chapter goals also give you a bigger sense of satisfaction because you get that feeling of completion every time you finish a chapter.

Story Beat Goals

This is a more board goal. Think of it like having a road map for your story so you know where you’re heading. Story beats are mostly used by writers of genre fiction, but literary fiction needs to have a semblance of structure as well.

The basic beats of a story are:

  1. The inciting incident: this includes the catalyst that will take your protagonist on their journey

  2. The midpoint: including any rising action scenes that lead up to…

  3. The climax: the big battle scene and resolution

This is a little more “lose” than the other methods I’ve mentioned. It can take a few writing sessions for you to move from the inciting incident to the midpoint of the story. By keeping your structure in mind, you have a sense of where you’re going and what needs to happen in the story, thereby making it less likely that you’ll get stuck. This is a great option for writers who don’t like outlines.

Don’t Track

Unpopular opinion alert: not everything needs to be tracked! We’re so used to always being under surveillance, all our data mined, and always seeing our progress that we forget that writing isn’t about productivity but about artistry. It’s about having something to say and having a story to tell.

So what if you only wrote 10 words today? That’s still 10 words closer to finishing your manuscript that you were yesterday. Some days, the words are going to pour out like a facet. Other days, you’ll be lucky if you get a drop out. It’s okay. Writing is about the journey, the actual writing itself, not the destination.

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