13 Secrets to Creating Achievable Word Count Goals for Your Manuscript | Explained by UK Book Editor
Professional book editor lists 13 secrets to creating achievable word count goals so you can finish writing your manuscript sooner rather than later!
Picture this: your hands have been on the keyboard for most of the hour. You've been typing your heart out and making all the sense in the world. The page looks pretty full too, so you must have reached or even exceeded the word count... or not. Then you start to wonder: where did the words go? Have you been typing in the smallest print possible? Is this the right document? Will you ever finish this manuscript?
You're not alone; creating and reaching word count goals is a major headache for most writers. All your thoughts and research may be able to fit into fewer words than you expect, and you have to find ways to flesh it out without losing the essence or watering down your message. Your schedule also looks pretty packed with daily activities, and you just have to beat this looming deadline.
If you’re seeking ways to create realistic daily or weekly goals for completing your manuscript, here are a few tips.
1. Determine Your Word Count Target
Knowing the number of words you're gunning for is the first step in creating your goals, but doing so will depend on what you want to write; a novel, a novella, a short story, or something else. You might have to do some research and carry out story sketches to understand the scope of the project you’re taking on.
If you’re working on a complex book that requires a large sequence of events to actualise the inciting incident, conflict, and resolution, then your best bet is a novel, which requires 50,000 words at the very least as a rule of thumb. If your story doesn't need as many events, then you're heading for a novella, which could be anywhere between 10,000 and 40,000 words. Short stories are heavier on mood and atmosphere than events, so if you’re writing one of those, your word count goal will be bordering on 5,000 words or less.
Of course, this will be different if you're a ghostwriter and your client has given you a specific word count, and also note that these word count estimations are not arbitrary and differ according to the genre.
Related Resource: How to Write a Bestselling Novel From Scratch
2. Break Your Manuscript into Smaller Goals
To create an effective word count target, you have to do away with that gigantic-looking task, a.k.a., your manuscript. Avoid approaching your project as the huge body of work that it is; instead, break the work into smaller chunks with marked goal posts. This way, they look less scary to your brain and seem easier to tackle.
Would you rather churn out 10,000 words within a week or write 1,500 words every day for a week? While you will arrive at the same number of words, the latter task sounds easier because it communicates to your brain that all you have is small tasks to achieve, not a mammoth amount of work at once.
3. Create a Written Outline
While fashioning these smaller goals mentioned earlier, consider plotting your work with a detailed outline. A written outline is a sure way of making your goals more visible and easier to revisit to refresh your memory.
You can go the extra step by making copies and placing them in strategic places where you can see them every morning, or as you go about other daily activities.
4. Assign Word Counts to Each Chapter
After creating an outline, you can go further to assign individual word counts to the chapters. Do you want to dedicate an equal number of words to them all? Or do some chapters have more words than others? This will not only help you in having a clearer definition of your targets, but your manuscript will also end up with a better planned, coherent, and well-placed structure.
For example, your prologue and epilogue will most likely carry a lower number of words than your chapters, and the number of words each of your chapters will carry also depends on the content you have assigned to them.
5. Set Your Daily Goals
After locating your overall goal, and dividing it into outlines, the next thing you can do is make calculations on how these can be achieved within your deadline. If you want to write a novella of 15,000 words within 2 weeks, you can set a goal of 1,500 words per day, and that will give you an allowance of 4 days for editing your work or researching more on your topic.
You can also go by the simple formula: number of words ÷ number of days. In this case, that is approximately 1,100 words a day, and this should also include time for editing.
As a pantser, creating an outline as stated above may not work for you, but you still need to meet your target, so you can give yourself your daily word count target instead of an outline. The effect of completing your daily word count goals is encouraged by the fact that you're chipping away steadily from the giant work you had from the onset.
6. Be Realistic About Your Daily Goals
Consider the example of Emma Hughes, a fiction writer and author of No Such Thing As Perfect, who struggled with writing a novel for years because of the "fear of getting it wrong and endless fiddling". She took advice from a fellow writer, Kate Dylan, and started writing just 200 words a day.
"I did the sums, and worked out that 200 words a day for 365 days was nearly 80,000 words; a first draft, basically. I decided to give Kate’s method a go," she said. By November, she was done with the story, No Such Thing As Perfect.
As a writer, 200 words looks small, but 200 words every day for a week will become 1,400 words. It’s even more conceivable that you overshoot this mark as the days go by. Also, the feeling of succeeding in today's task encourages you to do more tomorrow. Therefore, if you want to create realistic word count goals for yourself, set a ridiculously small word count per day and watch your manuscript grow in leaps and bounds, albeit tiny ones in the initial stage.
7. Try to Alternate Between Tasking and Non-tasking Parts of Your Work
Every manuscript has parts of it that require a lot of mind-muscle and creative juices to produce, so it’s not beneficial to create uninterrupted stretches of these tasks as they can put your brain under unnecessary pressure and stress.
From your outline, you are most likely able to predict the parts of your manuscript that might be tough to write, so don't pair those altogether. Instead, try placing the easier sections side by side with the heavyweights. This way, you can create a better balance in your schedule, and this makes it less daunting to follow through.
Related Post: How to Finish Writing Your Novel with a Full-Time Job
8. Schedule Time for Rest
While it's good to power through hours of writing, also try assigning breaks within these writing sessions. You can decide to have a 10-minute break for every 1 hour of writing, which will help your mind rest and rejuvenate for the next session.
Writing for hours on end might be great for you, but at the same time, it could also get you stuck if you don't give your brain the rest it needs. Create time slots to stretch your legs, refill your water bottle, catch a snack, play with your pet, etc.
9. Assign Time for Editing and Research
In setting your word count goals, you have to also consider the other time-intensive factors that will help reach that target. You've completed 15,000 words within two weeks, even with extra hundreds to spare, but the work is still not done because you still only have a first draft.
Most of the time, in the rush of reaching the word count goals, writers forget to also assign time for the peripherals of writing, such as research and editing. Both are exercises that require a scheduled time, and it’s important to include their own separate space on the schedule for your word count goals.
Depending on the editing tools available to you, you should spend less time editing than writing because the content is already on the page. So, if you spent an hour writing a thousand words, editing those words should take half an hour or less. In essence, you edit double the words you've written in the same period of time.
Related Post: 3 Reasons Why Hiring a Professional Book Editor Could Literally Win You a Publishing Deal
10. Track Your Most Productive Hours and Make the Most of Them
As a writer, you must have noticed that there are certain hours of the day that just make writing a smoother experience for you. It doesn't matter where you are, during this period you just find it easier to tap into your creative juices, and in a short time within that period, you tend to produce more words. If you don't know this period yet, try tracking it first. This way, you know the appropriate times for you to schedule your writing.
You can set your major writing tasks to the time you're most productive and, conversely, slot in your breaks, research, and editing within those periods where you are not as productive.
11. Locate Your Distractions
One of the biggest problems facing any writer is the daily distractions. The past generations had it easier without phones, laptops, or notepads that could switch from MS Word to Twitter in milliseconds. While creating your word count goals, you're not only looking at things that may help you, but you’re also looking at things that will prevent you from reaching them. Thus, you have to locate external factors that might hinder you from maximising your time and construct your schedule in a way that makes you avoid them.
If you like to write in the afternoon but your chaotic roommates will also be at home at the same time, you have to find another more conducive place, especially if you enjoy writing in complete silence. In creating your word count target, your schedule has to include places that will help you write better during any given period.
Also, if your phone or gadgets are going to be your distraction, you might want to lock them up somewhere or switch on concentration mode features. Fortunately, most devices are equipped with apps that help you minimise distractions; just slot in your schedule and let technology do its work.
12. Master Your Routine
While you're bound to get bouts of inspiration from time to time (which is why you should always be armed with your notebook), you can't rely on them to help you finish your manuscript when you’d like. You have to get a grip on your time and how it's spent to fashion a workable writing schedule to reach your writing targets.
Mastering your routine will also mean you're aware of your downtime, when you're least productive and periods when your productivity rockets. This way, you know where to put your tedious goals and less taxing ones. It'll also help you understand how to arrange your other tasks in a fashion that will favour your writing.
Some tasks can leave you mentally and physically exhausted, which means that writing right after them might be a disaster. On the other hand, some tasks are more relaxing and will give you time to reflect on your work. For example, washing plates, cleaning, arranging your space, walking your dog, and many others can serve as stimulating activities. It would be wise to schedule your writing sessions just before these sorts of tasks. Of course, this depends on your personal preferences.
13. Make Use of Scheduling Apps
Technology, on the one hand, serves as a distraction. On the other hand, it’s also a powerful tool to allow us to perform a lot of functions that will otherwise be daunting. It can be inconvenient to create a paper schedule; instead, you could use to-do list apps, reminders, and a variety of other features to help you create your daily target. Spreadsheets can also be wonderful tools for tracking your progress, but it’s essential to find ones with interfaces that work well for you.
Fortunately, some apps are specifically tailored toward writers. You have some that track your word count, help set your daily goal target, and also inform you if it has been met or exceeded.
In conclusion, don't beat yourself up if you just can't seem to stick to your schedule or reach your target after all your planning. Consistency is not automatic and doesn’t start on day one or day two. It’s normal to fail on some days.
All you have to do is always get back up. 😊
Hey! I'm Chelsea and I'm a professional book editor at Stand Corrected Editing, my independent editorial business in the UK. If you would like to have your manuscript thoroughly edited by myself, please get in touch!
With my book editing and proofreading services, I hope to spread my knowledge and expertise on how to make your novel a success, and be a mentor to others who desperately want to pursue a fruitful career as an author!