The most common thing writers do when trying to make some progress in a story is setting writing goals like a word count goal. While that may be useful for some, others find it discouraging and counterproductive. They’re so focused on getting some word, any word really, on the page that they lose sight of what the real goal should be, moving the story along. In that sense, word count goals can be distracting and unreliable in gauging true progress. Since when was 1,000 words better than 100— especially to a writer who knows a little something about word economy?
This isn’t to say that word count goals are all bad. They have their place. If you’re stuck in some type of mental rut with your creative gears grinding against the grain, then setting a word count goal can help. The objective is to get something, anything on the page just to train your mind back into the habit of coming up with ideas. This is what I do when I need to write myself out of a rut. The simple action of writing even through the worst of writer’s blocks can be a great way to solve that problem, and word count goals can help in achieving that.
If you’re like some writers and want to make more progress in the story itself than across the length of a page, then a word count can have you working backwards. A better idea is to set a scene goal. A scene goal focuses more on quality than quantity. Don’t trouble yourself with trying to get 2,000 useless words on the page. If it’s so distracting, cover that dreaded word counter at the bottom of the screen. There are two important questions to initially consider.
Point A: Where are you plot wise in the story right now?
Point B: Where do you want to be? Be realistic when setting this goal. Don’t pick something that could take chapters to complete. Small chunks work better as they are much easier to reach and are great for future moral once you do.
Bad: Your point A would be the main character Macy is at home getting ready for school. The point B or goal is Macy to school where she gets into a heated argument with her best friend that leads to her cowering in the library where she finds a magical book that takes her to a magical land where she meets an evil witch who wants to kill her because she’s the chosen one. This is fine for a long term goal, but for a day’s or week’s goal it’s a little too lengthy. Something like that can takes chapters to thoroughly address.
Good goal: Same point A but a better point b would be getting Macy to school where she gets into a heated argument with her best friend that leads to her cowering in the library where she finds a magical book.
Setting writing goals should be contingent upon how long it takes you to write. If you’re the type of writer where getting out a scene can take all day then a medium length goal might be best. If you can hammer out a solid scene within an hour or two, then a longer scene goal broken up into smaller chunks might work best for you. Don’t feel pressured to put a time limit on that goal. Just set the goal and work at it until it’s done. At the end of the day reaching your scene goal can take you 100 words, this may take 1,000, but either way you should have something with some real merit on the page that helps you move forward.