Timed Writing versus Word Count

 Timed writing

There are two methods which might spur a writer on to get to their final goal, particularly in the first draft phase, which is where I am at now. For a lot of people time is a major constraint: real-life commitments encroach so easily and regularly on writing time that for a lot of people – particularly writers with families and/or demanding jobs that the luxury of spending several hours is but a dream.

I am in a lucky position  at present – I don’t have kids and until the end of this month, I don’t have a job to get in the way of writing. Needless to say, because I’m in such a privileged position I am really, really trying to maximise my time and fit in as much writing as possible. So it’s imperative that I use all this time to get my first draft finished because my job that starts at the end of this month won’t allow me too much time to write – and also I’m sure there are thousands of writers who would kill to be in my current position – so I feel I should maximise it.

So with this in mind I was wondering how other people write. Do you set yourself a time limit or a number of words? Hemingway was said to have written between 500-1000 words, but Hemingway looms like an ominous shadow over every writer that wants to be taken seriously – so is that for you? I’ve set myself a goal of finishing my first draft by the end of June and so I’m currently doing 2,500 words a day. It’s a lot, more than most people write, that aren’t professionals and contract writers, but to me it’s imperative to have something solid to work with when I don’t have so much time.

I don’t recommend writing this much, if you can help it – it really does turn writing into a complete chore, and all I thinking about is getting my daily tally done. That’s not to say that the narrative isn’t at the forefront of my thinking too: this is one of the benefits of writing so much (and having the time to do so) – I can get into the character’s head(s) for much longer which makes me write more consistently and fluidly within character.

Personally the hardest thing for me is the first 300 words. If I only had, say, 30 minutes or one hour to do my writing each day, I’d barely reach that total, and thus would never hit a flow. Once I’ve got 300 words down I seem to find my rhythm and the next 500-700 really come quickly and I’m in, I’ve sussed my scene and how I want it to develop and I have enough head of steam to get it down and at least write one or two decent chapters.

Timed writing

Having said that, perhaps if I were time poor then I would just develop my writing habit to suit it. Working as a journalist develops this skill and teaches the writer to get it all down as quickly as possible, but fiction writing is really quite different to both news and features writing. Certainly with news, there are much more limited parameters and elements that frame the story and make it that much quicker, if not easier to write.

That’s not to say that timed writing isn’t important. Sometimes when I’m labouring over a scene or a chapter, and I’m taking far too long getting the general idea out, I give myself  30 minutes or so to finish it – that way it forces me to to stop being so precious about it – and I do need to be strict with my sometimes as I have a tendency to overindulge my thinking time.

Some writers give themselves a short writing exercise at the start of their writing session to ‘warm up’ and get their creative juices flowing – be it a journal entry, a blog post or a descriptive passage or setting from memory. It can be a good idea if you’re struggling with whatever it is you’re writing or are finding it hard to come back to something after an extended absence.

Also for flash fiction and short stories it’s important because a story of 500-1000 (or shorter) can, and should be done within the day. Completing something – if it’s only as step or stage in the writing process – makes us writers feel like we’ve achieved something. And that it is these small victories that give us the will to keep going.

How do you write? Do you use word count or blocks of time to achieve daily targets?


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